In September 2019 Making Space hosted a new Maker Development event; GUILDED CONVERSATIONS. The event was an opportunity to come together to explore the purpose and function of maker collectives, such as craft guilds, associations and studio groups. Asking what role they have to play in the contemporary craft infrastructure and how they can survive successfully in a climate where craft is under valued and under represented.
The discussion took place at Winchester School of Art on Thursday 19 September 2019 and the event was a Making Space initiative in association with Arts Council England, Hampshire County Council and Winchester School of Art.
We were delighted with the success of this first event and from feedback can see that there is a great enthusiasm for connection and further discussion so are asking what issues/questions you now have that you would like to see in future discussions? Reply to this post or let us know by email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Kas Williams, who was employed as a freelancer to co-ordinate the project, has written an evaluation of the project which we’d like to share.
Guilded Conversations: An Evaluation
Thank you to everyone who came to Guilded Conversations. It was wonderful to see such a diverse group of people from a mix of backgrounds and experiences coming together to talk. Our objective was to create a relaxed forum in which to express views and shared experiences both as individuals and members of collectives and to provide an opportunity to meet and network with other like minded people. Valuable contributions from our key speaker and facilitators helped to frame the event and created a launch pad for the stimulating conversations that followed.
It was clear to see that no matter what the background there were some very common threads of thought and opinion that flowed throughout all the discussion groups. Guilds today face challenges in a changing world where they must compete for membership with many different initiatives and collectives reflecting the diverse ways a new generation of artists is choosing to connect with each other. What seems constant is the desire to connect and the value of that connection in the support it can offer whether that be through belonging to a single or multiple groups.
There is a recognition that the world has changed since the conception of Guilds in the 1930’s although the reasons for them being created as support groups and vehicles for artists to promote their work are just as relevant today. We heard how Guilds operate very different models, vary in size and work independently of each other so their experiences are not always the same. What they can offer will depend hugely on their resources and aims but what is common to all are the challenges faced by groups made of individuals at various stages in their careers with differing expectations and how they can work together successfully to the greater good while still making individuals feel valued.
We asked “What do makers want from belonging to a group?” and there is no doubt that it can be a rewarding and enriching experience offering opportunities, career development and in some cases funding. Key words that echoed in all discussion groups were; support, mentoring, social contact and a sense of belonging to a group of like minded people. Routes to market through exhibiting and the value of networking were also highlighted as key benefits along with the community it creates. There is a valid perception that creativity is good for mental health and it was felt that Guilds can play an important part in supporting makers and promoting mental wellbeing. They can provide a professional pipeline and create a bridge for emerging graduate artists who often feel the isolation of life outside of a supporting structure. They can also provide a non-judgemental forum for ongoing constructive criticism and maker development.
One of the bigger challenges facing Guilds, indeed all groups today, is a changing demographic and an education in the arts which is now largely self funded. The impact of this is fewer people choosing to study the arts and a decline in numbers of potential new recruits for Guilds, some of which already have a declining and ageing membership. There is also a growing interest in maker collectives that are focussed around the drop-in culture of shared space and equipment with flexible membership fees and a non-commitment policy which finds popularity with makers who have perhaps less of a desire to be aligned with one group. Geography can play a big part in accessibility and Guilds like many collectives rely on the commitment of their members to function. Some members expressed feelings of guilt at not being able to contribute enough for a variety of reasons from work commitments to the logistics of travel or the absence of time. Conversely there were examples of members being drawn in to a group role to the detriment of their own work.
So how do you make an organisation relevant and attractive to a generation that doesn’t necessarily need you as much as the old generation use to ? It was felt that sometimes Guilds are seen as historic organisations and that to survive they have to become relevant. Questions were posed as to whether Guilds are being pro-active enough in seeking out new members and informing themselves of emerging talent and whether they are answering the question of what new/younger members need. Conversations developed around the role of a Guild in innovation and the creative challenge of a collective that is often at very different stages of development. How do you re-invent an organisation so that it is fit for purpose not just for long standing members but also for the next generation? Change can bring conflict with tensions between long standing members and newcomers wanting to introduce new ideas and traditional resistance towards new technologies can sometimes hold them back. The most successful Guilds are the ones that are able to adapt and embrace the changes. Having a mix of platforms for their members to tap into and a strong organising body were both seen as positive benefits. Engaging with new ideas can often energise and is a way to overcome the disconnect that long establish groups can sometimes find between themselves and newly emerging/next generation artists. There were interesting discussions around whether Guilds should re-assess their membership regularly and questions asked about selection criteria of members, longevity of membership and the standard and presentation of work. Ideas were explored around the benefits of fixed term memberships and monitoring of maker development with questions about the willingness to reject applications at the risk of alienating individuals.
Some delegates voiced their perception of a cultural shift that has lost the value of studying with craftsmen in favour of a university based education creating a widening gap between generations. Perhaps there are opportunities here for Guilds to provide the bridge between young people who are finding new and different ways of creating work and an older generation who have a desire to pass on their knowledge and skills.
There is now a complex platform of opportunities available through social media, craft fairs, open studios, exhibition call-outs etc so that in addition to creating their work artists are now expected to be very business savvy. The younger generation is not necessarily aware of what a Guild is and encouraging young membership to any organisation is challenging so the question is how to make peer learning accessible and promote it as a good idea. Potential members have very diverse wants and are now shopping around for the best deal and examining more closely what an organisation can do for them. It was felt that Guilds could make their offering clearer with incentives to join and clearly defined benefits such as exclusive access to exhibition opportunities and mentoring to attract artists at varying stages of their careers. Across wide ranging discussions it seems clear that there is an enormous enthusiasm to maintain a physical and social connection and that groups that are able to adapt and embrace the changing environment of the creative world will ensure their survival and thrive.
We hope you all enjoyed a healthy and lively debate and took away something valuable whether a new understanding or a new connection. The positive response to this first event seems to indicate that there is plenty of scope to explore and extend the conversation further and it’s clear that many good connections were made on the day.
We must say thank you again to Winchester School of Art for their generous donation of a venue and to all our speakers and facilitators. At present there are no plans for any more events although it is clear that there is enthusiasm for discussion and connection. As always these things depend on funding and any news of future events will be posted on the Making Space website
Thank you again for coming, it was a pleasure to meet you all.
Kas Williams MA
Please use the links below to find out more about the facilitators, key speakers & co-ordinators of the Project: