Sunday, 27 May 2012

Craft Aotearoa News

As the year gets busier for Craft Aotearoa, we thought we would take this opportunity to update you on what we are about and also our progress to date.

Our Vision
Craft Aotearoa is a new, national organisation that aims to create and promote opportunities for the public of New Zealand to have increased access to craft research, exhibitions, events, and education and training opportunities across a broad range of craft disciplines. We do this to foster the retention and development of craft skills and ensure knowledge and learning is transferred from one generation to the next. We are in the process of establishing a range of partnerships within craft and across the wider economy to deliver initiatives that will elevate and as importantly, celebrate New Zealand craft and engage the public of New Zealand.

'Fuse' by Elfie Spieweck. Toured through Australia 09/10.
The premise for establishing this organisation was captured three years earlier at a national craft symposium held 2nd May 2009 at Christchurch Art Gallery. It was acknowledged that although New Zealand craft practice was in a moment of ascendancy and demonstrating a developing maturity, greater market promotion, curatorial and audience development was needed to engage the public of New Zealand. There was a call for a more formal craft network to be established across New Zealand (reducing geographical segmentation) and that a Crafts Council or a national organisation focused on supporting both makers and their audiences (the public of New Zealand) be formed to foster a range of initiatives, in order to ensure the advancement of New Zealand craft practice and engagement of the wider public. The symposium also confirmed that craft was important to our national identity, history and the national economy (particularly tourism).

Founding Trustees also recognised the need to develop initiatives for the public to have greater access and opportunities to learn about and participate in craft and to practice craftsmanship. In response, they decided to set up a charitable trust.

Application to the Charities Commission
In 2011, Craft Aotearoa was accepted into Chapman Tripp’s pro bono programme and a charitable trust application was submitted in December to the Charities Commission. Our charitable trust status is currently pending. Our application was reviewed in May and we have been asked to supply further information, which is a fairly standard request. Our charitable objectives and activities can be found in our December blog. 

Our priorities June–December 2012
Craft Aotearoa presents 21st June
  • become a registered charity with the Charities Commission and arrange a gala launch of Craft Aotearoa in Wellington early September in partnership with the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts 
  • launch a national craft research project to develop a current profile of the New Zealand craft sector and better understand how the wider public currently engage in craft. Public consultation meetings to be held in Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland in partnership with craft organisations from 1st June – 31st July. The research will be published and made available to the public in due course.
  • establish a national craft research advisory group to inform and support the development of a report that contextualises the above research results and provides a platform for future projects and work with Statistics New Zealand to uncover craft data that can be included in this report.
  • support and present at craft events including Objectspace’s 7Up Talkfest celebrations on 21st June in Auckland and at Handmade 2012 on 2nd June in Wellington and other events as they arise.
  • continue to gather and publish craft sector news, interviews, events, and other relevant information beneficial to the wider public on Craft Aotearoa’s blog (
  • support the public of Christchurch to access opportunities to view craft and continue to provide information and support to displaced craft studio artists and organisations in Christchurch, following the devastating earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.
  • launch a national craft e-newsletter and facebook page that promotes opportunities for the public to engage in craft events, exhibitions, workshops, and other learning opportunities
  • secure start-up funding to support the above activities which are all voluntary at present.
Our Supporters
Our founding supporters are Chapman Tripp (legal advice and assistance), Board of Design (branding identity) and the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts (who are supporting the gala launch of Craft Aotearoa later in the year). Our blog has recently been listed in the Creative New Zealand online arts directory and with The Big Idea industry directory and has had over 3,430 views to date, the majority from New Zealand and a growing number from Russia, the UK, and America. Our facebook page was launched four days ago and has been supported with over 160 'likes' from a range of individual craft business owners and organisations. The majority of 'likers' are female (95%), from Auckland (closely followed by Christchurch), and are aged between 25-44 years. 

Founding Trustees

Jenna-Lea Philpott is an experienced arts and creative industries consultant who has held high profile public sector roles in New Zealand and the UK, specialising in economic development, arts management and workforce development. She has broad sector knowledge, working in partnership with many arts and craft organisations, creative business owners, industry groups, education providers, artists and central and local government agencies and has managed significant research projects including the The Craft Blueprint: a Workforce Development Plan for Craft in the UK launched at the House of Lords in 2009 and the Christchurch Creative Industries Strategy 2005 – 2007, the first regional plan of its kind in New Zealand.

Penny Eames: JP, MA (Applied) has been involved in setting up programmes in the arts and education for nearly thirty years. Currently she is Managing Director of PSE Consultancy, Managing Director of Arts Access International, Chair of Voice Arts Trust and a Trustee of Arts Participation New Zealand. Penny has extensive national and international experience, has been on the Arts Board of Creative New Zealand and has been an advisor to craft and arts organisations throughout New Zealand. Penny has worked on projects in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Hong Kong and Australia, particularly in the arts and justice sector and was the founder and Executive Director of Arts Access Aotearoa for nine years. Before that, she was a Programme Manager for the Arts Council of New Zealand, Director of New Zealand Workers Educational Association and a freelance writer.

Dr. Warren Feeney is the Director of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, an art historian, arts commentator and the author of The Radical, the Reactionary and the Canterbury Society of Arts 1180 – 1996. From 1999 to 2010 he was the Director of the Centre of Contemporary Art and over the past 20 years has written for the Journal of New Zealand Art History, Art New Zealand, The New Zealand Journal of History and numerous catalogues and publications on New Zealand art. 

How to get involved, stay connected or find out more information
As a developing organisation, we welcome your ideas, support and opportunities to collaborate on projects. Help us reach those interested in learning about and engaging in New Zealand craft by:

Monday, 21 May 2012

The word CRAFT. What does it mean to you?

The word 'craft' continues to stir debate in New Zealand. In some countries, the use of the word 'craft' has stood the test of time and has maintained its relevance, even evolved. In New Zealand, 'craft' is still a work in progress. Against a backdrop of more modern (some might say trendy) friends such as applied arts, object arts, designer made, or even handmade, it has become a crowded landscape and poor old craft is seen by some influential people as, well, just that - poor, OLD craft. Often relegated to the box of country craft fairs, the kitsch, community craft markets, and associated with objects that are made with perhaps poorer quality construction, or uninspiring design.

Consider the growth of online craft communities though, which has seen the word craft re-emerge in some sort of renaissance. Throughout New Zealand, cyberspace has embraced many new groups that include both dedicated 'crafters' as well as 'craft enthusiasts.' Here is a sample, with a combined total of nearly 5,000 members or 'likes': 

Wellington Craftism Collective
Crafternoon Tea

The word 'craft' is also in Hearts in Crafts, a television series currently showing on TVNZ 7. which opens with the line 'the show for those of us with a passion for craft.'

The process by which something is made
Whereas ‘craft’ is seen by some as applying to both the process of creating something as well as the end result, terms such as applied or object art seem to be associated with the final object produced, without reference to the process that comes before. A slight shift, that seems to have lots of implications, especially for those who strive to make objects, and need to market themselves to a buying public and maybe a fine art world comprised of gallery directors, curators, collectors, and art critics.

If I dust off my linguistics degree hat for a minute, I wonder whether there has been a shift in semantics, that is, a shift in the meaning of the word 'craft', or whether it is merely a shift in context as to how the word is actually applied? A quick canvass of friends over dinner, who are not engaged in making objects resulted in comments such as 'craft is about the process of making something' and 'craft can mean anything from craft beer to craft car manufacturing' and 'a craft item is something handmade.' This in turn led to a discussion about how in the world of advertising, it has suddenly become cool to use the word 'craft' to raise consumer's expectations about quality - everything from cheese, beer, wine, car manufacturing, building companies, you name it really.

This presents a very interesting situation. In the wider New Zealand economy, particularly at a consumer level, the use of the word 'craft' carries some prestige. Why then, does the world of fine art resist it's use, or worse, denigrate it, as one person suggested to me recently? Perhaps the observations of Hamish Coney, who wrote an article for Idealog #4 in 2006 shed some light:  

'When branded as ‘craft’ even the coolest practitioner (like, say, potter—sorry, ceramicist—Len  Castle) won’t get a look in when it came to getting a bit of art cred. Things started to look up a bit when ‘craft’ morphed into ‘Applied Art’ in the mid 80s in a classic case of transitional branding. The momentum really picked up in the 1990s when the phrase ‘Object Art’ entered the art lexicon.'

About this point, I decided to consult Webster's online dictionary for an official explanation of terms. Only craft was searchable. Applied art and object art, being two words each were not a recognised singular concept.  

Craft - art or skill; dexterity in particular manual employment; hence the occupation or employment itself; manual art; a trade AND those engaged in any trade taken collectively; a guild: as the craft of ironmongers.

International Comparisons
If we look to our international colleagues, the word 'craft' does not seem to be relegated to the past. It is actually very current, carries prestige, and has aspirational qualities associated with the skill and craftsmanship (perfected over many years of intense training) needed to craft an object. Perhaps there are some in New Zealand that also subscribe to this school of thought? One wonders what students and graduates think about this terminology dilemma as they embark on their new career path.

Internationally, there are a number of national organisations that have 'craft' in their title, all of which seek to advance public awareness and appreciation for innovative, aesthetically designed objects (that one might find exhibited in public art galleries). For example, Craft Scotland, Craft Northern Ireland, Crafts Council, Craft Australia (in the process of closing its 40 year operations), Craft in America, the Australasian Craft Network, the World Crafts Council, the Cape Craft and Design Institute in South Africa, and more. International publications such as the Crafts magazine or Craft Unbound embrace the word craft too.One person who knows about the inherent challenges around use of terminology, particularly in relation to the marketing of craft objects, is Emma Walker, CEO of Craft Scotland, who states on their website that: "I had spoken to over a hundred makers who were brilliantly talented, highly creative and ambitious for their futures. However, every conversation I had with them was about the long-debated question “What is Craft?” – a question asked time and time again in industry research. I had been in the sector three weeks and I was already frustrated and bored of the debate."

Emma and her team went on to develop the 'C' word marketing campaign, designed to provoke interest and discussion on Scottish craft at a national and international level. This advert was played in cinemas around the UK. (Click on the youtube video below or here for more information. 

The dilemma for Craft Aotearoa
To be on par internationally, there was no question that we needed to include the word 'craft' in our name, and, being a nation with two official languages, we chose the Maori word for New Zealand, 'aotearoa.' (For our international readers, that means land of the long white cloud and if you ever arrive in New Zealand by ship, that will immediately become visible long before you step foot on land.)

Craft Aotearoa has also had to carefully consider the appropriate use of terminology in a legal context, firstly with the drafting of our charitable objectives in our Trust Deed document, and secondly in the context of being asked by the Charities Commission to provide a definition of 'craft' and 'craftsmanship.' One could write a thesis based on that simple question, however we will leave the final word to our government (via Creative New Zealand) who outline what they mean by craft/object art in the 2012 Craft /Object Art funding guide.

Craft / object art includes traditional applied arts and contemporary practice, as well as ceramics, jewellery, glass, textiles, metal, woodwork, and studio-based design.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Learn a craft at HANDMADE 2012

Queens Birthday weekend in Wellington sees the return of HANDMADE, a festival celebrating beautiful and creative things. It is the place for people who want to learn the skills and crafts of previous generations but in today's context, using modern technology and style. Even if you have never taken a craft class before - this is an event where you can try something new and different - and what a great way to spend a winter weekend!

The 2012 programme features 80 different activities across a variety of crafts taught by passionate teachers from throughout New Zealand who are keen to demonstrate their skills, and help you create a beautiful craft object. There are three types of classes:

1. Workshops: hands-on classes that give you the opportunity to learn under the guidance of our teachers and to complete the object you are making, so that you learn the complete process.

2. Making Masterclasses: a new addition to the HANDMADE 2012 programme, these masterclasses are workshops for those of you who have experience in a particular craft and want to further your skills by learning from the best. Masterclasses are presentations from well-known and highly-regarded experts in their field, and most include demonstrations of craft. Masterclass presentations give you the opportunity to watch and learn, with helpful tips along the way.

3. Lecture Series: educational seminars offering an opportunity to explore craft and beautiful handmade things in a different way. Speakers from various areas will provide new and interesting insights in these 50 minute presentations, including Craft Aotearoa. Join us for an exploration of Handmade New Zealand craft in the 21st Century on Saturday afternoon and also the Wellington launch of our national craft research project.

Each of the classes fall under one of the following categories: Remade, Taste, Yarn, Homework, Heirloom, Stitch, Free Range, and World.

More information including how to purchase tickets can be found at HANDMADE 2012.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Innovative Glass Exhibition showing at Objectspace

Photo Credits: The Crystal Chain Gang: Jim Dennison and Leanne Williams, Fancy Fools Flight, 2011. Courtesy of the artists. Photograph: installation view at Objectspace, 2012. 
One of Creative New Zealand's funding priorities is to support craft exhibitions to tour nationally and internationally and last week I had the good fortune to be in Auckland whilst new work by Jim Denison and Leanne Williams was on show at Objectspace. The Crystal Chain Gang: Fancy Fools Flight was originally produced and curated by Greg Donson, Senior Curator at the Sarjeant Gallery in Wanganui, one of New Zealand's favourite glass destinations (see our previous blog). It will also tour to The Suter Art Gallery Te Aratoi o Whakatu in Nelson, Pataka Museum of Arts and Cultures in Porirua, and Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art and History in Masterton.

In lots of ways, this is great news for New Zealand craft.  To see craft objects exhibited centre stage in public galleries bodes well for the future and also for the makers of such work. It is also encouraging to see galleries outside the main city centres being included, thus ensuring that audiences for craft are developed in a broader geographical sense.

As I stood in the gallery entrance, I found myself rather excited by the glass mirage that greeted me, including an impressive chandelier with crystals adorned with glass wings and a central column  of cast-glass chicken feet. Supported by a funding grant from Creative New Zealand, this new body of work not only blurs the boundaries of craft, art and design, it challenges those boundaries too.

Since 2004, Jim Dennison and Leanne Williams have worked collaboratively as the The Crystal Chain Gang, supported by a dedicated crew of between two and three studio assistants who have been vital in bringing this labour-intensive and heavy cast glass work to fruition. Taking the overlooked utilitarian bottle form as its starting point, the exhibition features a group of bottles based on the form of cut-glass decanters often used to house alcoholic spirits - but could be seen to hold spirits of a different kind. The Crystal Chain Gang top these with stoppers that feature a line up of guardian characters that are drawn from a rich visual memory bank, both real and imagined.

Sourcing inspiration from second-hand shop finds and images from books, the pair literally re-mould these overlooked objects into new forms, punk them up, subvert them and make them foolish and heroic all at once. They state, “The message is not in the bottle but it is the bottle itself... our intention is to stir memory and re-contextualise the bottle to try and engage the viewer in new and unexpected ways”

Dennison and Williams draw inspiration from a wide range of areas, including the history of glass-making abroad, from which they cite René Lalique and the elaborate glass furnishings created for Eastern palaces during the nineteenth century as influences. Closer to home, New Zealand colonial history and objects and imagery sourced from second-hand shops are all brought together.

The exhibition also features earlier works made by the Crystal Chain Gang including a delightful colourful flock of budgies, tuis and bellbirds and a jewelled skull named Polly. One immediately appreciates the skill evident in bringing about such level of detail, for example the bird feathers. Their life-like form is engaging.

Also engaging is the accompanying 30 page exhibition publication made possible with support from Creative New Zealand. With stunning colour photos, an introduction by the original curator Greg Donson, and essays by Greg Donson and Bronwyn Lloyd it is a great read. Copies can be purchased direct from Objectspace for $15.

The exhibition continues at Objectspace until Saturday 9 June.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Exciting Year for Wanganui Glass Group

Home to the renowned neo-classical Sarjeant Gallery, the Wanganui Glass School, McNamara Gallery, and Quay School of the Arts, Wanganui has emerged as a creative haven that is also home to the very active Wanganui Glass Group. There are over 30 practicing glass artists in Wanganui who exhibit nationally and internationally and whose work spans several disciplines including blowing, kiln casting, flame working, fusing, stained glass, pate-de-verre, cold construction and mixed media.

As New Zealand's only location offering full-time study of glass, Wanganui will further develop its reputation as a leading glass destination this year with a series of events from 13 - 22 October for both the glass community and the wider public. Last year's events were well supported, as captured in this short video.

As part of this year's celebrations, Clare Belfrage and Galia Amsel will be contributing as the 2012 Visiting Artists and each will run a five day glass workshop from 15 - 19 October. One of Australia's leading glass artists, Clare's work has been included in many international public and private collections. Galia is also a renowned glass artist, based in New Zealand whose work references strong, sculptural forms in vibrant colours. For further information on these workshops, and to register visit Wanganui Glass Group.

The New Zealand Society of Artists in Glass (NZSAG) will also be holding a conference in Wanganui from 19-22 October for more than 200 members including artists, collectors, interested members of the public and related institutions. It will be a great opportunity for those in the glass sector to come together and celebrate the craft of glass making.

2012 Wanganui Glass Events

Oct 13-21: Glass Hub on Victoria Avenue. Showcasing WGG artists, exhibition by Glass School students and Resident Artist.
Oct 13: Blowing of ‘Design a Monster’ entries, student glass sale and ‘Blowing in the Dark’ at Wanganui Glass School.
Oct 14: Glass blowing demonstration for the public and student glass sale at Wanganui Glass School.
Oct 15-19: Clare Belfrage Blowing Workshop at Chronicle Glass Studio
Oct 15-19: Galia Amsel Casting Workshop at Wanganui Glass School.
Oct 17: Wanganui Glass Group Social Event. Chronicle Glass Studio will host a relaxed member’s get-together with drinks, nibbles and a glass blowing demonstration by Clare Belfrage.
Oct 19: Glass Olympics at Chronicle Glass Studio
Oct 19 - 22: New Zealand Society of Artists in Glass (NZSAG) Conference.