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Supporting diversity in the craft economy

Karen Patel Research

Researcher: Dr Karen Patel

Project partner: Crafts Council UK

Background

This was a 12-month AHRC Funded Creative Economy Engagement project led by Dr Karen Patel of the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research (BCMCR). Extending initial insights from Karen’s PhD research on artists’ use of social media, this research explored women craft workers’ use of social media for self-promotion, networking and online collaboration, with a particular focus on women from Black and Ethnic Minority (BAME) backgrounds.

Karen’s initial PhD research found that while online spaces are potentially beneficial for women to network, self-promote and potentially make a living from their work, it seemed only those who have the skills, connections and time to invest in cultivating and maintaining an online presence could reap the benefits. Indeed, the online spaces explored lacked a diversity of participants, a lack of diversity which mirrors conditions in the wider creative industries. This project extended these initial insights into the area of craft with support from the Crafts Council, to explore how social media could be used to understand and support diversity in craft practice, in line with elements of the Crafts Council’s research strategy.

Project aims

  • To provide insight into the challenges and good practice of social media use for craft practitioners
  • To identify needs in relation to digital skills training and availability of online resources
  • To provide insights into the experiences of individual craft practitioners, particularly BAME women

Methods and application of research

Karen carried out interviews with 17 women makers who identify as from a BAME background, discussing their background, upbringing, career trajectory and social media use. Two social media knowledge exchange workshops were held, one at STEAMHouse in Birmingham and one in London, with interviewees and other craft practitioners in attendance. The workshops explored some of the challenges and opportunities of social media use for the makers.

Outcomes and impact

Key findings from the research include:

  • For many of the participants, family and upbringing played an important role in developing a passion for craft and a desire to pursue craft further. Some felt a sense of duty to preserve the craft expertise of the past. However, growing up, many participants were discouraged from seriously pursuing a craft career by parents wanting them to aspire to seemingly more ‘secure’ occupations in accounting, law or medicine. There remains a perception with some families that craft is not a ‘proper job’ but a domesticated part of everyday life.
  • As the majority of the participants are over the age of 30 and not ‘digital natives’ many expressed a lack of knowledge or skills with using social media. This was the primary barrier for many BAME women makers to using social media. Another barrier was a fear of opening themselves up to criticism.
  • Though it presents challenges, all participants felt that social media was something they needed to use in order to make a living from their craft. One opportunity is the potential for BAME women makers to share the work of each other, potentially amplifying online visibility through ‘mutual aid’ on social media. Another opportunity is for makers to join or create online ‘safe’ spaces, enabling them to share work with each other, gain support and develop the confidence to grow their online presence for the benefit of their practice.

Feedback from the workshops was positive, with the vast majority of participants learning something new about social media to benefit their practice. The Twitter hashtag #BAMECrafUK was established by the makers to continue the networking and conversation.

Other outputs include a full project report and executive summary, a social media tips sheet for makers and two ‘maker stories’ videos, all published on the Crafts Council UK website [link coming soon].

Read more about the project on Karen’s Crafts Council UK blog.

Next steps

A follow-on project was successfully funded via the AHRC Leadership Fellows scheme, which will continue the partnership between Dr Karen Patel and Crafts Council UK, and will build on the success of this initial project.