Last December, as I reflected on the year that had passed, I came to the conclusion that an overarching goal in 2018 would be “to learn how to be an artist.” Let me now qualify that with an adjective: “To learn how to be a professional artist.” One of the things that has struck me in these last few months is how little I know about my local network of artists and arts organizations. I am not a Nova Scotia native nor was my formal education leading me to become an artist per se. I have so much to learn about the structures, the funding, the networks, and the rich talent and arts and craft community that has to offer — both locally and nationally.
I have been a member of Craft Nova Scotia for the last couple of years. This organization, along with parallel regional organizations across the country, supports craft artists in exhibiting and selling their work, their professional development and advocates for fair compensation for their time and work among other things. I am fortunate to be able to attend this October’s craft conference put on by the Canadian Crafts Federation (CCF/FCMA), the national organization that brings together the country’s regional bodies. The theme of the conference is Placemaking: The Unique Connection Between Craft, Community + Tourism. The notion of placemaking has been close to my heart throughout my career(s) in architecture, museum design and education, and now as a textile artist. (In fact, I wrote a lengthy post about placemaking in the context of urban architecture in Halifax last year.)
What is placemaking? According to Wikipedia, placemaking is “a multi-faceted approach to the planning, [urban] design and management of public spaces. Placemaking capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s health, happiness, and well being.” So how does that apply to craft?
The CCF/FCMA conference will explore this question: “What does craft look like in relation to community? In order to create a craft identity, artists and organizations are engaging and experimenting within culture and community in an effort to attract and retain tourist audiences, and to improve quality of life for all. Placemaking will highlight the role of contemporary craft culture in strengthening and encouraging community development. By exploring the positive impact of craft practice on both physical and virtual communities, we’ll share information on craft’s role in enhancing the sense of belonging, understanding, and appreciation of community members, leading to happier, healthier, more positive social interactions” (emphasis mine).
Last year’s opportunity to be the artist-in-residence at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 gave me a close-up perspective to the impact of collaborating with the public to form a tourist community of sorts. The project gave us – both the artist and the participants – a shared sense of belonging, conversations about personal experiences above historical narratives, and a way for the visitors to the museum to process the information presented to them and see it through a personal lens. These identifiable but intangible products of the work are ones that I want to continue to fold into my work moving forward. But I can’t do it within the four (or eight) walls of my studio.
Being an artist can be solitary and perhaps an introvert’s ideal scenario. However, when conversations happen between artists, community, arts organizations at a regional and national level, a larger impact can be had. Support, willingness and funding can make imagined projects become a reality.
If you are making or looking to make a career as a craftsperson, craft artist, textile artist, quilter, textile designer, quilt designer — whatever you call yourself — I encourage you to seek your local, regional, or national crafts and/or arts organization. You will find mentors, curators, and collectors; you will find colleagues inside and outside your artistic discipline; and you will find fruitful conversations that will push you forward.
Here’s the abridged 2018 conference lineup:
- Keynote Speaker : 2017 Sobey Art Award recipient Ursula Johnson on Indigenous Placemaking
- The Craft Social celebrating the 2018 Robert Jekyll Award for Leadership in Craft
- Gallery and shop visitations
- Halifax Feature Speaker: Jenna Stanton, Craft and Creative Placemaking
- Panel Discussions:
- Artist & Gallery Panel: Creating Space
- Educational Impact: The Ripple Effect of Craft School
- “3 minutes of Fame” rapid-fire presentations from craft organizations across Canada
- International Guest Speaker: Annie Warburton, UK Craft Council Creative Director
- Nocturne, Halifax’s all-night city-wide culture crawl
- Lunenburg Feature Speaker: Senator Patricia Bovey, National Placemaking in Canada
- Panel Discussions:
- Contemporary Craft Practice: Thinking Big in a Small Place
- Community Practices: Leveraging the Allure of Craft
- Guided Walking Tour of Lunenburg Galleries
This video, from the 2015 CCF/FCMA’s conference, features interviews with previous conference attendees: