Collaboration, mutuality and community: producing and consuming contemporary craft

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Geography


This project is designed to explore insights from four intersecting AHRC projects that addressed twentieth and contemporary cultures of craft practice and policy. Craft practice is currently part of the contemporary zeitgeist. Practices of DIY, knitting, up-cycling, sewing, hacking have become responses to austerity, environmental crisis and anti-capitalist actions. Government figures document that 102,000 people work within the craft sector, who together contributed £248 million Gross Value Added to the UK economy in 2012 (DCSM 2014). Trade and industry sees the celebration of 'Best of British' with small scale, bespoke or handcrafted batch production growing in market share, for an audience who eschew mass production and values the 'heritage' of British skilled labour. Practitioners producing hand crafted objects have unprecedented outlets to sell their work at festivals, studio tours or online, in addition to the traditional gallery or commission opportunities. Craft is again 'of the moment', but these moments carry with them the politics of past generations of practitioners and enthusiasts, who share skills, values and experience. Within the research undertaken, 'craft' has gathered as a complex assemblage of relations.

The research undertaken sees craft within a circuit of production and consumption, where people, policy, materials, political ethos, skill, time, place, money, makers and buyers combine. The proposed activities within this follow-on-fund aim to bring into relief this nexus of mutuality that underscores the creative economy. The Crafts Council, the Devon Guild of Craftsmen and the Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen are working in partnership with Dr Thomas, University of Exeter to co-design three activities that illuminate different elements of the assemblage of the contemporary craft economy.

Activity 1: 'Celebrate: 60 Years of Connecting Makers and Consumers through Craft', delivered in partnership with the Devon Guild of Craftsmen
A nine-month exhibition, retail and online campaign that uses the Guild's diamond anniversary to explore the history of the Guild through the 'social lives' of crafted objects made by members of the Guild, past and present. The concept draws attention to the intersection between the Guild's function of connecting designer-makers to audiences through the outputs of skilled labour. The activities follow the stories of the objects as they pass through layers of ownership and develop attachments and stories that transcend the 'hand' of the original maker.

Activity 2: 'Making collaborations: Making Connections', delivered in partnership with the Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen
An online and touring exhibition that focuses on the Guild as an expanded community of practice and interest to reveal the everyday relations of mutuality that underpin creative endeavors. Dr Thomas' research explored the hidden histories of the Guild, for example the role of peer, family or customer support in supporting designer maker's enterprise. The research will be used to present an alternative history of the Guild, and trigger a community orientated history that explores the organisation's cooperative ethos. The history will be given a forward orientation as ten pairs of Guild member collaborate and produce new work for an associated touring exhibition that illuminates the ongoing politics and practices of cooperation.

Activity 3: 'Making policy: Researcher in Residence', delivered in partnership with the Crafts Council
Dr Thomas will be seconded to the Crafts Council to work with the Research and Policy team. She will contribute to the Crafts Council's strategic objectives by contributing evidence based research and knowledge to support the Crafts Council's mission to chart and anticipate economic, social, cultural and political trends in craft. Multi-media resources and briefings will be created to disseminate the research findings to audiences within the creative industries.

Planned Impact

1. Stakeholders of the Devon Guild of Craftsmen and Gloucestershire Guilds of Craftsmen: crafts practitioners, public audiences, customers and employees
The proposed activities enhance the ability of the organisations to offer cultural enrichment to their audiences in their mission to promote contemporary craft. Activities offer innovative ways to showcase the heritage of the Guilds and to communicate the ethos of craft practice. Activities 1 and 2 are designed to promote the work of Guild members (past and present) and to encourage deeper engagements between a practitioner and audience. It is anticipated that the strategies of engagement may provide a commercial outcome of increased retail sales (UK and international). The opportunities within Activity 2 will open opportunities for new collaboration, innovation and the development of new work.

2. Crafts Council, enhancing staff & policy work, and their creative sector audiences
Throughout her research, Dr Thomas has developed a new relationship with the Crafts Council. This has led to an enhanced understanding about the cultural geography/creative policy dimensions of the research and how this connects to the Crafts Council's mission. The Crafts Council routinely works with BIS and DCMS. Rosy Greenlees, Executive Director of the Crafts Council is President of World Crafts Council - Europe and leads debates at in international level. The secondment opportunity (Activity 3) allows Dr Thomas to contribute towards evidence based policy making and influencing public policies and legislation at a national and international level. The secondment aims to enhance the research capacity, knowledge and skills of Crafts Council staff. The Crafts Council's communication channels will be used to feed out to the sector specific audiences.

3. Guild-like organisations; arts sector professionals; creative industry policy audiences; advocacy bodies supporting the sector
Existing engagement activities with an international body of organisations demonstrate there is a wide interest in learning from the detail of the existing research. The resilience and organisational history of the Devon Guild of Craftsmen and the Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen has been recognized as valuable learning for the sector. A need to develop industry specific publications that allow greater contemplation of the research has been requested by, for example, SW Arts Council; UK Crafts Council; American Crafts Council; Heritage Crafts Association. The development of new, sector specific outputs, through a web based reporting platform that incorporates written, film and podcasts allows for broader international exchange of ideas. These will be developed with the Crafts Council.

4. Public audiences with interests in arts and crafts
There continues to be a strong niche international public interest in contemporary arts and crafts practice and associated history (e.g. 2014 Art Fund runner-up Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft; 2014 Tate British Folk Art and Channel 4 'Monty Dons Real Craft'). Optimizing search engine capabilities to enable audiences looking for histories of the arts and crafts movement in the South West to explore the hidden history of the Guilds will be pursued. Connecting makers and consumers as part of the future looking heritage of the Guild is a priority. Activities 1 and 2 allow for audiences to explore the current and historical work of designer-makers in the South West.

5. Bow Software and Duck on Water are the proposed digital output technology providers. Activity 1 and 2 both use technological solution developed in partnership with these specialist software designers. The development of the software solution enables staff within Bow Software and Duck on Water to gain new skills and expertise in working within the craft and heritage sector; applying their specialist knowledge to a new project and will be able to use the products as a portfolio to attract new business.
Title Two Make 
Description Curator: Nicola Thomas, in partnership with Restless Gallery AHRC funded Touring Exhibition in collaboration with the Restless Gallery, Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen, Arts Council, Crafts Studies Centre, Corinium Museum; Arts in the Park, Crafts Central. 20 makers have worked together in pairs to produce new work for this exhibition. The outputs are the product of 6 months of studio development supported by myself with curator Miranda Leonard of the Restless Gallery. 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact Development of new products for designer makers Development of skill base for designer makers Development of exhibition expertise for makers, academic and curator team 
Description This grant brings together the outcomes of a series of research projects on craft economies. The activities aim to connect a body of research that has been developed in partnership with various crafts organisations and practitioners back into the crafts community more broadly.
Exploitation Route This is in process as the Crafts Council will be supporting the dissemination of a series of reports from the research base. There will also be a fully documented website that is under development linked to the projects.
Sectors Creative Economy

Description The research has underpinned the following activities: WIth the Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen: Two Make: A Collaborative Exhibition of the work of 10 pairs of makers, developing new work together. This exhibition is on tour in a series of locations through 2016-2017. A collaborative history site for the Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen exploring their 80 year history. With the Devon Guild of Craftsmen: The development of Craftshelf, a web app that links the customer's story of the place of Guild craft in their life. Craft Shelf: 60 years of the Devon Guild of Craftsmen An exhibition to explore the history of the Devon Guild of Craftsmen. Crafts Council A series of reports based on a residency within the Crafts Council. The development of 'Risk Makers' collaboration with Made by Hand Online has developed as a result of the 'Two Make' exhibition.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Creative Economy
Impact Types Cultural,Economic,Policy & public services

Description Making it through Covid-19
Amount £9,995 (GBP)
Funding ID COV19\200891 
Organisation The British Academy 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2020 
End 08/2022
Description Crafts Council 
Organisation Crafts Council
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Stakeholder Project Partner
Collaborator Contribution Research planning, access to expertise, networks
Impact Supported the delivery of the project.
Start Year 2011
Description Devon Guild of Craftsmen 
Organisation Devon Guild of Craftsmen
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The Devon Guild are a named research partner
Start Year 2011
Description Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen 
Organisation Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The Gloucestershire Guild are a named research partner
Start Year 2011
Title Craft Shelf 
Description Craft Shelf is a web app designed by Bow Software in collaboration with the Devon Guild of Craftsmen and Dr Thomas. It connects the consumer who buys craft from the Devon Guild to the makers who make the work. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2015 
Impact This is an innovative craft marketing mobile app that aims to connect the consumer and producer of crafted outputs through a long term storytelling project. Craft Shelf is a customer/maker interface for use within the Devon Guild of Craftsmen. This was an innovation from AHRC Craft Guild's research, co-designed and delivered in partnership with Bow Software and Devon Guild of Craftsmen "Nicola Thomas's innovative and outward looking ideas have had far reaching benefits for Devon Guild Limited (the commercial arm of Devon Guild of Craftsmen).     We have been working on a project to develop Nicola's idea for an web-based social media app based on appreciation of contemporary crafts.  Even at the earliest stages of the project our shop staff were giving me very positive feedback about the high quality engagement that the idea was generating with customers (an essential component to the effective selling of contemporary craft) and this has continued to grow throughout the project. This positive and enthusiastic feedback means we are extremely excited about the potential for audience development and the commercial possibilities that the app will drive for us. Nicola has effectively facilitated every stage of the project, from the funding application through design, trial and content provision to delivery,  and it has been a great professional pleasure to work with her." Sarah Voss, Enterprise Office and Erica Steer, Director of the Devon Guild of Craftsmen 
Title Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen Community History Site 
Description This is a website that records and presents the Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen History. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact Guild engagement with the history 
Description Briefing to Crafts Council on Regional Craft Guilds 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact On 4th December 2013 the Crafts Council held a meeting with UK based Craft Guilds. Prior to this meeting Nicola Thomas briefed the Crafts Council on the findings of the AHRC funded research.

Provided informal briefing on the findings of the research with the Devon Guild of Craftsmen and Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen to the Craft Council.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
Description Craft Shelf Summer Exhibition, Devon Guild of Craftsmen 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An exhibition to celebrate 60 years of the Devon Guild of Craftsmen.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description Development of the Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen online community history 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact The learning from this Connected Communities award has informed the development of the Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen online history. During the Summer of 2017 the Guild members, friends, family and supporters will populate a new website within the Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen own platform to share their histories of the Guild as a community of practice and interest.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Exhibition at 2018 Contemporary Craft Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We displayed the activity of the 'Risk Makers' project at the 2018 Contemporary Craft Festival. I addition to the 10 makers who had been involved, we had 1000 people come into the exhibition to engage with their work and take part in drop in participatory workshops. The Craft Festival has a total audience of 10,000. Online engagement was achieved through social media.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018