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  • Matthew Boulton's Moon Phase series, Karina Thompson, Making Moves II project. Photo: Craftspace

Making in the modern world

The executive director of the Crafts Council on the organisation’s innovative conference

Since joining the Crafts Council, one thing I’ve been determined to demonstrate is the importance to the wider economy of making. While it is absolutely vital that we maintain and bolster the established market for craft – which we do through such schemes as Hothouse (our development programme for emerging makers), Injection (which caters for established makers looking to take a step-change in their practice), and of course COLLECT, our international fair for contemporary objects – it’s also hugely important that we reach out to other sectors and ensure that craft never allows itself to become ghettoised, and always remains relevant to contemporary society. In short, that the skills craft undoubtedly possesses find contemporary application.

All of which explains why I’m really excited by our new two-day conference Make:Shift, which takes place from 20-21 November at Ravensbourne. Because this is about craft at the cutting edge, illustrating at a stroke that makers can count themselves among the world’s leading innovators. Centring around three key themes – materials, making and tools – the conference will feature a breathtaking array of practitioners whose work extends into the fields of science, engineering, architecture, robotics, medicine and manufacturing.

Speakers promise to include Mark Miodownik, professor of Materials and Society at UCL and director of the Institute of Making, self-titled ‘ipotter’ Michael Eden, Mark Chapman, the Science Museum’s first ‘Inventor in Residence’, as well as our keynotes Martina Margetts, former editor of this magazine and a senior tutor in Critical & Historical Studies at the Royal College of Art, and Ammar Mirjan, an architect, machinist and maker whose work focuses on the coupling of digital design and physical fabrication spaces with robotic systems. 

Voxel Vessel, Michael Eden, 2013. Courtesy of Adrian Sassoon London

To coincide with this, we’re also launching a programme of public events in make spaces across the UK from 21-22 November. Run in partnership with the V&A, The RSA and the Institute of Making, Make:Shift:Do will allow visitors the opportunity to engage with these rapidly expanding communities and get hands-on experience of making. (I should add that we are also very grateful to the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, which is supporting the creation of an app that will help the public find out and participate in the event.) It should prove to be an inspiring few days, and show government and industry alike that makers have the potential to create a real difference across a range of fields.

It will also suggest to aspiring makers that there are a number of career paths available. While making and selling your own wares – either by yourself or through a gallery – of course remains the favoured option for many, the examples of Matt Durran (who has worked with medical researchers at the Royal Free Hospital to create glass moulds from which the scaffold is made to grow human tissue) or Rhian Solomon (who is currently working with an anthropologist at Morriston Hospital in Swansea to improve communication between patients undergoing breast reconstructions and their surgeons) suggest that a background in making can open some unexpected and rather fascinating doors.

The two events are part of our new Innovation Programme, which aims to build on the success that the organisation has accrued, through such exhibitions as Lab Craft and Power of Making, our 2012 conference Assemble, and our report Crafting Capital: New Technologies, New Economies.

Another important thread is Parallel Practices, a new set of Crafts Council residencies that we’ve launched with the Cultural Institute at King’s College London, that will bring together makers with medical and scientific academics. Among the four successful proposals, for instance, is robotics expert Dr Thrish Nanayakkara’s work with jeweller Naomi Mcintosh and bookbinder Les Bicknell to extend soft robotics through modelling, exploring new ways of controlling movement and articulation of objects.

Squeeze fold bend and expand - Structural Memory in Deformable Objects, 2014. Thrishantha Nanayakkara, Naomi Mcintosh and Les Bicknell, Parallel Practices

This is all exciting, often genuinely groundbreaking stuff, that promises to take craft into different places in the future. However, I do think it’s worth stressing that a generation down the line none of this will be possible, unless we start emphasising the importance of making in our education system now. This is the reason why we’re also launching Our Future Is in the Making: An Education Manifesto for Craft and Making at the House of Commons on 10 November. Our aim is nothing short of securing the future of craft education, making sure that every child has a chance to discover their practical abilities, develop their creative talents and be given the opportunity to become a maker in the future.

As we are endeavouring to prove, this vision is rooted in the knowledge that craft skills can lead to a panoply of careers across a vast range of different disciplines.