Monday, June 04, 2007

An Open Letter to the Craft World

Why are there all kinds of shows and expos for art and design galleries, and craft fairs where individual artists and artisans show and sell their work, but almost no opportunities for craft galleries and shops to convene and generate a buzz for craft?

Currently, there are plenty of shows and fairs for craftspeople held in big-city convention centers, sprawling open-air markets, and rural outdoor fairgrounds. Yet it seems to us in our experience with the craft world so far, about the only place where craft galleries get together is at SOFA. However SOFA is very high end; only a select number of top craft galleries are selected and can afford to participate. There are no fairs or shows for the emerging and less established craft galleries to present their collections.

In the craft world, there is enormous stress, and rightly so, on the makers. However, there is not nearly as much attention paid to craft merchants.

Filling in the Gap

In terms of how craft is presented to the public by the “craft world” (by which we mean the industry and culture surrounding mostly but not only American craft), there are craft fairs that expose people to individual artisans and their work, and people perhaps know about their local craft gallery. But the craft world does not present its galleries together, providing a public venue in which craft galleries from far and wide can be visited and patronized all at one time.

There certainly seems to be a market for craft fairs and shows exhibiting work by individual makers of traditional craft, studio craft, and even indie craft. Wouldn’t many who attend these shows, collectors especially, appreciate a chance to visit dozens of galleries exhibiting a broad range of craft all at once, not just SOFA?

We believe that there are a number of other shops and galleries that also would be interested in an opportunity to show in a setting less costly than SOFA yet high-profile.

Imagine a New York Craft Week

When the big annual art and design fairs come to New York—The Armory Show, the International Contemporary Furniture Fair—it creates a huge city-wide buzz for their respective industries. These fairs become ripe marketing opportunities not only for the galleries showing at the big fair, but also for the many smaller outfits and organizations that come, in other words the whole industry.

Greatly contributing to the buzz are the satellite shows presenting emerging or specialized groups (SCOPE during the Armory Show, HauteGREEN during ICFF), the parties, and the economic activity this all stimulates. Some of these are very successful in generating business for newer players. There may also be events, performances, lectures, and the like. These simultaneous activities become known as unofficial thematic “weeks” (as the ICFF has spawned New York Design Week), and they present great marketing opportunities for their respective industries, offering a great chance to reach a broader audience.

In our limited experience so far, what we’ve noticed is that when craft appears in the other big fairs and shows it is as an attachment, almost a sideshow. For example, the Furniture Society presented a wonderful group of furniture makers at the ICFF, but they were all grouped together in a back corner, marginalized by design.

Don’t get us wrong. The craft world does a great job of promoting its individual artisans and artists and this should definitely continue. And ask any craft gallery owner—the artists are always at the heart of their work, too. We also know that there are organizations for craft retailers, such as the Craft Retailers Association For Tomorrow, working to market craft and craft galleries.

But the craft world could do much more to promote its galleries and shops the way the art and design worlds do theirs.

And now is an incredibly ripe time in which to do so, with interest in craft surging and the next generation of makers blossoming.

If a big group of galleries starts convening each year for a New York Craft Week, it can raise enormous exposure and support for artists, artisans and galleries as it raises the profile of craft and its ideals.

The Next Generation

Sometimes we hear the phrase “crisis in craft.” From our point of view, if there is a crisis in craft today, it is not on the part of the makers. There is plenty of activity, from rigorous study to casual hobby, to fill any number of galleries and shops. The crisis is that galleries and shops are not receiving attention, and not enough new ones are emerging.

Who will be the next generation of craft merchants? There are definitely some of us out there, under 40 and working every day to build our part of the mix. But we’re few and far between.

Craft merchants (and other retailers invested in fine handmade work) need a space to convene, collaborate, and create a buzz. A show would offer a great opportunity to build the business part of the craft world, and to figure out how to present craft to today’s customers. We need to build community within the industry in order to compete with other markets, for surely we cannot leave the retail side of the craft world to those selling knock offs and cheap imports.

As part of the next generation of craft merchants, we are eager to connect with a broader customer base as well as our colleagues around the country. A show would give us the chance to work cooperatively with galleries and other participants to create something new that will help take the industry to the next level.

We are not the ones to organize this effort. But we wanted to bring it up in this open letter in hopes that it will put something new and important into motion.

Let’s take our ownership of craft to the next level.

Thank you for your kind attention.


Amy Shaw and Jae Kim
Brooklyn, NY

Image sourced here.

1 comment:

Tim Glotzbach said...


Thank you for the post. Dennis Stevens sent me your the letter from your blog. I'd love to talk with you about some of the issues you propose. I will soon begin a new position as Director of Berea College Crafts.

Tim Glotzbach
Chair, CODA Board of Directors.
606-487-3407 Office
859-248-0872 Blackberry/cell