As part of the Craft Expertise project I worked with STEAMhouse in Birmingham to run a three-day workshop series (or STEAM Sprint) which ran over three weeks from November-December 2020. Participants in the workshops included makers who had been involved with this project, Craftspace and Crafts Council UK. The workshops were initially going to be face-to-face but due to the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic we adapted the format to run online, using the Miro collaborative software.
The methods STEAMhouse use for a STEAM Sprint are based on design thinking approaches. Together with Patrick Bek and Sophia Tarr from STEAMHouse, we created activities that focused on discovery and idea generation, enabling participants to work towards innovative policy development. It was a collaborative and generative process which yielded many interesting insights.
During the planning of the workshops, we established the key question which needed to be addressed. This was:
How might we create actionable policy recommendations that address
racism and inequality in the craft sector?
Before the workshops we asked the participants to complete a worksheet, which included a list of questions about their experiences in the craft sector and the changes they would like to see, and links to the Craft expertise website and Maker Stories podcasts which I have produced, so that they familiarise themselves with the research underpinning the workshop series. The research is crucial because it provides a foundation for the work to follow, particularly in the first workshop.
Session 1 – problem framing
The aim of the first workshop was to get the participants to immerse themselves in the research and get to grips with the challenge of racism and inequality in the craft sector. This problem framing workshop included a variety of exercises to flesh out the problem and its root causes.
After introductions in the online video call and an icebreaker exercise, I shared anonymised quotes from the research which illustrate the key themes from the research which we would try and address. These were:
- Craftspeople of colour experience racism and microaggressions in craft spaces
- Craftspeople of colour are made to feel like they don’t belong in the professional craft sector
- Craft made by people of colour is devalued or judged unfairly
Next there was an empathy exercise, where a character based on responses from the research was created (a maker called Yasmin) and participants were asked to think about:
- What does Yasmin think and feel?
- What does Yasmin hear?
- What does Yasmin see?
- What does she say and do?
- What are her fears, frustrations and anxieties?
- What are her wants, needs, hopes and dreams?
We all participated and many of the responses could be grouped into themes which loosely resonated with the findings from the research so far, such as feeling like their expertise is unfairly questioned, and feeling out of place in certain craft spaces. However, there were additional themes around precarity and lack of stability, problems in craft education, and the need for support and networks.
Next we moved on to the Why Tree exercise to think through the potential root causes of these problems. There were three trees which centred on the three themes from the research, as below:
Participants were asked to add, to the orange post-its, the possible reasons for that particular issue. For each reason, you ask again why that might be, until you come to the root cause. So for example, the below tree is for ‘Craftspeople of colour experience racism and microaggressions in craft spaces’. The orange post-its include the top-level reasons, then below those are the possible underlying reasons for that, or root causes. As you can see below, participants suggested that the root causes of racism and microaggressions in craft are related to wider societal issues, particularly around education and attitudes.
Other themes emerging from the Why Tree exercise, with regards to the potential causes of the three key issues, include:
- The audience for contemporary craft is not diverse enough
- The popular idea of British craft is white and promotes a particular (and exclusive) aesthetic
- A perception of craft techniques and aesthetics which do not adhere to white, Eurocentric aesthetics as inferior
- The craft education system foregrounding white, Eurocentric techniques and aesthetics. Related to this is the fact that people who define the canon and build the curriculum are white
- Lack of knowledge about craft traditions from around the world and their historical contexts
These insights would help to feed into the problem statement, which we developed before the next session.
Session 2 – inspiration and idea generation
To develop the problem statement before workshop 2 we asked the participants to answer the following questions, after thinking about their own experiences and their contributions to the first workshop:
- Who experiences the problem(s)
- Describe the problem(s)
- Where does the problem present itself?
- Why is this problem worth solving?
Patrick then drafted a problem statement which was presented in the second workshop, and which the participants were asked to feed back on. You can download a copy of the problem statement below.
In the second workshop we also spent some time completing a People and Connections map, which allowed us to get a sense of the entire craft ecosystem, and the people/organisations who could help us address these problems.
Before this workshop I worked with Sophia and Patrick to ‘flip’ the root causes from the Why Tree exercise in the previous session to form ‘How Might We’ questions. Below are the key ‘How Might We’ questions we took forward for the idea generation exercise:
These questions aim to address the key themes which by now emerge frequently throughout all of the exercises – around the craft canon (and how certain crafts are valued), education, representation, belonging and decision making. For the rapid idea generation exercise which followed we each worked on 3 of these ‘how might we’ questions, coming up with ideas about how we could address them. Then, to develop these ideas and think of more, we moved on to ‘alter egos’. For alter egos you consider what a famous person would do about the problem (e.g. what would Oprah Winfrey do?), or a ‘what if’ question (such as, what if we had unlimited budget? What if we had no budget?). These types of prompts help to think outside of normal constraints and stimulate creative thinking. You can see the process I worked through in the image below.
Before the end of the session we chose our top three ideas, ready to present at the final workshop.
Session 3 – crafting policy recommendations
There was lots of great discussion in this session, with much of it focusing on craft education and the curriculum, but also ways in which certain craft events can be exclusionary. We finished presenting ideas from the idea generation exercise in the previous session, then went on to begin thinking about which ideas we could take forward. Many of the ideas could be grouped into themes. We went through a voting process to vote on the top themes and most compelling ideas within those themes. The top themes were:
- Reframing narratives/amplify and tell stories
- Build and grow networks/create new spaces/forge partnerships
- Gather and re-evaluate data
- Finance and funding
Some interesting ideas included:
- Look at visuals and narrative on crafts and revise/question/critique this
- Transparency about how decisions are made
- A ‘Trustpilot’ style review system for the craft sector
- Guilds working in collaboration with social justice organisations
- Union of black and ethnic minority creative practice
We didn’t have time to finish the other activities planned for this workshop, which included thinking of different policy tools to implement ideas, and more ‘what if’ questions to generate ideas about making things happen. I will now use the insights from these workshops to begin building policy recommendations in collaboration with Crafts Council. These recommendations will be shared in a report in early 2021.
I would like to thank everyone who took part in the workshops, for your effort, expertise, time and emotional labour. Also thanks to Patrick and Sophia for putting these workshops together.