A move beyond the happy accident – exploring innovation at the Make:Shift conference

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Last week I was lucky enough to catch up with James Smith, our contemporary design crafts B.A (Hons) Course Area Leader. We discussed his recent visit to Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry to attend the Crafts Council’s Make:Shift conference 2017.

James mentioned the work of the 2014 conference as exploring innovations in approach to Crafts practice and described how the 2017 conference built on this by providing exciting opportunities for collaboration and the production of new knowledge through multidisciplinary working.

The three key themes of the conference were social innovation, healthcare and well-being and sustainability but the focus was on crafts practice as a catalyst for exciting new practices and how the bringing of the arts into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics acts as a change-agent, stimulating a fresh approach and creating new knowledge.

Parallel practices were brought together through conversation. As well as a teacher,  James is a design thinker and crafts practitioner, and he shared his delight at being sat between a Professor of Physics and a researcher into spectral array analysis. The venue equally supported connections – not only on an ideas level but through meetings and conversations that, amongst other things, mean students from Hereford College of Arts will be visiting Manchester to look at objects in collaboration with students from Manchester School of Arts.

Presentations considered, amongst other ideas, how we might move forward from the individual ‘happy accident’ and develop formal pathways for the artist/craftsperson to bring their galvanising influence into the worlds of engineering. Sustainability issues considered how we are entering a new geological age- the age of the Anthropocene, and the creation of a new fossil layer from plastics. This, for the craftsperson, creates ideas regarding materials and their meaning, sparking debate into the importance of lo-fi fixes and the possibility of designing and creating objects using by-products from local industries or the international overstocks of sugar and salt.

There was an emphasis on opening up projects to create spaces where ideas and people could collaborate; an emphasis that links to our ‘creative curriculum space’ project here at Hereford College of Arts. Our curriculum development work involves a cross-college creation of collaborative opportunities for L4 students to support with their future journeys. It also creates forward-facing scholarly spaces at Level 5 through encouraging cross-college collaboration within the wider community.

Our current scholarship work considers how our community of artist-practitioners might best disseminate their scholarly practice, and perhaps one key to that might be the work of Caroline Till in Viewpoint magazine, which, amongst other things, presents visual essays and case studies that tie in with ‘big ideas’ and anticipate future themes. I hope James will share his ideas on how we might disseminate our own scholarly and creative practices at our Creative Tea tomorrow night.