Supporting diversity and expertise development in the contemporary craft economy

Lead Research Organisation: Birmingham City University
Department Name: ADM Birmingham School of Media

Abstract

In collaboration with the Crafts Council, this research focuses on the politics of expertise and diversity in the craft economy. Developing initial work in an AHRC-funded Creative Economy Engagement Fund (CEEF) project (to be completed December 2018) which examines how social media can support diversity in craft, this Fellowship intends to develop intellectual, practical and policy contributions pertaining to issues around diversity and expertise in craft. The research primarily seeks to problematise existing notions of expertise in relation to the craft economy, challenging notions of amateur, feminised, craft activities which are perceived to require a lower level of expertise compared to masculinised forms of craftsmanship, such as those lauded in Richard Sennett's The Craftsman (2008). By addressing the framing of expertise in craft, this research will contribute to knowledge on expertise in contemporary craft practice, and provide the underpinning research for policy recommendations to address inequalities in the wider creative sector.

This research is partly led by insights from my PhD on how artists develop and signal expertise on social media platforms. In the PhD I found that creatives who have the time and skills to promote their art online are able to make a living, but not everyone has the means to do so. Within the context of existing literature highlighting the precarious and unequal nature of creative work (Banks, 2017) it is essential that creatives from all backgrounds are able to access the resources they need to flourish and/or make a living from their practice. For makers in particular, skills in self-promotion are crucial as the creative sector is predicted to see a 'return to artisanal employment' (Nesta, 2017). As such, makers from all backgrounds should be able to develop the skills to sell products and make themselves visible online, or at least benefit from the opportunities for mutual support and connectivity online (Patel, 2017). Yet my PhD research and insights from the current CEEF point to a lack of confidence and skills with social media use, particularly among women from Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

The research will involve an ethnography of makers and spaces around the UK, to examine the forms of craft practice which take place within minority ethnic communities. Though aspects of such practice have been explored in the past, for example Parminder Bhachu's (2004) account of Asian fashion economies, this research is situated within the context of the contemporary digital and cultural economy and seeks to address issues of inequalities in the sector, particularly around gender and race. The project will also include the development of a bespoke STEAMLab workshop for makers to develop digital skills, as part of Birmingham City University's pioneering STEAMHouse programme (www.steamhouse.org.uk) which provides space and facilities for makers, scientists and academics to develop new projects and products. The STEAMLab workshop will explore aspects of creativity and wellbeing through digital skills development, to encourage makers to use digital technologies to flourish through creative expression and connectivity with online maker communities.

The insights from the ethnography and workshop will inform the Crafts Council's research strategy and Talent Development Programme. Some interviews with makers will be packaged and edited to form a podcast series on craft practice which will be hosted on the project website. In conjunction with the Crafts Council a policy document will be developed with recommendations for using digital technology to support diversity in craft. As part of the project I will also organise an international conference on expertise and diversity in craft and the creative economy at Birmingham City University. From this I will edit and produce a journal special issue which explores the themes and intellectual questions raised in the conference.

Planned Impact

The beneficiaries of this research include makers, particularly women makers from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, research partner Crafts Council UK, and policy makers. Impacts from the project will include the following:

1. Providing accessible resources for women BAME makers to develop social media skills: online PDF resources will provide practical steps for makers of all abilities to use social media platforms to build a presence online, engage with online communities and support networks, and potentially make a living from their practice.

2. Utilising STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) thinking to address digital skills gaps in craft work: working with the STEAMHouse team at Birmingham City University, a bespoke, interdisciplinary workshop will be developed for makers from diverse backgrounds to develop their digital skills and explore the benefits of digital platforms for creativity and wellbeing. This workshop will contribute towards developing a model for future workshops in a similar format, and also inform the Crafts Council's Talent Development Programme. The expertise of the STEAMHouse team, and my mentor Rajinder Dudrah who is faculty lead for the STEAMHouse project, will be invaluable for devising the workshop with an interdisciplinary, STEAM focus.

3. Providing greater online visibility and a voice for women BAME makers: a podcast series will be produced featuring women makers of Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) origin. The podcasts will allow new craft stories to be told, provide a voice and presence for diverse makers online, and potentially inspire others. The podcasts can also be used for teaching and research by other institutions.

4. Extending the reach and influence of the Crafts Council among BAME women makers: this research will inform the Crafts Council's strategic and research aims to support diversity in craft practice. This will allow the Crafts Council to meet the needs of minority maker groups and offer adequate support, as well as informing future strategic objectives for the organisation.

5. Providing policy makers with practical recommendations for supporting diversity in craft: policy recommendations will be produced which will offer practical interventions for policymakers to encourage and support diversity in the craft economy through digital skills development. These will be based on insights from the interviews, ethnography and the resources developed from the CEEF and the STEAMLab workshop. These policy recommendations could also be developed to apply to issues around inequalities and lack of representation of minority groups in the wider creative and digital economy.

I will use my connections with STEAMHouse and the Crafts Council, as well as my own international academic networks, to disseminate outputs and findings on a global scale.

More information about impact and how impact will be achieved is detailed in the attached Pathways to Impact document [Patel_Pathways].

Publications

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Patel K (2022) Special issue introduction: Craft economies and inequalities in European Journal of Cultural Studies

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Patel K (2022) In conversation with Deirdre Figueiredo MBE, Director of Craftspace in European Journal of Cultural Studies

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Patel K (2020) Soundings: A Journal of Politics and Culture in Race and Craft in the Covid Spotlight

 
Title We Gather 
Description We Gather was an exhibition held at the Crafts Council's new gallery space between November 2021-March 2022. The exhibition features new work commissioned by this project, by five ethnically diverse female artists: Shaheen Ahmed, Lorna Hamilton-Brown, Omeima Mudawi-Rowlings, Francisca Onumah and Onome Otite. The pieces created relate to themes of cultural diversity and social justice in craft and the arts. The exhibition was curated by Rosie and Griffi. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2021 
Impact - Bringing a huge diversity of people to Crafts Council Gallery - Showcasing the work of five women artists of colour who wouldn't traditionally be in a Crafts Council exhibition - Highlighting issues of racism and microaggressions in craft and bringing them to a public audience - Providing an opportunity for the curators to work with the Crafts Council and enhance their visibility and reputation 
URL https://www.craftscouncil.org.uk/whats-on/we-gather-exhibition
 
Description The research in this project involved interviews with women from ethnically diverse backgrounds who work as craft makers. The interviews revealed the challenges that these face across the craft ecology and at all stages of their careers. These challenges include:
- Racism and microaggressions in craft spaces - all of those interviewed had experienced some form of racism and/or microaggressions in craft spaces. Microaggressions were more common and more difficult to report - they include looks, comments and behaviours which make the recipient feel othered or offended. These incidents occurred at craft fairs, in studios and in craft education settings.
- The craft expertise of the makers being devalued or misrecognised - many of the makers felt that their work was devalued or judged unfairly. Some makers felt that judgements were primarily based on their race, gender or class, and not the quality of their work. These judgements were made by people across the craft ecology including trade suppliers, fellow studio holders and potential customers.
- Perception of craft as a career, and issues within craft education - many makers were discouraged from pursuing craft as a career, because of the perception that it is low paid, precarious work. Instead many were encouraged to go to university to work towards ostensibly more 'stable' careers in law or medicine, for example. This leads to fewer people from ethnically diverse backgrounds in craft and design courses at university. For those who do make it to university, they are met with a host of issues including an inadequate curriculum dominated by a white, Eurocentric history and aesthetics, and microaggressions from university staff and fellow students.
Exploitation Route As a result of this research and STEAMlab workshops with participants, we are able to make the following recommendations for craft organisations and policy makers:

1. Reframe the narrative of craft
We call on craft, creative industries and arts organisations and social enterprises to:
• Embed social justice objectives in their planning - have social justice and equality at the centre of how they operate
• Prioritise stories of and by craftspeople from ethnically diverse backgrounds to help redefine making, allow them to tell their own story
• Evaluate their branding, imagery and staffing and make it a strategic priority to be more representative
• Increase interdisciplinary collaboration and knowledge exchange, working with different industries to build and grow networks, forge partnerships and make alliances that strengthen the craft and creative environment

2. Establish industry codes of conduct in craft
We call on all craft organisations, craft fairs, markets and galleries, retailers, guilds and creative industries and arts organisations to:
• Agree clear codes of conduct with clear routes for action to be taken in response to racist behaviour and microaggressions
• Be transparent and accountable about the work they are doing to address racism and microaggressions
• Display a statement at premises/fair/offices stating that discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated, and that any discriminatory behaviour will be dealt with swiftly
• Take action to become an actively anti-racist organisation. Inc Arts have produced Unlock, an anti-racist toolkit for craft and creative organisations, which we highly recommend organisations use: https://www.incartsunlock.co.uk/
3. Improve our evidence base
We call on national government (the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), local government and research organisations to re-evaluate how they gather data by:
• Revisiting the design of and recruitment to the Taking Part participation survey
• Addressing data gaps where freelance and individual workers and the wider craft ecology (such as social enterprises) may be omitted
• Evaluate and redesign local data collection and recruitment practices for the craft and creative industries
We call on craft, creative industries and arts organisations and social enterprises to:
• Use the research in this report to build a detailed picture of key challenges for makers from marginalised groups in the craft sector, working to find potential solutions and networks that could help
4. Embed and support craft in education
We call on craft educators to:
• Prioritise hiring staff from diverse ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, and give greater voice and presence to existing staff from diverse backgrounds
• Ensure the craft curriculum which is taught includes craft histories and traditions from around the world, which are fully contextualised and not delivered through a Westernised, Eurocentric lens.
• Widen the scope beyond what is considered to be 'legitimate' craft. Highlight the diversity of making across the amateur to professional spectrum, and critique the binaries between 'amateur' and 'professional' to ensure craft education moves away from elitism.
• Take measures to ensure students from diverse backgrounds have access to trained staff who can support them effectively
• Ensure students have opportunities to pursue craft courses at all levels of education
• At school level, engage with parents to find out the barriers with encouraging their children to study craft and creative subjects at FE/University, to address the stigma associated with this
We call on Government (the Department for Education) to:
• Ensure that national and local careers education and advice showcase successful craftspeople who are ethnically diverse and from a variety of craft traditions.
We call on craft and creative organisations to:
• Work closely with craft educators to offer support and mentoring programmes for new graduates

5. Enhance financial support for makers
We call on local and national government, Arts Council England, funding bodies and craft guilds to:
• Evaluate the current funding mechanisms so that available opportunities can reach more people across the craft ecology. For example, prioritise grants for people, organisations and companies trying to make positive change in the sector
• Revisit funding criteria and co-design it with the communities and people it is meant to support
• Ensure panels for funding decisions are ethnically diverse
• Ensure application guidance is clear, and that all aspects of the application process are explained clearly and requirements clearly set out
• Evaluate the language used in funding calls, ensuring it is appropriate and not off-putting to prospective applicants who are new to the process
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description The research has been used to inform Crafts Council's approach to fostering greater diversity in craft. When the Black Lives Matter protests occurred during 2020 Crafts Council set about revisiting their approach to diversity and inclusion, setting up an open forum for makers of colour, to which I contributed, presenting findings from the research. The research has also contributed to the Crafts Council's development of their Toolkit for Change, their successful application for Collaborate Funding, and the We Gather exhibition heavily featured quotes from the research to set the context for the exhibition, which was attended by over 1400 people, and helped to raise awareness of issues around the lack of diversity in the professional craft sector.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Final report and recommendations included in Crafts Council's Policy Brief
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
URL https://www.craftscouncil.org.uk/about/research-and-policy/policy-brief/june-2021
 
Description Use for Arts Council relationship Manager CPD
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Crafts Council UK 
Organisation Crafts Council
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The research from this project will inform Crafts Council UK's diversity and inclusion strategies, and also inform training provision.
Collaborator Contribution Crafts Council UK provide expertise on the UK craft sector, networks and public engagement opportunities for this project.
Impact Blog posts and initial working paper - https://www.craftscouncil.org.uk/articles/supporting-diversity-and-expertise-development-in-the-craft-economy
Start Year 2019
 
Description Article in Crafts Magazine 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I was asked to comment on how we can address racism and inequality in craft, as part of a feature for Crafts Magazine. It also included several other commentators, many who participated in the open forum on craft in June 2020.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.craftscouncil.org.uk/stories/how-can-craft-world-address-its-lack-diversity
 
Description Article in The New Issue magazine 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was asked to suggest participants and be interviewed for a feature on ethnically diverse women in craft. I put forward names for the editor, Kevin Gopal to contact and photograph, and I provided comment on inequalities in craft, based on my research. The article is featured in Issue 3, Autumn 2020.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://shop.bigissuenorth.com/product/the-new-issue-issue-3
 
Description Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact In 2020 I participated in the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre seminar series, presenting research from the project about inequality and racism in craft.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://craftexpertise.com/2020/05/21/upcoming-creative-industries-policy-and-evidence-centre-semina...
 
Description Involvement in Craft UK Anti Racism working group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact In 2020 I joined the Craft UK Anti-racism working group. I contribute to discussions by providing insights from my research, and we are working towards developing a charter to foster anti-racism and greater inclusivity in craft.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Maker Stories podcasts 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact As part of this project I have produced the Maker Stories podcasts, interviewing five women makers of colour about their experiences in the UK craft sector. The podcast has been streamed/downloaded over 1000 times with listeners throughout Europe, the USA and Australia. I have had people contact me to say how much they could relate to the stories relayed in the podcasts.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019,2020
URL https://maker-stories-podcast.simplecast.com/
 
Description Participation in Crafts Council open forum on anti-racism in craft 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact In June 2020 Crafts Council held an open online forum about tackling racism and inequality in craft. The organisation was sparked into action after the killing of George Floyd. My research showed the racism experienced by women makers of colour in craft and I presented this research to nearly 100 makers and craft organisations. The event also included Jay Blades (From the Repair Shop show, BBC) and Rose Sinclair, lecturer in Fashion and Textiles at Goldsmiths University. As you can see from the information provided on the Crafts Council website (see link below) the event and research from this project has informed their future approach to addressing racism in craft.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.craftscouncil.org.uk/stories/tackling-racism-and-inequality-craft-sector
 
Description Participation in a Crafts Council business development session 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I took part in an online workshop facilitated by the Crafts Council business development team about issues around visibility and invisibility on social media, informed by the research. I interviewed maker Arati Devasher about her social media use and we came up with some tips for makers on how to address issues around self-promotion on social media.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.craftscouncil.org.uk/maker-support/craft-business-resources/social-media-how-to-make-it-...
 
Description STEAM Sprint workshops 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I worked with STEAMhouse in Birmingham to run a three-day workshop series (or STEAM Sprint) which ran over three weeks from November-December 2020. Participants in the workshops included makers who had been involved with this project, Craftspace and Crafts Council UK. The workshops were initially going to be face-to-face but due to the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic we adapted the format to run online, using the Miro collaborative software.

The methods STEAMhouse use for a STEAM Sprint are based on design thinking approaches. Together with Patrick Bek and Sophia Tarr from STEAMHouse, we created activities that focused on discovery and idea generation, enabling participants to work towards innovative policy development. It was a collaborative and generative process which yielded many interesting insights.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://steamhouse.org.uk/blog/craft-expertise-workshop-series-tackling-racism-and-inequality-in-cra...