Thursday, 5 May 2011

Behind the Scenes with Emma Walker of craftscotland

Emma Walker at Work
Q So who is Emma Walker?
I am Chief Executive of craftscotland, the national organisation for craft in Scotland, and I am also a Board member of the Arts Marketing Association (AMA). I’ve worked in audience development – which essentially means providing lots of opportunities for people of all backgrounds to experience the arts in lots of different ways – since I was 18 and I am immensely passionate about equality in the arts.

I’m from Seaham, County Durham and whilst I had the best childhood I could ever wish for, the arts was not on my radar until I left home to go to university in Leeds. My careers advisor at school told me, after typing a few random things into a computer that, amongst other things one of the careers that was a perfect match for me was a refuse collector. I can’t imagine any of my fellow schoolmates being told they could make CEO of a national arts-based organisation, and one day I’d like to address this.
Its Not a Desk Job! Unloading Shelves at Timespan for Meet Your Maker Event

Q Can you tell us a bit more about craftscotland?
craftscotland is the world’s first audience development agency for craft. The ‘world’s first’ bit might sound a bit like marketing spin, but I think it is hugely important to recognise what a gigantic step forward this is for the promotion of craft in Scotland and wider afield. Scottish Arts Council’s vision to create a new, accessible platform for Scottish craft through the power of audience development should be applauded.
We work with designers/makers, curators, galleries and craft retailers to position Scotland at the forefront of a global craft revolution. We want to build a brighter and richer future for craft by creating new craft fans, inspiring new makers and developing opportunities to show and sell craft.

A Year in the Life of craftscotland - 2009/2010
There is lots of work to be done on re-positioning craft and reclaiming the word for what it really means. When I joined craftscotland two and a half years ago, craft was positioned by the craft sector as an elite, inaccessible art form. Craft exhibitions were marketed to other people within the craft sector, but not to the wider world.
Then there’s the press…. craft was positioned by the press as this twee thing that Granny’s do in front of the television. There’s been a definite shift in how craft is presented as a result of organisations like craftscotland and smaller maker collectives popping up over the past couple of years. Crucially, there’s a much greater sense of everyone working together too which is great for business and also lots of fun.
Reading American Craft Magazine – all part of researching Crafts in a Global World
Our work revolves around the three principles of audience development – research, marketing and engaging with the public – and we use these principles to support and grow the craft sector by working with new and existing craft enthusiasts. We operate on a local, regional, national and international level.

Networking Like a Trooper  for Scottish Craft – Pitching to Lewis Wexler at his Gallery

Through our audience development work we run exhibitions and events for both the public and the sector, often working with partner organisations such as National Museums Scotland, Timespan, the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh and the Collins Gallery. Our marketing campaign The C Word was the first national cinema advertising campaign for craft, and the advert has gained worldwide exposure and interest.
Ultimately we want people to buy, see, commission, enjoy or visit craft inspired by and made in Scotland. We have 1500 makers on our directory and more than 250 craft venues such as shops and galleries so there’s plenty of choice.
Opening at craftscotland’s AGM, 2010, Edinburgh City Chambers
Q With the current economic environment in Scotland and wider afield, what future challenges is Crafts Scotland facing?
The challenge is being able to adapt to change and to adapt to it quickly. A couple of weeks ago I went to the All About Audiences conference in Manchester which focused on how the arts should adapt resiliently. The quote from the conference that keeps wrestling its way to the front of my brain is from Charles Darwin (he wasn’t at the conference obviously, but he was cited a few times!). Darwin said: “It is not the strongest of species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one most adaptable to change.”

The challenge for craftscotland is adapting successfully to the inevitable changes that are happening as a result of the terrible economic climate we find ourselves in, questioning the needless changes that are being made by governments and funders and never losing sight of why we are here in the first place.

The craft sector and the public are not here to justify craftscotland’s existence – the day we stop making an impact is the day we shut up shop, so I am constantly scrutinising the changes we are making to ensure that they are wise business decisions, that they are helpful to the people we are here to support, and that they have an element of creativity about them too.
Makers, Jilli Blackwood and Leah Black Hard at Work at Meet Your Maker Event, NMS
I’m confident for our future as we have a great team, we are working with one of the most creative craft sectors in the world and we have an excited audience who wants to discover more of what Scottish craft has to offer.
I am passionate – honestly very passionate – about spending the taxpayer’s money creatively but responsibly, and I know we do this. We are operating on low costs but the return on investment is significant and increases each year. Creative Scotland is hugely supportive of what we do and we are introducing a number of income streams for craftscotland later this year which will bring in money for us to reinvest in the sector and the charity itself.


The createscotland Team at COLLECT 2010
Q Social Networking, new and electronic media are key elements of craftscotland’s public profile, offering audiences a more intimate and friendly interaction with the organisation, how will you take this further?
Well, the new website is much more than a facelift. It’s going to provide new ways for audiences to interact with us and crucially with each other. The craft sector is a tight knit community and we want to offer people the opportunity to respond instantly to things on the new website, and to engage in lots of conversations as a result of an image or a feature that is posted.

We’re watching the monthly web stats with interest at the moment as the number of people who are accessing our website using a handheld device is on the increase month by month. This is great news as we are currently in the process of developing an i-phone application and craft trails for download onto mobiles.

craftscotland at Collect 2010

Last year we developed an e-invitation for our stand at Collect 2010 which included a teaser film of the makers creating the work we would be showing on the stand. We sent it to our international database of contacts who then passed it onto their own friends and contacts. As a result of people forwarding it we received an invite to do a show in Philadelphia. The guys from Philadelphia weren’t able to come to Collect, but by using digital media we were able to engage them in what we do and reap the rewards for other makers.

Picking the Brains of American Makers at the Philadelphia Show Recce

Q What is next for craftscotland?
2011 is a huge year for craftscotland. Later this month we open UNITE, an exhibition in partnership with the host venue, The Collins Gallery. The exhibition showcases the most makers we have ever had in one exhibition – 38 in total – and examines our role of uniting, championing and inspiring the craft sector.
In May we will be presenting 12 makers to the international collectors market at COLLECT, which is an annual Crafts Council event held at the Saatchi Gallery. This is the fourth year we have been involved but this year we are in the main area of the gallery for the first time with a larger stand. We are also taking six makers on craftscotland bursaries, which is a new thing for us. We don’t have funding to do this but it’s such a great opportunity to share our experience and skills with emerging makers. The bursary makers receive training, networking opportunities, tickets to the show and accommodation in London.

Collect 2011 - A Sneak Peak!

August is a big month for us. craftscotland is changing, or perhaps expanding is a more appropriate word…. and from August there’ll be even more ways to get involved and communicate directly with us and the craft community. We are rebranding, redeveloping our website and creating a membership scheme in consultation with makers. All of these things will be launched in August so it’s going to be a busy summer.
One of the most exciting things happening this year is our American launch which is happening in November, and almost three years sooner than I had anticipated. After being invited to participate in the 35th Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, we have just this week confirmed the 25 makers who we will be taking to the show as part of the Guest Country programme. It’s a hugely prestigious show and participation is by invite only so we are honoured the Committee in Philadelphia have invited us to take part – particularly as it is the 10th anniversary of the Guest Country programme.
Meeting With Donna Davies from SOFA in Philadelphia
We are also launching an American website showcasing Scots in America, and Americans in Scotland whilst we are there and we are currently in talks with American partners to do work in Washington D.C, Chicago and New York.

Christmas feels like a long way off!


Meeting with Etsy in Brooklyn
Q What made you choose arts management as a career?
I didn’t. I wanted to be lots of things while I was growing up, from a teacher to a paranormal abnormal psychologist for NASA but I wasn’t even aware that careers in the arts existed! When my first term at university was coming to an end and I realised I needed to make some cash over the Christmas holidays I applied to the usual places – ASDA, Top Shop, Miss Selfridges – but soon realised it was too late and all the student jobs had gone.

Then someone recommended I should apply to be an usher at the Empire Theatre, Sunderland which I did and after watching Ant and Dec running around on stage with Snow White 87 times over the Christmas break I realised that there was something quite special going on in the auditorium that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I went back to do a placement in the marketing team the following May, where I realised that the je ne sais quoi I couldn’t put my finger on during the pantomime was the audience reaction – each audience reacted to the panto differently and I loved it.

Later that year I got a job at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, where I watched the great Jude Kelly in action. She was Artistic Director at the time and just being around her was hugely inspirational. When we won the Olivier Award for Singin’ In the Rain, she brought everyone into the auditorium with the award and told us that ‘WE won this together.’ She then went on to talk about her experiences on Question Time and I remember sitting there at 18 years old with my mind being completely blown with the different kinds of achievement this woman had had.

So I guess my career in arts management has a little bit to do with watching Ant and Dec 87 times, and a lot to do with an inspirational, powerful woman sitting on the side of a stage telling me that anything is possible.

Stepping Out in Washington DC for Meetings with The Torpedo Factory Craft Studios
Q What does your typical working day look like?
It’s a cliché but there really isn’t a typical day for me, but I can tell you about today which is one of those lovely days I get to spend in the office. I’m having less of those at the moment so whenever I get the chance to stop and not dash about I relish in it.
This morning I had the first viewing of the Collect 2011 film which promotes the twelve Scottish based makers we are taking to the event at the Saatchi Gallery next month. I then had a meeting with the team and our designers who are working on our new branding.
This afternoon I’ve been working on the stakeholder plan for craftscotland and liaising with a potential funder for a project we are doing in America. Then there are emails and phone calls to deal with. The phone calls I make and receive are the most varied I’ve ever had in any job – I’ve spoken to Newsnight, the Food and Drugs Authority in the USA, a couple of makers and an interdisciplinary scientist already today.
Q Where do you get your inspiration from?
Ooh lots of things. I have a Helen Keller quote which I have carried around with me in my diary since I was 12 which goes: “One cannot consent to creep when one feels the impulse to soar.” Just saying it out loud now makes me feel excited and like anything could happen today. I look at it at least once a day. A family motto is “Shy bairns get nae sweets.” Anyone who knows me will know I am not afraid to ask. One of my Board, Caroline Notman, once said to me “She who asks timidly invites refusal” which struck a chord with me so Caroline’s quote is now sitting next to Helen Keller in my diary.

People inspire me. My team are experts in their own fields and also hugely passionate about their roles. I’m constantly learning from them.
And there are places too. I think about New York at least once a day, probably more, because New York is the place for me where anything is possible. Manchester is the same for me. Edinburgh inspires me – we moved to Edinburgh because we wanted to live here. The jobs came later, and I think that’s the best reason to move anywhere. Scotland on the whole is hugely inspiring though. In fact our Collect stand this year is inspired by a trip to Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute which I took with Joe Pascoe, the CEO of Craft Victoria (Australia).
I also play music to inspire me and I do that thing where I find a new tune and then I play it constantly until my boyfriend is driven round the bend by it. At the moment it’s The Black Oil Brothers from Chicago and a great Scottish based band who are going to be playing at our wedding, The Moonzie Allstars – I’ve been late for work on a couple of occasions after dancing to both of these bands on a morning and forgetting the time, but I find a good dance first thing sets me up for the day more than breakfast news ever could.
And then there is the Wizard of Oz which pretty much encapsulates all of the above. There are people, there’s music, there’s some great quotes… in fact now I think about it, I’m wondering if Dorothy Gales’ family motto was also “Shy bairns get nae sweets.” She told the Wizard what she wanted, didn’t she? Not being afraid to live your life in Technicolor is hugely inspirational.

On the Beach in Shetland after the Rural Craft Forum
Q What motivates you?
Remembering how I felt when I first discovered the arts, and more recently when I discovered craft. The idea of creating the opportunity for others to feel this way when discovering Scottish craft or a particular maker or a particular exhibition is what motivates me to do the job I do.
The Scottish craft sector and the international craft sector at large have an unbelievable pot of yet-to-be-explored potential which is great motivation. Breaking new ground, doing things differently, bringing new people to Scottish craft are all things to get very excited about.
I think about where craftscotland and the makers we represent could be in ten years’ time as much as I think about where we are now, and the seeds we are sowing throughout 2011 are the start of that process. Flicking between the two time zones – the present and the future – in my mind is the kick up the bum I need to make sure we are all on track to succeed with the ambitions of the future as much as the ambitions of today.
Then there are the things that motivate my ego too! Being the first CEO of craftscotland – in fact the first member of staff – is something that brings me a great amount of pride. I was 27 when I took the job on and could never have hoped for the first two years to be as successful as they have. I’m certainly not wishing my life away but I do sometimes imagine a day say, in 2060 when I am turning 80 and craftscotland is in its sixties and I can think ‘I played a huge part in that.’
The responsibility of planting the roots of this organisation so that craftscotland is around when I am not, is the ultimate motivation and a source of great pride.

  The First craftscotland TV Campaign Promoting Crafts in Scotland
Q Crafts in the 21st Century – what does this mean to you?
I still have a lot to learn about craft’s history, but from what I do know I think the 21st century is a really exciting time for craft. In the past it seems to me that craft was understood by most to be one thing and one thing only. For some it was collectible, for others hobbyist. For some it was about conceptual, gallery based craft, and for others it was producing small batches for retail. For some it was about the skills passed down from history, whilst for others it was about digital technologies. For me craft in the 21st century is all of these things, and everything in the middle, and everything we haven’t even thought of yet.
There’s definitely more opportunity for craftspeople now and therefore more opportunities for the public to engage with it. Heritage craft is too often referred to as if it was thing of the past, and I would love for more organisations to include the more established disciplines. The Heritage Craft Association are brilliant at what they do – for me, if it is being made today it’s contemporary.
Opening the Meet Your Maker at National Museums Scotland
Q 3 words of advice for an aspiring Craft artist/maker...
Anything is possible.

Q Who is/are your favourite artist(s)/maker(s)?
For me it’s not about having a favourite artist (or musician, actor, writer and so on)….my enjoyment of the arts comes from the overall experience of the work. I know this sounds like the politicians answer, but I honestly don’t have a favourite maker, or even a favourite type of maker.
However my most treasured piece is my engagement ring, by Marianne Anderson who is based in Glasgow. It’s a gold patterned band with a Mabe pearl and it was commissioned during Collect 2009.
My boyfriend, Mick, gave it to me when we were staying at the Timespan flat in Helmsdale when craftscotland were preparing to open Meet Your Maker exhibition last year. Every time I look at it I’m reminded of a beautiful place and a beautiful time in my life, and the person who I love more than anything in the world.
It makes it more special that I know who designed it, how it was made, where it was made and so on. I didn’t know a thing about craft before I came to craftscotland and certainly wouldn’t have thought about having a craftsperson make the most precious possession I own. There is something very wrong about that, but it is a perfect example of the situation craftscotland is working to resolve by informing and exciting the public about Scottish craft.
We are taking it one step further for our wedding rings. Hannah Louise Lamb and Donna Barry are two jewellers based in Edinburgh. They have just launched a new workshop where engaged couples can spend the day in Hannah and Donna’s workshop and create their own wedding rings under the supervision of the experts. It’s going to be so special to have a wedding ring made by Mick but to an expert finish, and his will be made by me – poor lad!

Q What music do you listen to?
I’m a big reggae fan, but I also love northern soul and folk and I’m a bit of a closet cheesy pop fan too.
The best place to listen to music is Letham Nights, a music event held every six to eight weeks or so at Letham Hall in Fife. It is where I first heard The Moonzie Allstars and The Black Oil Brothers, and it’s where I go to let my hair down.

Q 3 likes and dislikes?
Likes: tortoises, whisky, David Dimbleby

Dislikes: Eric Pickles MP (for irresponsibly and ignorantly referring to audience development as a ‘non-job’), flying (I’m terrified), people who are nasty or unhelpful for the sake of being so.

Q What do you do to relax?
At the moment we’re organising our wedding for this September which is surprisingly relaxing for me at the moment but we’ll see how that changes as we get closer to it! Spending time at my parents with my Grandma and my fiancé is the ultimate haven from work for me and they aren’t shy about telling me to turn the laptop off either. I’m a massive Liverpool fan too although watching Liverpool play can barely be described as relaxing.



Anonymous said...

Emma Walker has amazing energy! Her drive to promote craft here in Scotland is without question, unbelievable! She loves what she does and it shows.. and for that reason alone, she truly an gift to Design-Led craft here in Scotland!

michael battiste
Asst' Manager
Concrete Wardrobe, Edinburgh

Tash Goswami said...

Thank you Michael for leaving such a great comment. It is very inspiring and comforting to know that Crafts has such great champions working hard to raise the profile of makers and their work.