Over the past year I have been working with Crafts Council UK to explore how social media could support diversity in craft. That project, funded by the AHRC’s Creative Economy Engagement Fund (CEEF), has now ended. The good news is that we have now moved into a new phase after being awarded a two-year AHRC Leadership Fellowship which ends in 2021. The new project, titled ‘Supporting Diversity and Expertise Development in the Contemporary Craft Economy’ seeks to build on the initial insights from the CEEF to develop both academic and practical outputs to support diversity in craft.
From the previous project, which involved interviews with 17 women makers of colour and two social media workshops, the key findings are as follows:
- Many of the women who were interviewed and took part in the workshops experienced a lack of confidence with using social media and building a presence online. Some of them, particularly the black women, felt that their ethnicity might devalue their work. Similar sentiments have been expressed in recent online conversations around racism in the knitting community.
- For many of the participants, family and upbringing played an important role in developing a passion for craft and a desire to pursue craft further. Some felt a sense of duty to preserve the craft expertise of the past. However, growing up, many participants were discouraged from seriously pursuing a craft career by parents wanting them to aspire to seemingly more ‘secure’ occupations in accounting, law or medicine. There remains a perception with some families that craft is not a ‘proper job’ but a domesticated part of everyday life.
- Though it presents challenges, all participants felt that social media was something they needed to use in order to make a living from their craft. One opportunity is the potential for BAME women makers to share the work of each other, potentially amplifying online visibility through ‘mutual aid’ on social media. Another opportunity is for makers to join or create online ‘safe’ spaces, enabling them to share work with each other, gain support and develop the confidence to grow their online presence for the benefit of their practice.
In the new project we want to address the challenges and opportunities which emerged during the CEEF, in particular the issue of racism and discrimination in certain craft communities. We will also explore how to facilitate safe spaces for makers, both online and offline. From a research perspective I aim to address how craft by women and in certain settings is perceived, by highlighting the expertise involved in making. Expertise is often associated with masculinised notions of power and authority – under-explored is the practical expertise of makers, particularly women makers of colour. Practical outputs from the project will include a podcast series with makers, a journal issue, a conference, a workshop and policy recommendations.