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CODA CONFERENCE 2007
CRAFT HAS NO BOUNDARIES
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
June 14-17, 2007

Host - Alberta Craft Council
Partner - Canadian Crafts Federation
Location - Alberta College of Art and Design

Sponsors - American Craft Council, The Crafts Report

photos available upon request: info@codacraft.org

In its first conference outside the US, the Craft Organization Development Association (CODA) met at the Alberta College of Art + Design (ACAD) this June. Hosted by the Alberta Craft Council (ACC) in partnership with the Canadian Craft Federation, the event was also part of Craft Year 2007, a nation-wide festival of professional craft. The theme of this year’s CODA conference, “Craft Has No Boundaries,” provoked discussions on the future of craft and explored the vibrant, growing inter-relationship of American and Canadian craft practice. Just under 100 people attended, with 50 from the US, and approximately 40 Canadians representing most of the provinces and territories.

Despite some southerners being puzzled at first about Canada (a few had asked if they should expect snow), the Americans were enthusiastic, friendly and eager to find out more about how things worked for craftspeople north of the 49th parallel. A day into the conference one remarked with slight envy how much government support Canadian organizations have, and how lucky we are that most of us have province-wide organizations. With their tenfold larger population, though, Americans have very well developed marketing associations, several national magazines covering all aspects of craft from aesthetics to business, charitable organizations and numerous craft schools. Most of these organizations are CODA members and were, therefore, represented at the conference.

Though CODA was formed as an information-sharing group there has been more concentration on issues at recent conferences. The main topics for the Calgary gathering were “Cross Border Relationships in professional Craft” and “Youth & Emerging Craftspeople”. Representatives from both countries related examples of the interaction and sharing that has taken place in the past.

CODA’s 2001 landmark craft survey was instrumental in instigating the series of Canadian Craft surveys conducted by the Canadian Crafts Federation. With the concrete figures these surveys provided, American and Canadian government departments of heritage, tourism and economic development are able to recognize the potential in supporting craft-related programs. Crafts has the potential to be a major travel attraction that generates cultural tourism and overall community/economic development.

Canadians new to CODA were introduced to “3 Minutes of Fame,” the system whereby the numerous delegate groups are able to briefly introduce themselves. These brief intros revealed that many US endeavors already include Canadians: George Little Management sponsors several craft fairs in Canada, the Furniture Society has at least 25% Canadian membership and held its annual conference in Victoria, BC this year (with at least 50% Canadian attendance anticipated) and Canadians form 10% of the exhibitors at the Rosen Group’s Buyers Market in Philadelphia. Correspondingly, most Canadian organizations have also been involved in international ventures, a notable example being Alberta Craft Council’s recent “All About Alberta” project in Washington, DC.

An obvious, though seldom discussed example of cross-border sharing is at the individual level. Many Canadians school in the US, especially if they attend graduate programs, then return to Canada, where they impart knowledge to others. Additionally, craft artists from both countries may travel across borders due to employment or personal relationships. American-born Dawn Detarando talked about her US training, moving to Alberta with husband Brian McArthur, their further training in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and its influence on their tile and commission work in their Red Deer, Alberta studio.

Many of the larger US-based craft organizations have a history of including Canadians in their ventures. Based in Baltimore, Maryland, the Rosen Group’s central mission is “to provide American and Canadian artists with opportunities and guidance to grow their business and compete in the global marketplace.” The company accomplishes this mission through its trade show, Philadelphia Buyers Market of American Craft, three arts publications (Niche, American Style and Crafting as a Business) and the Arts Business Institute (ABI), its non-profit trade association. ABI provides artists with real-world knowledge about product development, pricing, accounting, public relations and wholesaling to galleries by conducting workshops in partnership with regional arts and economic development organizations in the US and Canada.

A frequently mentioned subject was the internet and its possibilities. The web has revolutionized how we communicate and disseminate information, and this was strongly evident in panels and presentations. Webinars enable workshops to take place with the presenter being in one location and the audience in another; if they are podcasts or similar media they may also be replayed. In some cases the presenter conducts the workshop from their home studio. Though webinars are just beginning to be utilized in the craft field, they open up possibilities for international sharing and further communication.

Representatives from US craft schools, such as Penland (North Carolina) and Arrowmont (Gatlinburg, Tennessee), both stressed that they would welcome applications from Canadian instructors and students.

Of particular interest to Canadian/US cross-border opportunities was the session “New Projects – Canadian Craft in the US”. Craft councils in Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan are all engaged in or have past experience with cross-border projects. The Quebec Craft Council (Conseil des métiers d’art du Quebec) assists makers of limited editions and high-end craft work in the New York International Gift Fair and the Philadelphia Buyers Market. According to Linda Tremblay, Marketing Director, the council provides training in marketing, packing and shipping. Additionally, work by Quebec craft artists has been shown at SOFA Chicago for the last 12 years. They now intend to go to SOFA New York and Design Miami. The Quebec government provides 80% of the craft council funding; the Canadian government 20%. However, the council still could not do this without significant sales from the artists. This cross-border venture is not just about sales, though, but the opportunity for Quebec artists to be recognized by galleries and collectors. They’ve been successful, as evidenced by an increase in collectors from the US visiting the council’s gallery in Montreal. The gallery ships work anywhere in the world, a service they hope will open up even more opportunities for exposure for its artists.

Canada will be the guest country for the 31st Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show this year. The popular show, which has an average attendance of 25,000–30,000 over four days and average booth sales of $18,000, began a guest program in 2001. Linda Tremblay and Ann Manuel, Executive Director, Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador, coordinated the Canadian entries for the Canadian Craft Federation. From 89 applications, 24 craft artists representing a wide range of craft media were selected. The show will be November 8–11, 2007.

The Nova Scotia Designer Crafts Council (NSDCC) has also sent craft artists to SOFA, as well as to the Philadelphia Buyers Market of American Craft and the Providence, Rhode Island Fine Furnishings Show. According to NSDCC President Bernie Burton, export development in Atlantic Canada receives considerable government support. NSDCC wants to develop long-range plans, and have been conducting ongoing market research. Part of this included several trade missions to the Los Angeles area, which in turn resulted in three galleries visiting Nova Scotia. One of these, del Mano Gallery, West Los Angeles, held an exhibition of Nova Scotia artists’ work. That gallery now represents three Atlantic Canada artists. After this success, NSDCC is now looking into additional venues in the US, as well as possibilities in the U.K., Ireland and Iceland.

Because of its low population and isolation, the export market is especially important in Saskatchewan, says Mark Stobbe, Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Craft Council. The Emma Collaboration, held in alternate summers, brings 100 international makers to work in Big River for one week. The auction in Saskatoon for the 2006 event drew buyers and collectors from all over the world. (Some even arrived in private jets.) Collectors unable to attend may bid by proxy; 30% of the sales are through this service. The next Emma Collaboration is July 28–August 4, 2008.

George Little Management (GLM) is the largest producer and marketer of consumer product tradeshows in both the US and Canada. Speaking to Canadians who wish to market their work in the US, Carol Ross, Craft Consultant for GLM, stated that the big wholesale/retail shows, such as the New York International Gift Fair, draw over 40,000 buyers, are expensive and extremely competitive. However, the Seattle Gift show is very small in comparison, but it attracts buyers as far away as Anchorage wishing to acquire work for cruise ships. The Boston Gift Show often attracts shop owners buying for summer venues in New England and winter venues in the Caribbean. (In both Boston and Seattle fish and animal images sell well.) The International Contemporary Furniture Fair has become the leading design show in the US. It might be good for rugs, pillows and other soft furnishings as well. Surtex is a whole different way for artists to make money. Here, objects are for sale or licensing. This show concept was brought from Europe and all of a sudden “has taken off”. Another marketing alternative is the Gourmet Housewares show; in addition to high-end appliances and other kitchen items, there is an opportunity for those making tablecloths, runners and other fabric or fine craft items. The International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York is not media specific but open to all works appealing to the contemporary interior design market. Check the GLM website for a complete listing of shows and their criteria.

Ann Rosen, Business Development Officer, Consulate General of Canada (based in Chicago) has run a successful program to assist artists and galleries considering exhibiting at SOFA Chicago. Some years ago Ann investigated SOFA, was impressed with its scope and the business possibilities for Canadian craft artists. Her research resulted in the establishment of a four-part trade mission open to Canadian galleries and artists. Those attending receive 1) an educational session with experts in the field; 2) an international networking session with art buyers from the Mint Museum and the Renwick Gallery; 3) a visit to SOFA; and 4) a visit to a local gallery. In the past eight years the program has brought about 200 to SOFA from Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec. This year’s program is November 2–3, with applications due October 15. (See http://geo.international.gc.ca/can-am/chicago/right_nav/up_coming_events-en.asp)

As a first-time CODA conference attendee, it was inspiring to witness the enthusiasm and eagerness to both receive and impart information by representatives from both countries.  

By: BARB TIPTON

 

Barb and John Chalke hosting a reception
at their home for CODA attendees

  










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