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BARNABY BARFORD

The Polar Bear, 2016 H245 cm Photo: Martin Slivka

On the one hand, the government is happy to acknowledge the importance the creative industries play in the UK economy, but on the other, the arts (and crafts) play second fiddle to science and mathematics subjects. Financial sustainability remains a concern, too. According to the Crafts Council’s latest survey, the standard maker’s wage is less than the national average. Add to that the difficulty of finding affordable studio space in London and other major cities and it’s easy to see why so many of the nation’s best creative talents are feeling the squeeze. The worry persists of what precisely will be left when the eyes of the marketeers and hipsters alight on something new.

Anecdotally, the rather comfy notion that the art, design and craft worlds are now simply one smorgasbord of complementary skills doesn’t stand too much scrutiny. When, over the past 12 months, Crafts asked to interview two prominent artists famed for their use and manipulation of materials, both refused – the only conclusion one could draw was that neither wished to be associated so closely with makers. However much one would like the disciplines to be judged on equal terms, a divide – not least in price tag – is still very much in evidence.

So where precisely does Collect fit into this contradictory, post-Sennett picture? Well, sometimes it’s a little too easy to be cynical about the fair. It is, after all, unapologetically elitist in a field that clings ferociously – and, I should add, rather wonderfully – to its hard-fought sense of democracy. That said, it’s worth pointing out that since it launched at the V&A in 2004, Collect has become a vital part of craft’s infrastructure, encouraging new collectors from both the public and private sectors. Collect Open (originally entitled Project Space) has pushed the boundaries of craft and coerced a generation of makers to explore the outer limits of their practice. The fair has garnered many column inches in the national press and it could be argued that it was at least partly responsible for firing up the wider public’s fascination for all things making (although from a very personal point of view I’d like to think that Crafts also had a part to play in that as well). I suspect too that it has given the occasionally rather reticent world of contemporary crafts more confidence, a sense that its work is as good as anyone else’s and acted as a springboard from which makers and galleries can leap.

One of the fascinating aspects of the fair’s progression has been watching the likes of Adrian Sassoon, Sarah Myerscough and Katie Jones take their makers to international art fairs such as PAD London and Design Miami. It has also set a template for others to follow – it’s difficult to imagine that Tresor, the new contemporary craft exhibition in Basel that launched last year, for instance, could have existed without Collect, such is their shared DNA.

It isn’t (and doesn’t pretend to be) a panacea for all craft’s issues, of course, and it’s hard to see how the problems in education are going to be resolved in the near future, so intractable have they become. Yet it has undoubtedly grown the market for making and has been a mainstay of an extraordinary decade for craft. Long may it continue. I very much hope you enjoy the show.

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