"It's not about the fancypants museums" - Museumaker enjoys prolific year of craftwork

Interview by Ben Miller | 05 November 2010
A photo of a darkened garden containing glass sculptures
Richard Jackson's Exchanging Luminance lights up Museumaker at The Lightbox in Woking© Matthew Andrews
“Getting contemporary craft in the national media is difficult,” concedes Brigid Howarth, the Co-Director of Museumaker.

“It’s quite difficult to think of household names in contemporary craft, isn’t it? Lucy Rie, Bernard Leach just about…it’s not like Banksy or names that everyone knows. But the thing about craft is that people really get involved with it.

“There’s lots of stuff for them to do, things they can buy, it’s affordable. So I think that’s part of our success.”

Starting out as a pilot scheme in the East Midlands a few years ago, Museumaker unites venues and supremely talented craftspeople for exhibitions, workshops and community activities, and has won funding from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, the Arts Council and Renaissance. This year, 66 applications to take part were whittled down to 16 across the country.

Clare Twomey's Museumaker contribution, A Dark Day in Paradise, is at Brighton's Royal Pavilion until January 2011© Matthew Andrews
“You really want a mix,” says Howarth. “There are ones which are experienced at commissioning and working with visual arts, like the Geffrye [in London], and then smaller ones who’ve been able to get national coverage for the first time, like Valentine’s Mansion [in Ilford].”

Outside of the capital, Swedish textile genius Lina Peterson’s project at the University of Nottingham was one of Howarth’s favourites. “She’s put her heart and soul into that project,” she says.

“She’s an intelligent, fantastic maker who’s worked really hard, and the work itself is lovely. I think it has really opened up that collection. The community engagement process that she went through with people produced some fantastic work. I was in a leading gallery in the centre of London and her work was in there and people were talking about the show in Nottingham.”

Other highlights, such as a lantern parade at the Bowes in Durham and Claire Twomey’s A Dark Day in Paradise at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, have given their hosts lucrative media exposure, providing inspiration for their future plans.

A photo of a young artist
Lina Peterson's Imagined Objects of Desire gave local visitors the chance to try out some intricate handiwork at the University of Nottingham Museum© Matthew Andrews
“These are hard projects to do,” adds Howarth. “Financially they’re quite tight and the budgets are quite stringent, but I think it’s turned the museums on to work with contemporary crafts.

“It’s not about the fancypants museums – it’s for any museum, so even village museums like Alford Manor in Lincolnshire can do brilliant small projects.

“I think it’s about museums being confident about what they’re doing and knowing why they’re doing it. We adopted a very supportive role – it’s not just about giving them money and letting them get on with it.”

Predictably against the current financial backdrop, Howarth says there are no guarantees about Museumaker’s future.

“We’ve got a completely open mind about it – it might be that certain elements of it go forward,” she ponders.

“Do I feel optimistic? Personally no. But I think in these times people start thinking about new ways of working, and that’s certainly what Museumaker is.”

Museumaker continues until Spring 2011. Visit www.museumaker.com for more.
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