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Peer Sessions: Craft Schools and University Centers
Moderators: David Willard

                    Steve Loar
June 2, 2006

Topic:  the divide between generations: Baby Boomers and Generation X

There is a difference in generations and cultural ways in thinking about and using craft. 

Youth may be less interested in craft or have less discipline.  They are influenced by free market society, computers, World Wide Web, technology and advertising. 

Baby Boomers “work to live” and Generation X “lives to work.”  They seek to be engaged in their work.

Questions posed by the group:

  • How many craft organizations are closing?
  • How do universities and craft organizations adapt to, anticipate and adjust to change?
  • How do we balance future needs of students with while minimizing financial risk?
  • Should we offer more popular, newer classes or is this abandoning tradition?
  • Who are the new audiences and what do they value?
  • How do we measure success?
  • How are our organizations represented in the culture? In the community?
  • How do we make furniture or other craft programs students’ first choice?
  • Are these students interested in craft professions or a crafty lifestyle?

Institutional change is very difficult, but inevitable.

It is hard to be all things to all people. Define your institution and you will focus your audience.  Make your brand so bright that it is a beacon to like minded-people.

Generational differences are trumped by similar interests.   People connect to the craft tribe all over the world, especially now with the internet.

June 3, 2006

Theme: Survival -- How do we adapt to change and move toward prosperity? 

To run a craft school is to run a business.  How to create a financially viable school but also stay true to the institutions’ spirit, core and mission? How do we risk and experiment but still bring in funding to survive? 

An institution can move toward prosperity with successful long-range planning, branding and marketing. 

  • Project a high standard; show students work that is way beyond what your average incoming student would be doing.
  • Define what you want to aspire to, and look to other successful organizations for models.  Research how they maintain standards and thrive.
  • Arrowmont has used the data on what courses are successful to coordinate marketing and programming together.
  • Arrowmont has increased overall marketing, but reduced 10% of their catalog mailings due to email.   Pictures of classes are emailed 2 months prior to the beginning each class.  The month prior they send an email with blurbs about the classes. This has actually increased marketing effectiveness.
  • In some cases it is important to clarify when marketing to consumers of products rather than to students
  • Craft schools have special challenges due to the media.  Each waxes and wanes in popularity.  Materials change, tools need to be replaced.  Some materials aren’t compatible, such as various types of glass.  And, it is costly to acquire a full compliment of tools for certain media.

 Suggestions for increased attendance:

  • High fees or complex fee structures are also barriers.  Streamline fees so people won’t feel nickel and dimmed.
  • Have a guest artist from a different medium for one day.
  • Arts and wellness classes are gaining in popularity. 
  • What about recruiting older and younger students together (at Arrowmont the median age of students is over 50)?  Can the young and old work together?  The intergenerational mix is dynamic. Can you market to a broad spectrum?  Youth, college students and adults require different marketing and price-points for classes.  This can be addressed by offering a membership discount on classes.
  • Offer introductory workshops.  They let new students test the experience without the commitment of a full class.  This could increase recruitment for next season because the students return home with an object they created.   One example is a head of a construction company who wove a basket, then coworkers wanted to come along to the next class after seeing what was created.  Another group offered five-day intensives for intermediate level skills.  This developed into a regular Sunday afternoon class.
  • Are institutions offering courses that are chronically under-enrolled just because of the historical importance of the medium?
  • Which works better for recruiting at your organization: pure demonstrations versus introductory participatory experiences?

Some want to maintain selective accessibility.  They were concerned about engaging the general public, issues of public funding requiring publishing of statistics, finances, fundraising information, etc.  How do other organizations balance all of this?

The group would like to see more talk on increasing standards within the craft community.  This has been a challenge because quality and standards issues have rankled the egalitarian nature.  The craft world has wanted to include everyone, but schools and centers need to be selective. Remember: craft isn’t the medium, but the work.  There are new, innovative materials to respond to, but high-level craftsmanship should still be maintained.  In 1850, standards were set in craft schools in England, and they are still able to rely on this reputation of excellence.

How are our groups helping keep artists informed? After graduation, how do they create a future and manage their careers?  Are our students reading journals and participating in crafts shows?  Are we continuing to learn new ways of reaching out, entering the market place, and recruiting new talent?  We need to educate students so they can make it into high caliber shows, festivals, residencies, teaching positions, galleries, and more.

All schools must work on these important issues together.  We should call other organizations and open lines of communication: share what works and what doesn’t, network.


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