Written by, Ennis Carter
Founder and Executive Director of Social Impact Studios
For the past three years, I’ve been fortunate enough to teach a class at Peters Valley School of Craft. It’s a weekend intensive called “Crafting Yourself…Online” and it’s all about helping artists share their experience and work with the big, bad world of the internet. Every year has been a great experience. Students have learned that digital technology is a tool just like the handheld ones mastered in their craft. And there have been a lot of “a-ha” moments about connecting to community that helped free them from the common aversion to sharing their work online.
But this year’s class was very different from the last two years. It was more pinpointed and focused on actual making with only a fraction of the time spent on theory. It was more customized so each person excelled at their own individual level. And it was surprisingly more tiring than the years when I think we covered more ground. What was different? It wasn’t the skill level or the willingness of the students. It wasn’t the tools themselves or even the way I taught them. I think the big difference this year was that I had a much deeper understanding of what “The Craft School Experience” is really all about.
For the last year and a half, I have been immersed in a national campaign to promote five craft schools from across the U.S. At Social Impact Studios, we know that the best marketing isn’t marketing at all – it’s mission-work, it’s storytelling and it comes from the true values that are at the heart of every organization and effort. So, when we lead a campaign we always start there to deeply understand what is at the core. What we often discover is that the organizations we work with need to dig deeply to uncover those core elements - especially if it’s a coalition effort – and are refreshingly reminded of the most important things that make their work meaningful. Through several in-person meetings with leaders from Arrowmont, Haystack, Penland, Peters Valley and Pilchuck, I was lucky to be part of meaningful conversation about the shared values at the heart of this unique educational experience. Values like “respect,” “growth,” “generosity,” and “process,” – among so many others – resonated with me personally and informed the creative direction for a public campaign. Through developing the campaign, visiting schools first-hand to talk with students, teachers and staff, I got to see those values in action and absorb, slowly, the unique qualities that join these schools together.
The class I teach regularly at Peters Valley is designed to be a weekend intensive survey course to help people jump into the world of online communication to share their work and connect with people who may be looking for what they do. It’s a big task because so many people who gravitate toward the world of craft are seeking something deeper, more in-touch, and less superficial than the way most of the internet is used. The approach in the past has been to expose students to a wide variety of outlets and have them dabble and test out options while learning key theory behind how these tools are best used. It’s worked to help people feel a little more comfortable and to “get started.”
But this year, I was determined to help every student MAKE something. Through “The Craft School Experience,” I’ve learned how important that aspect is to sparking interest, creativity and building skill toward mastery. This year, I wanted my students to have a deeper connection that was relevant to their story and come out on the other side with a sense of accomplishment and self-empowerment to keep at the work after the weekend ended. Yes, I did want everyone to build their websites (which they did!) and tap into social media at whatever level was comfortable for them (which they did!), but the driving force for my teaching this year was definitely more grounded in the connection those activities have to each student’s need to share their work with the world – because they had invested the time and love in making it.
It might have been easier just to teach the class the way I had in previous years. But I really couldn’t do that knowing what I know now.
The genie was out of the bottle and I had to transcend the idea that the class was an intensive opportunity to cram lots of info into the heads of people so they would logically understand how to move ahead through this medium. Sure it qualified as “immersion” – but whether it made a lasting impact, I’m not so sure. Instead, I tapped into the true spirit of The Craft School Experience – a value of direct hands-on experience that takes time, focus and tenacity to learn something new and express yourself.
It was a more exhausting weekend for sure this year. New technology of any kind is tough to teach, especially in a short period of time. But, in the end, I’m glad that I made the time for people to make something that was really meaningful to them. Next year will be even better!
From Fiber Art Now!:
Join us from the comfort of your own home this Sunday, June 12, 1pm, for another FAN Fare Webinar: an interview with Lindsay Ketterer Gates, fiber artist, instructor, and Development Director at Peters Valley School of Craft; and Stu Kestenbaum, who recently retired as the director of Haystack Mountain School of Craft. You’ll learn what all the CRAFT buzz is about.
Free - go to this link : http://bit.ly/1BQork8
By Stuart Kestenbaum
I stepped down from my position at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts at the end of May. I had been director for nearly 27 years. That’s a long time to be in one place. It’s 27 times longer than when I was in second grade and learned about the solar system and volcanoes. I could have completed college six times and included some gap years as well. In an era when more rapid job transitions are commonplace, it’s unusual to stay in one place for so long.
Why stay that long? Haystack was a perfect place to work. It’s an institution dedicated to the creative process and the central role of creativity in our lives. Nobody takes a workshop or participates in a residency because they have to. Everyone who becomes part of the intensive workshops at the school is there because they want to be. For many it’s a deep yearning. This is the time they owe to themselves. This is the workshop they’ve dreamed of taking ever since they were in college. This is the place their professor at school or teacher at an art center told them about. This is the place where daily distractions disappear and people can focus completely on their studio work. As the director, I got to witness artistic transformations that take place within a supportive community. From my first session in 1989 to the final program of 2014, Haystack provided me with an energy that propelled me through the years.
Why leave? Being surrounded by all that creative energy, I realized that I needed more time for my own creative work. I want to write more and also work collaboratively with my wife, visual artist Susan Webster, on pieces that combine text and image. While I am looking forward to those creative endeavors, I can’t leave completely. I believe wholeheartedly in the impact that institutions such as Haystack have.
That’s why I will be working as a strategist/spokesman with craftschools.us, a consortium of intensive residential craft programs—Arrowmont, Haystack, Penland, Peters Valley, and Pilchuck. Over the past few years the directors of these programs had been meeting to talk about how we could promote our schools. Last November we launched the Craft School Experience initiative to let people from outside our field and people within our fields who are unaware of our presence, know about the remarkable opportunities available through our programs.
As we met—working closely with Ennis Carter of Social Impact Studios—to articulate what distinguishes these programs, we came up with phrases that would express the essence of what we do. One phrase that resonated with all of us was Make/Time. I liked that it suggested so much about our programs. We are first and foremost places of making—using materials that honor tradition and take us beyond traditions too. We are equally about time. Time is that rare commodity we used to envision we would have more of in the future, but in fact seem to have less, except for those long stretches that we offer in our studios. When time and materials come together, a journey begins. It’s available to anyone—from makers with years of experience to those just beginning—willing to walk through our studio doors.
Erinn M. Cox, writer and creator of online blog, Louise & Maurice
Ars longa, vita brevis translates to “life is short, but art lives forever,” though its original meaning was more akin to “the life so short, the craft so long to learn.” It is here that I begin an in-depth look into the meaning of craft, creativity, and the tremendous conceptual and artistic progress possible in the transformative style of education uniquely found in five of the leading craft schools in the US, including: Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Penland School of Crafts, Peters Valley School of Craft, and Pilchuck Glass School, who have recently joined together to launch a national initiative celebrating the very importance of the craft school experience.
Craft is a loaded, five-lettered word. A verb, noun, and adjective that mean much to many and is often complicated to define as it both intimates and associates with art, material, technique, the hand, and community. It is, undoubtedly, all of these things; but it is, at its crux, a rich field of objects that serve as dynamic expressions of the human experience – icons that offer unique understanding of the world that connects us more deeply with ourselves and with each other.
Read more here.
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