Making the Story Visible: Educating our Audience on Craft
June 2, 2006
Andrew Glasgow, The Furniture Society, moderator;
Leslie Pryzbylek, Mid American Art Alliance
Deborah Smith, American Craft Council;
Susan Warner, Museum of Glass
Lynette Jennings, Eagleheart Center for Art and Inquiry
The American Craft Council was founded in 1943 with a mission to promote the appreciation of contemporary craft. They host an annual juried show, give an annual award and have a 13,000 volume library in New York City. The American Craft Magazine has a circulation of 90,000. Education is through public shows in 6 cities: Atlanta, Sarasota, San Francisco, Baltimore, St. Paul and Charlotte. These shows attract an audience of 60,000, and include 13,000 artisans. At each site, local organizations do craft demonstrations.
The organization’s focus has been to create an understanding of the current state of craft and how it can be a conduit to the future. Seeking to modernize the public’s view of craft, they elevate the public’s perception by demonstration of the process.
Another goal is to influence the shapers of culture – for example, getting a craftsperson on Oprah can lift the whole industry. Educate on the value of hand-made products.
Marketing help for the artists is part of the mission as is helping the public be more informed. Having a designer on hand to show the public how to display a piece links consumer with artisan.
Survey Monkey is a web tool used to quiz the consumers.
The Mid-America Arts Alliance is an organization which seeks to enrich communities through cultural experience. Exhibitions become access points for the education of the audience – they create an opening and start a dialogue:
- The Art of Gold – an exhibit with an intrinsically exciting medium which ignited an interest in jewelry making classes.
- Needle Art: A Post-Modern Sewing Circle – audience had a positive and interactive response – they wanted to start sewing, to take a class. The word “post-modern”, however, had a negative response.
- No Boundaries was a basket making show in Durant Oklahoma which invited 5th graders to interact and try basket making.
Tying an exhibit to a personal experience of the audience creates more interest. In this way, craft has an advantage over fine art because people feel, they can actually do it, can take a class, can use things they already have on hand. Craft has a more human scale. www.maaa.org
The Pacific Northwest is one of the leaders in studio glass with 500 glass studios including the Pilchuck School founded by Dale Chihuly. The Museum of Glass is part of the City of Tacoma’s efforts to save the decaying central city – it is co-located with the Tacoma Art Museum and the Historical Society. The Glass Museum is the biggest “hot shop” in the world with 200 seats – it turns glass blowing into performance art. .There is a glassblowing staff, technicians, and a 5 day residency program which brings in glassblowers and other artists from all over the world.
One unique program allows students, 12 and under, to submit plans for a piece of glass. One design is chosen and the young creator directs production. The resulting art works will be put together for a traveling show marketed to children’s museums.
Adult audiences participate in an interactive Flash Application which allows groups to vote on the design and color for a piece of glass which can be created in the hot shop.
In the History of Glass lecture series, each lecture is followed by a demonstration of the mentioned techniques.
12,000 children tour the Glass Museum each year. The information on the tours has been designed to meet the Washington educational guidelines.
The public who are regularly in contact with the craft world are ½ of 1% of the population. We have no universal arts education. In 1985 Lynette decided to teach America about design via ½ hour weekly TV programs. She found the public was hungry for this information. To communicate with the public it is necessary to break down the fear about making decisions about art, the fear of asking questions. The public generally doesn’t want art education until they have to decorate or buy something. Their only time is the weekend and there is competition for that time. Forget arts jargon. In the media you have 6 seconds to make an impression, so be clear. Jargon is one wall between the arts community and the general public.
Unapproachable art galleries often are a wall, a way of keeping the uninitiated out.
Another barrier is the continual featuring of “star” and “dead” artists with the astronomical prices. People are afraid to buy art because:
1. They may not be able to return it
2. They may spend more than it is really “worth.”
3. Their friends and family might make them feel silly for buying it.
Good advice to this public is to buy what they can honestly relate to.
Think of the public not as an audience, but as consumers – you have to get their attention, speak their language, make them comfortable, make them feel smart.
Open for Questions:
Question: What can we do to optimize our use of the mass media?
Answer: “Close the loop.” Have your message appear on TV, radio, and the print media at the same time. Stretch it out over a period of time – depth and breadth.
Don’t expect national media to cover a local or regional event. Match the quantity of your product to the push – you don’t want to create a demand that can’t be met. Personal stories play extremely well in the media – use people to pique curiosity. Use your web site better. The Museum of Glass has plans to “stream media” from the hot shop.
Comment: There is an audience which does not buy, who aren’t “consumers.” What they want is experience, emotion, education. Emotion the connection for those who want to know not how art is created, but why.
Question: What about corporate America? How can we get them interested in fine crafts?
Answer: Big boxes are looking for innovative things to save them. Hand-made crafts might become part of their plan. (An evil idea is Target taking an American hand made craft and having copies knocked off in China. The real problem is the quantity required by national retailers. They will perhaps change their business model to market local items.