The view on craft from the West–for Form’s sake

The Western Australian craft and design organisation Form has just released a publication New Narratives for Craft: Balancing Risk, Opportunity, Skill, Experimentation that seeks to chart a course for craft in the continent’s largest state. It’s a welcome addition to the nation’s discussion about the state of craft, reminding us how rare it is to find a platform for this kind of discussion after the loss of Craft Australia. It’s particularly pleasing to see it coming from Form, which was one of the organisations that emerged from the corporatisation of craft infrastructure at the end of the 20th century. This involved moving away from the membership model towards broader opportunities for growth. At the time, Form seemed to identify itself against craft, as a redundant subsidised model based on individual expression rather than market and audience needs. Since making the break with studio craft, under the inspiring leadership of Linda Dorrington, Form has realised some epic ventures, such as Canning Stock Route Project, that have re-defined the limits of possibility for an arts organisation. So it’s particularly significant that they now return to the craft conversation. We have a lot to learn from them.

New Narratives for Craft aims to articulate the role for craft in Western Australia. As such, it is quite a sobering tale. Elisha Buttler outlines the challenges of craft, including the need to connect elite practitioners with community and to combat the sense of isolation. Travis Kelleher’s reflection on craft education tells a depressing tale of closures in most of the craft courses in the state. The failure of the Western Australian government to take up the opportunity of the Midland Atelier is a real tragedy. The positive picture is provided by Paul McGillick’s profiles of Helen Britton and Penelope Forlano, which provides models of engagement developed by two leading individual practitioners. But in the end, it’s hard to deduce from the publication what a future path might be for craft in the west.

Much space is given to promoting Form’s achievements. Few would dispute these, but it does make the publication seem more of a marketing exercise than an industry analysis. The cost of corporatising craft in Australia has been a focus on internal marketing, which fails to speak for a broader community. The stellar rise of Critical Craft Forum in the US has shown how quickly a sector can embrace a forum that speaks with a broad voice.

One glaring absence from the publication is reference to the broader West Australian scene. As the dominant economic and cultural force in the state, it seems important to mention the impact of mining. The decline in craft resources that is charted by this publication should prompt some reflection on the costs of extractivism. The radical loss of manufacturing and the fear that Australia is no longer a country that ‘makes things’ does put craft at the centre of an important national debate.

Nevertheless, warm congratulations to Form for a welcome entry into the conversation. But now you’re here, we need your help in facing up to important questions of our time:

  • Can craft practitioners adopt emerging forms of social practice in order to recognise the value in community participation?
  • How can we focus national attention on the costs to our culture in too great a reliance on mining for future prosperity?
  • In what way can we use craft to strengthen our connections in the Asia Pacific region?

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