DEPARTMENTS
TERI GREEVES, LISA BAYNE AND ANN PIFER on the C.R.A.F.T. in the Economy and Crafting a Business panel. All photographs by Robert K. Liu Ornament.
Crafting A Nation

conference



Inspiration can be derived from many sources, but invariably results from a connection we have made, whether mental or physical. Today we call the latter networking—while this increasingly takes place in the virtual world; it is exhilarating when this still occurs face-to-face as was once the norm. The Crafting A Nation conference (October 8-9, Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium) provided the root of inspiration as it brought together disparate elements of the craft field in a collegial atmosphere.

Sponsored by Craft in America, primarily known as the award-winning Public Broadcasting Show produced by Carol Sauvion, and Craft Retailers and Artists for Tomorrow, the Crafting A Nation conference dedicated itself to the challenges facing the craft world in the United States. By providing a forum for discussion and a place to simply introduce people to the diversity of craft, it addressed, amongst other issues, education, public awareness, and generational distinctions between craftspeople. With many dedicated and insightful participants, the first Crafting A Nation conference succeeded in stimulating a conversation. In this capacity, however modest, the conference has likely planted many seeds of change for future fruition.

PAULA KERGER, President of the Public Broadcasting Service, delivering the opening address. Bob Lynch, President of Americans for the Arts, provided the closing remarks.

It began with a sincere and intelligent address by Paula Kerger, PBS’s president. Discussing the power of art as a diplomatic force for the country, as well as highlighting the economic power of craft and the lack of government funding for the arts, Kerger made powerful arguments as to why craft is such an important part of society. Giving concrete statistics, for example, that the United States only spends a dollar per person for artistic funding while some countries spend in excess of seventy dollars, demonstrated the lengths to which we can improve.

The panels covered both issues concerning the craft community as well as subjects of interest in the craft world. Ten panels in total were held during the conference. The Crafting A Nation: Global Roots, Human Necessity panel broadly examined various roots and manifestations of craft through history, and provided some very compelling testimony from Dr. Diana Baird N’Diaye and Dr. John T. Nez on how the African-American and Native American cultures in the United States utilize craft in everyday life. Addressing the disappearance of the crafted life for many Americans, N’Diaye and Nez, as well as Teri Greeves who spoke in the panel C.R.A.F.T. in the Economy, iterated that in many non-caucasian cultures, craft and art were inseparable elements of daily life. By being woven into the basic fabric of existence, everyone from Native Americans on the reservation to African American hip-hop youths in the city, to Japanese Americans in the internment camps lived and live in the constant presence of craft.

Ann Pifer of Craft Retailers and Artists for Tomorrow, a major sponsor of Crafting A Nation, ran another informative panel on the economy, on which craft artists Thomas Mann and Teri Greeves both spoke. Mann’s pragmatic explanation of his own economic situation, and the steps he has taken to improve it, helped give concrete examples of what people can do to move forward. While not on the Do-It-Yourself panel, Mann’s commentary about his beneficial association with various DIY groups was perhaps the best example of synergy between younger and older craft artists. Giving workshops, not to jewelry shows but to scrapbooking fairs, has produced enthusiastic responses. Mann’s sharing of his knowledge and experience goes hand-in-hand with the connections and relationships he forms with his students, an exchange beneficial to everyone involved.

This was an important take-home message from the conference. At the Do You DIY? Panel, which featured Sabrina Gschwandtner, founder of KnitKnit Magazine, Andrew Wagner of ReadyMade Magazine and studio jeweler Bruce Metcalf, what was revealed in both the panel discussion and the audience conversation afterwards was the presence of conflict that exists between the generations, as well as a desire for the cessation of that conflict. Such a result can only be realized by dialogue and mutual engagement.

CAROL SAUVION, Executive Director for Craft in America, giving the welcomes to Crafting A Nation. Welcomes were also given by Betsy Broun, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

One of the most positive aspects of the conference stemmed from the question and answer sessions with the audience after each panel. Often providing clarity, bringing to attention new issues, or regaling instructive anecdotes, audience participation was a major element of Crafting A Nation. The topic most discussed was that of education, which had several panels covering museums, schools, guilds, collaborations, and apprenticeships as methods of teaching. Of all the issues facing the craft world today, it was recognized that education is the most important, largest, and most difficult one to tackle.

While many panels were focused on fostering discussion on craft-related issues, there were several that simply presented the wonder and breadth of the craft world itself. The Crafty Science panel explored the synthesis between science and craft in the most astounding of ways: a fully crocheted coral reef consisting of hundreds if not thousands of individual corals, created by people from around the world. Margaret Wertheim, a science writer and co-creator of the project with her sister Christine, explained how coral grows in hyperbolic patterns, a shape easily replicated by crocheting. The size and scale of this community project, “budding” off in multiple countries, is both inspiring and surprising. That such an extensive operation is possible through the work of a single organization is proof of what can be accomplished when we work together.

 

 

QUICK LINKS
Craft In America

Craft Retailer and Artists for Tomorrow

 

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Our upcoming issue 37.4 contains

 

Nubian Jewelry

Kate Mensah

Philadelphia Craft Show

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