Crafting pre-determined outcomes

May 25, 2006

May is creative industries month here at Interactions because today I’m in Dundalk where I am running a training workshop for the County Louth Enterprise Board. The workshop has been developed for creative industries in the region who want to upskill in the area of applying for commissions. While some of my content will be similar to the presentation I made last week, today will be focussed around practical advice, case studies and drawing on participants existing knowledge of how this process works. Commissioning is a lucrative market for people working in the craft and creative industries area and with the advent of the one percent scheme (where one per cent, up to a total of €63,500) of public capital development projects can be spent on art, the amount of work that can be commissioned in Ireland is steadily growing. The guidelines are here. Most of the public art you see dotted around the country side has been commissioned using this scheme and increasingly it is being used in creative ways to commission artists in other disciplines (other than the visual) and temporary as well as permanent work. Applied artists are beginning to realise that there are opportunities here for them to make an impact and be included in the pool of artists who are making work in this way.
Following my presentation in Kilkenny I was struck by a couple of things. Research presented at the conference indicated that many people think of craft as “amateur”. I shared an anecdote that many professional actors over the age of 40 in Ireland could be considered “amateur” as most have never formally trained and many have entered the profession via amateur companies. We have no formal training for directors here either. The point I was trying to make is that professionalism is an attitude, not something that is awarded by others. So if you want to be taken seriously as a professional you have to start by taking yourself seriously.
Many of the conversations I had with crafts people centred on their “objects” and much of their promotional material contained fantastic visual imagery of the finished pieces. The commissioning process may (or may not) be concerned with a finished piece, but in the arts world, it is the artist’s ability to respond to the context and need of the commissioner first, as distinct from looking for a market into which to sell a piece of art that is the defining difference. In many instances working with communities; responding to complex social, political or cultural contexts; building relationships with professionals such as architects and engineers and genuinely thinking beyond the physical limitations of space and materials are key skills required in order to be successful.
People working in the creative industries bring much of that knowledge albeit shrouded in different ways. They are already skilled at marketing and managing businesses. I’m hoping to do some more work this year with people who want to explore the commissioning process from the perspective of the public commissioner where the outcome is not necessarily pre-determined. A first step in that direction will be work with the group today (and again next week) where we can apply what they already know, add in some stuff that I know and maybe between us we’ll emerge with something that isn’t as pre-determined as either of us thinks!
Edit:  I had a superb day in Dundalk with a great group of people.  It was a pleasure to work with you all and it confirmed for me again that most of the real learning at these events happens between the participants and not between the person with the power point and the “participants”.  My thanks to you all!

3 People reacted on this

  1. Splendid piece. I admire the point “it is the artist’s ability to respond to the context and need of the commissioner first, as distinct from looking for a market into which to sell a piece of art that is the defining difference.” I felt like writing it in capital letters so that readers would engage with that challenging insight.
    I’ve been busy recently and this is the first piece of yours I’ve read properly. I’d like to see that point elaborated more slowly, so that the goodness in it can trickle out. But maybe you are writing it to crystallise your own thinking?

  2. Omani – it’s interesting because I take it for granted that the commissioner (or the customer, or the client’s) intention is the starting point … not my need to sell something I’ve made or can create. We had a great session today with people from a range of creative industries exploring what they bring to the table and also looking at better ways of hearing the client/commissioner and managing that relatinship. I love these sessions because I learn so much myself about what “my” customers are interested in and need!

  3. I guess, if you’ve been a commissioner and you’ve experienced the difficulty of putting into words what you’re looking for from a piece of art, you know that what the commissioner wants matters.
    I see plenty of artworks on my travels. I’ve never met a commissioner.

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