Making & Leading: Diverse Futures

Plymouth College of Art in association with CraftNet, an independent network that promotes leadership and strategic development for contemporary craft. Conveners: Paul Harper, CraftNet representative for the South West, and freelance researcher and writer on art and craft, and Prof Alice Kettle, Manchester School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK.

This workshop will explore the underexploited potential of craft makers as leaders and the value of creative maker practices in developing qualities that contribute to good leadership, not just within the contemporary craft world, but in wider work and social contexts.

This workshop follows on from the Making Leaders workshops at the 2017 Making Futures conference. Our call elicited an excellent response, with presenters reporting on a diverse range of experiences, in which making was seen as having a central role in building and empowering communities, opening up dialogue and re-imagining futures. Craft was understood as mindful practice, a way of being in the world; as part of a common wealth, a body of knowledge that is passed on from one person to another across generations and cultures; as affording a sense of agency, with which we feel enabled to shape our material and social worlds.

Pikpa, Lesvos Solidarity, Greece Stitch Workshops 2018. Photo, Knut Bry.

The presentations, all of which reported on practical experience, demonstrated a positive model of leadership that is distributed, generous and collaborative. They led to a lively discussion that affirmed our original thesis concerning the underexploited potential of craft makers as leaderswhilst raising a number of important questions that we wish to explore further. In our final plenary session, some of the contributors expressed discomfort with the word ‘leader’ as a descriptor, preferring less ‘assertive’ terminology. This may reflect a general unease with a perceived dominant model of didactic leadership, but might it also be a barrier to makers (and others) taking up leadership roles?

Makers are clearly being leaders, but are there (self-imposed) checks on extending the scope of these roles beyond specific making scenarios. In eschewing the language of leadership are we denying or placing limits on the transferable skills and qualities that are nurtured by making disciplines? These questions complicate our original claims about making and agency, and raise further, practical, questions: how can we build on our findings to encourage wider recognition of makers as leaders; how can hidden or marginalised individuals and groups be supported to perceive themselves as leaders; how can the diversity of practices reflect alternative and underprivileged communities and individuals?

We invite papers and practice-led case studies to, and participation in, a workshop that will explore the underexploited potential of craft makers as leaders and the value of creative maker practices in developing qualities that contribute to good leadership, not just within the contemporary craft world, but in wider work and social contexts.

We will also look at an area where leadership in relation to craft, manifests itself clearly, in contemporary developments in maker ecologies – networks, clusters and communities of makers and the evolving phenomena of ‘maker spaces’. Contributions might explore contemporary situations or that explore historical and theoretical issues associated with the idea of craft and leadership.

In short, we anticipate a broad range of responses but that contributions might fall into three fundamental categories:

    • Presentations that explore the making experience as a resource that can support and develop qualities that have wider leadership values.
    • Presentations that explore pathways by which makers might be recognised as leaders both within and beyond their own fields.
    • Past or present case studies that describe and demonstrate leadership and/or innovation positions whose performance bears a relation to maker practices. Examples might be drawn from private sector businesses, public sector institutions, or third sector voluntary and community organisations, including social enterprises, mutuals and co-operatives, and self-help and community groups.Examples might, or might not, include actors who have maintained a maker practice alongside a leadership role.

That said, we also encourage relevant submissions that might not fit any of these three groupings, including performative and participatory demonstrations that explore the overall theme.