It has been a turbulent period for the Crafts Council, which for about five months from November 2005 was without a permanent director and chairman. The period also saw the closure of its London shop and exhibition space – a venue that has given early public profile to a whole roster of now successful and celebrated designers.
With the arrival of Rosy Greenlees in March last year to replace former director Louise Taylor, there came an internal acknowledgement that the council needed to take stock of its role, identity and place. With a sense that the organisation had begun to lose its way, it is thought there was some concern that the council might be folded back into its principal financial backer, the Arts Council. However, annual funding of just over £3m is now in place for the next two years, to cover core costs, as well as Greenlees’ strategic review.
Over the past few months, a thorough appraisal and health-check of the Crafts Council have been underway. These will culminate, via consultants and research, in the launch this spring of a redrafted mission statement and redesigned visual identity, created by Intro. Although the details of this statement of intent are still being hammered out, Greenlees is keen that the council is seen to be responding to changes in the worlds of design, the visual arts, architecture and digital media currently taking place.
‘The council was formed about 40 years ago and so has an interesting history and heritage, but the world has changed. So how does it respond to these changes? The visual arts are more popular and how do we relate to the other creative industries? What can the Crafts Council do in that context?’ she asks.
Of immediate concern is impact. On the visual side, the council’s Pentagram-designed identity is currently being assessed. Intro was appointed in a six-way pitch just before Christmas with an initial brief to look at ways of updating the existing ‘C’ logotype. However, the group has so far produced two entirely new visual routes which are up for consideration by Crafts Council stakeholders, alongside a more moderate tweak.
‘It could be a case of a new broom approach, or it could be a modification of the current marque, which is well recognised and largely liked, although there are some shortcomings,’ says Intro design director Adrian Talbot. ‘The current logo is nicely integrated, but it doesn’t reduce well and has an archaic type style. It was based on an actual stone carving and although this was lost in translation somewhere, we want something of the handcrafted in the final identity.’
Talbot claims that the heritage of craft in the UK is enjoying something of a renaissance, as the discipline provides a counterpoint to the prominence of digital media. ‘I think they have got a Zeitgeist thing on their side. There is a growing appreciation of craft in the digital age,’ he says.
As part of the drive toward wider-reaching public awareness, the reallocation of resources from the London venue will lead instead to a focus on collaborations and partnerships with other organisations, including those outside the crafts sector. Although Greenlees denies that the closure of the shop and gallery were financially driven, the council has already acknowledged that running the space committed a big proportion of its funding to the venue, restricting regional work.
‘We are shifting resources to programmes that are more strategic but will have more impact. There will still be exhibitions and the associated costs, but we will work with people from different areas and backgrounds to raise the profile of the crafts. We need to look at how we can be a better advocate for the sector and examine the way craft overlaps with design and the visual arts, for example,’ she says.
Tie-ups are already in place with Somerset House and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, as well as the relationship with the Jerwood Foundation through the Jerwood Applied Arts Prize. The prize returns this year with a jewellery competition in the Jerwood Space in London, although its continuation has to be renegotiated with Jerwood each year.
Greenlees notes that although the crafts are somewhat unsung (or, worse still, thought to be populated by ‘people in thick woolly socks’), a lot of high profile designers come back to making one-off pieces and experimenting with materials and process. Tom Dixon and Shin and Tomoko Azumi provide a case in point. And it is these kinds of high profile designers the council is considering enlisting to act as champions for the crafts sector.
‘The idea of having ambassadors is very much on the agenda,’ says Greenlees. ‘We are looking at how we can build the market through events like Origin and how we can engage other organisations and the public to demonstrate all the good work which is going on in the sector. I want to show the importance of craft not only economically, but also socially and culturally.’
• Preparing to launch a new mission statement, visual identity and a debate on the role of crafts in the UK
• Looking to appoint a director of external relations to build profile
• £3m annual Arts Council funding in place until 2008
• Collect, an international show of contemporary objects, runs at the Victoria & Albert Museum from 8 to 12 February – and regionally as Collection
• Jerwood Applied Arts Prize returns in June, but is renegotiated each year
• Working with Creative & Cultural Skills on professional development, apprenticeships and research into the structure of the crafts sector