Essay - Advocating for Craft by Jane Scott
Jane Scott, CEO and Artistic Director at Craft
Previous positions have included Executive Director, Regional Arts Australia and Cultural Attaché, Embassy of Australia, Washington DC.Contributors
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A considerable portion of this country's creative energies are invested in making work we can call craft. This word, this title, encompasses an extraordinary range of activities. The crafts in Australia truly reflect our concerns as a people and a nation. It has a history in this country dating back at least forty thousand years. From craft practice born of necessity and function through to artefacts that show creative brilliance, assimilating everything from new technologies and materials to cultural diversity, immigration, and lifestyle choices. Craft like all aspects of the arts is subject to fashion and trends and can give us insights into the history of Australia through the objects designed and built at any given time. It is one of our key cultural indicators.
Like all creative pursuits, craft practice attracts a huge number of amateurs who form part of the support base for the elevation and celebration of the best that can be produced at any particular time. Current statistical data available through the Australia Council indicates that over 2 million Australians make some form of craft. Of the 30% of Australian’s who produce or create art, 14% produce craft in comparison with 12% who paint or draw. These statistics equate to over 80,000 Victorians producing some form of craft. One could argue that the disparity between actual practice and participation in an art form and the level of funding from both State and Federal funding bodies is somewhat skewed and in need of a review. However craft has always struggled to argue its case for parity within the Australian art scene, with many of our key practitioners opting to be classified as Designers or Artists before their work is given equal standing. The facts remain, craft is the most practiced art form in the country, it endures as one of the most popular art engagements in Australia and craft objects past and present represent some of the country’s most significant creative achievements.
To a limited extent, this achievement has been recognised by the museum sector. All of Victoria’s public galleries have collections of craft. Some institutions have specialised in a particular area and have in-depth historical items that sit alongside contemporary acquisitions, providing overviews of Australian craft practice that has national significance. Some through lack of funds and or interest have collections that span shorter periods of time or are at best very patchy providing little insight or opportunities for appreciation into the movement.
In the late 1970s a more comprehensive strategy was envisioned. The State Craft Collection was established in 1978 and housed in the Meat Market Craft Centre in North Melbourne. When the MMCC was closed down in 1999 the State Craft Collection- comprising over 500 objects and representing 278 artists- was dispersed to Victorian regional galleries that specialised in particular areas, such as ceramics (Shepparton Art Museum) and textiles (Ararat Regional Gallery). The State Craft Collection is still being held in these institutions on behalf of the people of Victoria. Since then acquisitions of craft in public galleries and museums throughout Australia have been sporadic at best. Curators dedicated specifically to the area are few and the level of reviews and debate is minimal.
To some extent the very nature of these institutions militates against adequate representation of craft, and sustained effort and clear thinking will be needed for change. But we should not wait for the existing bastions of culture to rethink their acquisition policies or curatorial departments, nor should we wait for the educational system to refocus the training of museum professionals so that they are furnished with a better knowledge and appreciation of craft practices. I believe we should be looking at the establishment of a State craft museum, with the goal of collecting, exhibiting and touring the finest work of contemporary practitioners. I would suggest that the establishment of a Victorian Museum of Craft is well over due. A focused museum would provide an opportunity to contextualise the craft movement in Victoria and Australia, drawing together key collections, many currently in storage. It would give acknowledgment and support to the sector with historical and contemporary exhibitions that showcase Australian craft to an ever growing base of local, national and international visitors.
Jane Scott, CEO and Artistic Director at Craft