Dear American Craft Council,
On Friday I attended the Crafting a Nation conference in Washington, DC. And while I know you didn’t organize the conference, your presence was certainly felt throughout the day.
One of the recurring themes for the day was the lack of “young people,” followed by complaints about the DIY craft movement. One of the complaints was about how you let the AltCrafters into the Baltimore Craft Show, “for a fraction of the price of a traditional booth.” (Never mind that the cost per square foot is actually more.)
Established crafters bemoaned the decline of the craft show, while us “young people” discussed the resounding success that was Crafty Bastards the weekend before.
As with other conferences I’ve attended recently, there was a distinct feeling of “us vs. them,” and frankly, I’m tired of it.
The other day, I was listening to Sarah Vowell’s essay, “Cowboys vs. Mounties.” In the essay, she mentions that the motto of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at its inception was “one law.” As in, one law for everyone – whites, Indians, and anyone else inhabiting the West at the time of the Mounties formation in the 1800s.
And it struck me that we could co-opt this idea as the new motto for ACC: One Craft.
Instead of being more divisive, we should acknowledge that it all comes from the same place. That even though it may look a little different, we all share the same roots and the same core passion for creating.
And by embracing this motto of “one craft,” you could actually resurrect your flagship Baltimore show into something really great again.
So even though you didn’t ask me, here are my suggestions for revamping the Council’s Baltimore show:
Have one show, one price, one jury. One of the reasons there was so much animosity towards the AltCraft section is that it was a different section. It was set up as an other before it even began. If you had mixed the indie crafters in throughout the show, my guess is that most people wouldn’t have thought anything of it.
Now, I totally understand the impulse for having the AltCraft section. You want to bring new blood into the show, and for many of these new makers, the booth fee is prohibitive. Which is why one lower booth fee should be implemented for everyone. (I can’t imagine that established makers will complain about having to pay less to do the show.) Now, I have some thoughts about how to lower the cost, but first let’s stick with this idea of one show and one jury.
That’s right, I think everyone should apply as one. But the key is to make sure the jury is evenly balanced to represent all areas of craft – not just the traditional make-up of the show.
So how do you make the show more affordable for everyone?
Move to a new venue. Let’s face it, you really can’t afford the Baltimore Convention Center anymore, and it shows. The empty aisles, lack of carpeting, and low lighting make for a low energy show, and low energy shows mean less buying and less buzz.
And if you think that it’s just us young people who noticed the lack of energy, I’d like to point out that walking around on the concrete and squinting at pieces in dim lighting probably isn’t fun for an 80-year-old collector either.
Moving to a new venue in Baltimore would give you the chance to scale the show down a little and infuse it with a new energy. It’s better to have a slightly overcrowded space where the energy is high than to have a giant empty space that feels like you’re at a funeral.
And finally, it’s time for a whole new ad campaign. Even if you have been injecting newer makers into your show, the promotional materials show the same old stuff. Actually, I think the best thing to do is to throw out all the stupid gimmicks, not show anyone’s work, and just promote the show itself. Promote the idea of “one craft.” It works for just about every indie show in the country, so it can probably work for you as well. (And before you argue that those advertisements only appeal to the young, let me point out that you’d be hard pressed to find a crowd as diverse as the shoppers at Crafty Bastards.)
Oh, and if you want to use social media to promote the show more, your best bet isn’t to hire some social media consultant. (Though I can be reach at megan (at) craftmba.com if you’re so inclined.) By having more vendors in the show who are engaged in social media themselves, you’ll see that happen naturally.
As one of the major advocates for craft in this country, it’s time to stop perpetuating this “us vs. them” attitude. We have bigger struggles facing us than who is and isn’t “trained” as a craftsperson. We all have things we can learn from each other, and if we want to see our field not only grow, but thrive, it’s time we stopped fighting amongst ourselves and embraced the idea of One Craft.
Editor of Crafting an MBA
designer, maker, and metalsmith who has exhibited at both Crafty Bastards and the ACC Baltimore Show