Saturday 26 November 2011

How Craft Aotearoa began

Usually one sets up an organisation, secures funding and employs staff before starting projects, developing partnerships, or starting campaigns. Craft Aotearoa did not have the luxury of waiting that long, as the need to support Christchurch craft practitioners took precedence. Founding Trustee Jenna-Lea Philpott shares her personal journey in setting up Craft Aotearoa - and how it almost didn't happen. 

June 2009
Since 2007, I have been employed as a craft sector Industry Engagement Advisor in the UK at Creative & Cultural Skills. Working in partnership with a craft employer's group, I develop a major UK-wide public consultation exercise to identify major craft skills issues in the UK craft sector, and work in partnership with a range of government agencies, public and private training and education institutes, and many arts and craft organisations, in particular:

Pioneering research: The Craft Blueprint
Crafts Council
Craft Northern Ireland
Craft Scotland
Fforwm Crefft Cymru
Cockpit Arts
The Goldsmiths Company
Holts Academy
Craft Study Centre
Shetland Arts
The Basketmakers Association
The Devon Guild of Craftsmen
The Bluecoat Display Centre
The Embroiderers Guild
The Calligraphy & Lettering Arts Society
Heritage Crafts Association
Council for Higher Education in Art and Design
Institute of Musical Instrument Technology
National Glass Centre

Prior to the launch of The Craft Blueprint: A Workforce Development Plan for Craft in the UK at the House of Lords (photo above) I assist colleagues with developing new methodological approaches to craft sector research. The results show that in the UK, craft contributes nearly £3 billion GVA to the UK economy each year which is greater than the Visual Arts, Cultural Heritage or Literature sectors. Government research also shows that employment grew by 11% in the craft sector between 1997 and 2006 - one of the highest growth rates of the creative and cultural industries. I wonder how New Zealand compares....

Another key project I am excited to assist is the development of National Occupational Standards for craft. These standards form the basis of craft qualifications including craft apprenticeships, where the UK government provides funding to employers to encourage the teaching of skills from one generation to the next, and to encourage vocational learning as a career entry route, alongside academic entry routes. Sadly, I am unable to progress other project recommendations in The Craft Blueprint as the economic crunch worsens in the UK and my employer restructures due to reduced funding and along with others, my role is disestablished and I return home to New Zealand.

I begin to look at the craft sector in New Zealand and notice gaps, such as the accessibility of the wider public to craft education and learning opportunties. I only work part-time so I have the capacity to  undertake a national craft research project and I apply to Creative New Zealand for funding in September. The day after I submit my application, I am woken at 4:30am by the house swinging from side to side as if a flying carpet. My partner Ray and I experience a 7.1 magnitude earthquake in the dark, lose power, and I've never felt so scared in my life. We live near the beach and we have no idea where the epicentre is and are scared a tsunami might be on its way. We believe that if it is this bad in Christchurch (not known for its earthquakes) it must be really bad further inland where the Alpine Fault lies, and we worry for our families and friends.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we realise how miraculous it is that no one died. Hundreds of buildings are damaged and businesses affected. The daily aftershocks and warning of at least a 6.2 aftershock still to come offer little comfort over Christmas. I hear back from Creative New Zealand and are adivised it was a high quality application however the proposed research is something that Creative New Zealand either commissions or undertakes itself.

Craft Bluepint Launch: Joe (Craft NI), Victoria (Walford Mill), Jenna & Ray
January - Penny Eames (Kapiti Coast) and Dr. Warren Feeney (Christchurch) confirm interest in joining myself in setting up a new charitable trust to support craft practice across New Zealand, foster greater public appreciation for craft,and undertake craft sector research. Warren and I travel to Auckland and meetings are held with Creative New Zealand and Objectspace. It is a quiet month in terms of aftershocks and summer is in full swing.

February -  Penny develops the first draft of the trust deed. It is sitting on my desk at home, and I am in the central city of Christchurch when a devastating earthquake strikes on 22 February. I am just below The Arts Centre as masonry starts falling around me and I lose my balance in the violent shaking and injure my back as I fall on the edge of the gutter. While the ground is still shaking, I manage to get to my car which has somehow escaped the flying masonry and I drive home through liquefaction that is so deep in some streets that I make sure my electronic windows are open just in case I need to swim out. Three hours later (usually a 20 minute drive) I arrive home to my partner, cat, and neighbours who are all safe and sound. Our oven has been shunted out a metre from the wall and everything in the house is strewn onto the floors. We have no power, water, or toilet facilities.

March - still no power, water, or toilet during March and we register with the Red Cross as earthquake refugees! We live day to day from the camping gear we own, the veggies in our garden (until they die from lack of water), the food bank deliveries (thanks NZ and the world for your donations!), visit ancient artesian wells that have appeared since the earthquake to collect deep underground water in containers and lug it home, and dig holes in the garden for our 'nature deposits.' Someone posts a message onto my facebook page to say that I am alive and have no power or phone hence the reason why no one has heard from me. I finally manage to connect with fellow trustee Warren on the other side of town and we agree to regroup in April. Fortunately, his side of town is much less affected and he has all services. The whole of the central city has been locked down and there is a curfew in place.

April - intermittent power returns! Enough to fire up the laptop, television and mobile phone. For the first time, I see footage of the days back in February and learn that my doctor and medical records perished in the CTV building and that 181 people died and hundreds more were injured. We still have no running water as the water main outside our house is broken, however I can fill up at the neighbour's houses. I'm not surprised when I am made redundant from my part-time job, but I do worry about the likelihood of finding other paid work when the city barely seems capable of functioning. My partner and I grieve the loss of life as we knew it, and begin to feel forced to leave Christchurch. I travel to Auckland for my friend's wedding. The sense of normality is overwhelming. A few too many but well-intentioned questions at the reception and I find I can't breathe. Later, I discover that I had a 'panic attack.' When I return to Christchurch, I start physio treatment on my lower back which is really painful all the time as a direct result of how I fell in the earthquake. I hear more and more stories from artists and craft makers about the impact on their livelihoods. So I organise and facilitate a meeting to identify their key concerns and ideas- and then pass that feedback on to Creative New Zealand, Christchurch City Council, and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, all of whom are scrambling to comprehend the scale of the tragedy.

May - I'm grateful to secure some temping work and like a lot of people I dig deep to muster energy I do not feel. It is strange to be working in the central city again, across the road from The Arts Centre, being reminded of the life I used to have.  Fresh running water returns at home which is undrinkable, and makes my hair go straw-like, but the joy of turning on the tap and having something coming out of a shower head is incredible. I start to wear a back brace every day so my bruised back muscles have a chance to recover and  Penny sends me the second draft of Craft Aotearoa's trust deed. I attend lots of art sector consultation meetings in Christchurch including the newly formed Arts Voice Christchurch gatherings. The loss of so much arts infrastructure is hard to comprehend.

June - my confidence has grown and I feel like I am starting to getting my zing back. I may only be temping, living week to week but I feel privileged to be in a position to help with the rebuild of the city, and grateful to have a job as many around me start to lose theirs. At home, our toilet has come back online, and power is consistently available too. I draft a Craft Aotearoa Concept Plan, meet with Creative New Zealand, catch up with some craft makers over coffee meetings, attend more arts sector consultation meetings and realise that I am actually quite busy. My back has improved and I no longer need to wear a brace or have physio and it is another step towards normality. Some friends have left town permanently, but it is winter and my partner and I make the most of Queens Birthday Weekend and head to Mt Cook to take stock. On the way, he proposes to me. It is so unexpected and we bask in happiness for a while. After stopping in Timaru where Dad gives a hearty handshake and congratulations to my fiancee (and a wink for me), we return to Christchurch just in time for another big earthquake on another different fault line. I'm in a cafe at the bottom of a tower office block. I don't budge. I keep reading the paper and drinking my hot chocolate. I refuse to be scared any more. As I walk back to work and see people around me crying and upset I feel my steely resolve start to crumble and a familiar face gives me a hug. The unspoken question is will it ever end? The beautiful rose window at the already badly damaged Christchurch Cathedral falls to the ground. It is the end of an era and the beginning of another.

Rose Window Design from the Christchurch Cathedral
July - our landlord has been red zoned and we are asked to leave as soon as possible so they can move in. It is the middle of winter and the rental market has become highly competitive. I'm scared to live in a 'foreign' house not knowing how it will react in an earthquake. Scared to give up the familiar for the unfamiliar. The thought of moving suburbs, away from friends and neighbours and into the unknown really tests my resolve. Dedicating time to progressing Craft Aotearoa is impacted once again. I book a trip to Wellington to celebrate my birthday away from earthquakes, but the South American volcano eruption means no flights leave Christchurch for a week, so I'm grounded in Christchurch and I feel rather disheartened. I move on to plan B - hiring a holiday house at Tekapo for the weekend where my father and I can celebrate our birthdays together. It is a wonderful time. We return to Christchurch and secure a new place to live and a week later I take time off work to start packing boxes to get ready to move. Then I get a phonecall. Dad died suddenly in his sleep in the night, and instead of planning a wedding, I find myself helping to plan a funeral.

August - came and went. Thanks to the love and support of friends and neighbours we moved out in freak snow storms not seen in over 100 years four days after Dad's funeral service. I consider giving up or at least deferring setting up Craft Aotearoa. There have been so many disruptions this year and I wonder if I have the energy any more.

September - also came and went. I returned to temping part-time, grateful for the support of some very understanding work colleagues. I dust off Craft Aotearoa's trust deed and concept plan, organise our first Trust meeting, and draft a submission to the draft Christchurch Central City Plan. I also visit property owners to see if their space would be suitable for craft studios, where member of the public can come and buy craft.

October - Dad used to say 'you never know when your time is up and you just have to do the best you can and do things that make you happy.' So working on that theory, I resolve to do the best that I can too. I start to believe that I can make use of previous career experience. I prepare a power point presentation and speaking notes and Warren and I attend the Central City Plan hearings, to talk to our submission on behalf of the Christchurch craft sector and wider public. We argue that the draft Central City Plan lacks long term vision for the craft sector and that providing a dedicated craft gallery space will act as a catalyst for tourism and provide vibrant inner city living for the residents of Christchurch. Supporting people to make objects is one half of the equation- we must also support them to show and to sell. We point out the public good in supporting a sector that historically has never required public funding, and that rather than just rebuild the city, there is the opportunity to redevelop it better than ever. Councillors congratulate us on our presentation and ask lots of questions. Their positive response is encouraging, and The Press mention our presentation the next day. 

Working voluntarily on Craft Aotearoa builds to around 20 hours per week on average. I show various people including Creative New Zealand around a building space on Barbados Street and I continue conversations with the building owners. I learn about resource consents, building consents, insurance, leases, and find myself coming up with concept drawings. We have our second Trust meeting and the Charities Commission give us good advice about our purposes and powers in the trust deed. I contact Chapman Tripp and they come back and offer us a place on their pro bono programme. Suddenly, life just got a little bit easier, and this early vote of confidence after everything else this year, restores my confidence. My fellow trustees suggest I start a blog. I've never done that before but I give it a go. It's quite exciting seeing the page views jump from 5 to 213. I meet with Gap Filler and help promote some of their exciting community craft events too.

November - I start a new part-time temp job. Week day evenings, Fridays and weekends are spent progressing Craft Aotearoa. People start enquiring about where to buy Christmas craft, and craft practitioners tell me they are really struggling - as in, struggling more now, than earlier in the year. No one seems to know their stories, so I ask them five simple questions and post their answers to our blog. I also post a blog about where to buy Christmas craft. Then I go slightly haywire, posting the link to our blog on social media pages, emailing people, and I pop a listing on The Big Idea website too. In less than 24 hours we jump up 300 page views to 865, and our online poll jumps up 20 votes, and we gather 13 online followers. Yay! That makes sitting up to midnight writing content and surfing websites and social media pages worth it.

Craft enthusiast aka Phillippa, our lawyer, forwards the first draft of the trust deed, maintaining some of the content of our original deed. It looks good. She is based in Auckland and while we chat on the phone, a 4.0 aftershock happens and the epicentre is 3kms from my house. I also phone the Wanganui Glass Group, contact Objectspace, investigate funding opportunities for Christchurch craft, purchase domain names, set up a Craft Aotearoa email account, research more blog content, plan the next trust meeting, draft the minutes of the last meeting, start to build a craft database, meet with Warren, and meet with another building and land owner who wants to build a community arts centre on Fitzgerald Avenue. Warren also investigates the possibility of space on Moorhouse Avenue. Then, just when I begin to wonder when it is holiday time and when we can stop and do nothing for a while, I realise the time is ripe for calling a Christchurch craft sector meeting, to galvanise the interest and support we have received so far, to get all the various 'space' options out in the open to be discussed, and to remind craft makers that they are not forgotten and we are still listening. So planning is underway for a meeting on 7th December, 4:30pm- 6pm at CPIT. It would be great to have a good turn out - that way we can be sure we're reaching people and that we're moving in a direction that the majority want.

December - a trip to Wellington is on the cards in response to enquiries from various craft organisations and a meeting with a network of representatives with various craft guilds in Christchurch, plus our own consultation meeting on 7th December, a third Trust meeting, and the launch of our first e-newsletter so it is looking busy too.

In summary - I am grateful to have two fabulous and hard working founding trustees, Penny and Warren, who helped me get through all the disruptions and encouraged me to keep going. I'm also grateful to my fiancee Ray, who has been a tower of strength (I might just have to start researching crafty weddings as a blog topic in future!) Ultimately, I'm looking forward to Craft Aotearoa growing its support for NZ craft practice through a range of initiatives in 2012 and establishing new and exciting partnerships. In the new year, we will tell you more about our aims and objectives and introduce all our trustees. In the meantime, thank you all for your support thus far. Have a very good crafty Christmas!

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