Crafts Council's new Creative Director, Natalie Melton, and Head of Editorial, Malaika Byng
Tell us about yourselves
Natalie Melton: My work in the craft world began ten years ago when I helped set up a mentoring programme called Crafted. It bought together exceptional crafts people with leaders from the luxury sector, enabling them exchange knowledge and expertise. When Walpole took this over, I was one of three co-founders of The New Craftsman. I've spent the last six years building that business up and have now handed over the reins to our commercial director.
Malaika Byng: I've been a design journalist for over a decade, firstly while living in Cape Town for several years. South Africa has a really strong ceramics heritage, which fostered my love for craft. When I returned to London I worked for Wallpaper* magazine for five years, then started a digital magazine called The Spaces in 2015, focusing on architecture, design and property. Then this role came along and I saw a chance for a fresh change that let me indulge one of my passions.
While you were working at The Spaces did you notice the shift in terms of your audience's interest in craft?
Malaika: We definitely noticed a rising emphasis on craft in architectural projects in general, and a big appetite for this on social media. Tactile environments that had texture and patina tended to get all the likes.
Natalie: It's amazing how social media has begun to demand that kind of experience, even from a 2D image.
What made you apply for your roles at the Crafts Council?
Natalie: For me, the exciting thing about the Creative Director role was the opportunity to talk about craft in its entirety. The really extraordinary thing about craft is its ability to speak to people in so many different ways. I loved the work I was doing with The New Craftsman, delving into the interior world and working with domestic objects, but I've also always been passionate about the role of craft in education and the opportunity to see how craft can drive innovation in other industries. There's no other organization with the breadth of expertise and knowledge of the Crafts Council. To play a role in shaping and communicating that to a wider audience is extremely exciting.
Malaika: I've always had a long-held love for craft. I'm a collector myself in a small way, so the Head of Editorial role seemed a very natural next step. Like Natalie, I’m interested in showing how craft can connect to all areas of our lives and have a transformative impact. I also think there’s a huge opportunity because craft is really exploding in popularity at the moment – amateur craft participation in England grew to 24% of the population in 2017/18. So it’s a good time for craft and I think we can make it even better.
Natalie: It's not just participation that’s growing, it’s also the diversity and breadth of the audience. We need to make sure we speak to those different audiences.
What’s your favourite crafted object in your home?
Malaika: Mine’s an antique piece handed down from my grandmother – a 19th-century Chinoiserie corner cabinet, with illustrative paintings inside. It totally makes my home.
Natalie: I have a set of coffee cups by James and Tilla Waters. I don't feel ready to start the day if I don't drink coffee out of one of them in the morning.
What are your first impressions of the Crafts Council?
Natalie: I've been surprised by the scope of what’s happening here - how involved it is in the education agenda and the scope of what it is initiating and providing in this area. I'm looking forward to learning more about the kind of innovation and research that we're undertaking at the moment and seeing how we can use that to shape the debate and agenda for craft.
Malaika: The depth of knowledge inside this building is completely astonishing.
What's your vision for your roles at the Crafts Council?
Natalie: It's early days for me but my first aspiration is to get to grips with everything the Crafts Council does so I can think about how we can be open as an organization – how we can share what we do in a way that feels accessible. We need to look at how we reach new audiences, how we partner with people, how we can invite people to explore our collections in different ways and how we can open up our building on Pentonville Road over the next year. And most importantly, we need to look at how we can really celebrate the kind of extraordinary breadth and variety of craft that we have in this country.
Malaika: I want to show how craft is relevant to all areas of life, exploring its connections to science, fashion and technology, as well as art and design. I want to hunt down the makers who are driving innovation and I want to encourage debate, looking at the role that craft can play in addressing the burning issues of the day, from sustainability to mental health. In tandem with all this, I also want to have fun with it, throwing in some surprises and curve balls, so there will always be something unexpected.