Dr Lauren Baker delivered the very engaging and interactive Crafting Connections programme throughout May 2022. Below, she describes the success of the workshop series.
This series of workshops was developed specifically for North East craftspeople and designer/makers, and aimed to help participants build new connections with others working in the region, and potentially develop unique products or ways of working that could enhance their own business offering. We had a wonderful response to the programme, with the final cohort tallying 9 creative businesses working in diverse fields, including textile arts, illustration, community workshops, and publishing. This variety of practice and experience led to some wonderfully rich discussions amongst the group, as we shared our hopes and concerns for both business and creative practices, as well as aspirations for the future. Concerns amongst the cohort were varied, ranging from establishing routes to market, carving out time to search and apply for funding, through to ensuring creative practice was sustainable both environmentally and in terms of return on investment. However, the factors that brought hope and encouragement to the cohort counteracted these concerns, including the sense of autonomy that comes with running your own business, the opportunity for development and evolution made possible through taking on new challenges, and the satisfaction they got from working with collaborative partners and delivering for clients and consumers. A key takeaway for the group was the tension that exists between doing something that you love, and the need to earn a living from it. This is not an easy element to balance.
The workshop discussions were accompanied by exploratory making, where the group used simple craft materials to make a model of their responses to discussion points. After making these models, the group would reflect upon them and share their responses. This injected a lot of fun into the sessions, as well as giving the group time and space to really reflect on their practice. More than anything, the models produced were amazing! They communicated complex ideas, and allowed the cohort to draw on their knowledge and skills in using materials to help them discuss their thoughts. This was a central aspect of the workshops, helping the group to feel comfortable by introducing an element of play into potentially intimidating discussions of business, innovation, and enterprise.
Another unique aspect of the Crafting Connections workshops was the spaces where the events were hosted. Each week was hosted somewhere new: the workshop space at The Shipley Gallery in Gateshead; the innovation hub at Hope St Xchange in Sunderland; and a virtual meeting space, accompanied by a tour of Applied Art Scotland’s Craft Toolkit. This provided an opportunity for the creative businesses participating in the workshops to meet the teams behind these spaces, find out more about the resources available to them, and explore options for working together in the future. Not only did it introduce them to useful resources, such as archives, craft collections, fabrication labs, and planning tools, but it gave them an opportunity to consider how different spaces may be incorporated into their everyday practice. Many hadn’t considered partnering with new spaces to host workshops, or indeed using local landmarks, heritage, and storytelling to inform the design of future collections. Building up these links between the past and the present can have genuine impact on the future of a region’s practice, promoting the reimagining of a space and developing the way spaces are used. This not only enhances the work of the individual, but of the place they are working in. This is a major theme for Creative Fuse North East, as we seek to build the resilience and innovative capacity not just of practitioners and businesses, but the region overall.