Tuesday, 7 May 2013

craft is not creative according to DCMS

The DCMS are currently proposing dropping craft from their list of creative industries. "We recognise that high-end craft occupations contain a creative element, but the view is that in the main, that these roles are more concerned with the manufacturing process, rather than the creative process."
HCA have been working hard on this issue, and we are thankfully very good at this sort of advocacy work. Last Thursday we met with Gwyn Owens head of creative economy at DCMS and our President HRH The Prince of Wales also talked with him. Gwyn assures us that "
it is not, and has never been, our intention to remove crafts from our definition of the creative industries – the current consultation is solely around how we might improve current estimates on measuring the value of the creative industries". We will be meeting with Gwyn and his team at DCMS shortly and are confident we can find a positive way forward. This is the consultation document to which anyone can respond.

The criteria for judging creativity is based on this document from NESTA and there are 5 key questions to answer. Ask yourself these questions about your craft, for most crafts I know I could answer yes for 1-4 and I feel 5 is a rather condescending failure of understanding what happens when a designer hands over to the people that have to make their vision into reality.

1. Novel process - Does the role most commonly solve a problem or achieve a goal, even one that has been established by others, in novel ways? Even if a well-defined process exists which can realise a solution, is creativity exhibited at many stages of that process?

2. Mechanisation resistant - The very fact that the defining feature of the creative industries is their use of a specialised labour force shows that the creative labour force clearly contributes something for which there is no mechanical substitute.

3. Non-repetitiveness or non-uniform function - Does the transformation which the occupation effects likely vary each time it is created because of the interplay of factors, skills, creative impulse and learning?

4. Creative contribution to the value chain - Is the outcome of the occupation novel or creative irrespective of the context in which it is produced; one such context being the industry (and its standard classification) of the organisational unit that hosts or employs the role? For example, a musician working on a cruise ship (a transport
industry) is still creative while a printer working within a bank is probably operating printing technology and hence would be considered mechanistic and not creative.

5. Interpretation, not mere transformation - does the role do more than merely 'shift' 
the service or artefacts form or place or time? For instance, a draughtsperson/CAD technician takes an architect's series of 2D drawings and renders them into a 3D model of the building. While great skill and a degree of creative judgement are involved, arguably the bulk of the novel output is generated by the architect and not by the draughtsperson.

As an easier way of expressing your feelings there are several e petitions doing the rounds on this subject and it would be good if we all signed the same one. HCA have decided to support this one rather than create another, although it does use the Crafts Council figures, the numbers working in Heritage Craft (209,000) and the contribution to the economy (£4.4bn GVA) are much higher.

Update 13th May HCA met with Matt Hancock Skills Minister today and raised this issue amongst others. The Department of Business Inovation and Skills have been working hard to raise the status of craft only last week presenting the craft skills awards and the minister has promised to follow up with DCMS. The more people who question this consultation document the better.

Update 14th May DCMS issue clarification of their position "We have been in discussions about our proposals with partners across the creative industries for some time, co-ordinated by a working group1
including Arts Council England and the Crafts Council.
The consultation is not intended to pass judgment on which industries are creative 
and which are not. What can be measured in the DCMS Creative Industries Economic 
Estimates should not be confused with what are recognised as Creative Industries by 
DCMS. DCMS clearly sees craft as a creative industry, and we are not intending to reclassify craft as non-creative." full statement here 

Finally does it matter? Does it make any difference to working craftspeople if DCMS include craft as a category when measuring the creative industries? HCA think it does for two reasons, firstly whilst we have done great work with the Department of Business Innovation and Skills to raise the status of craft the wording of these two documents feels to devalue the creativity that is inherent in craft practice. Second there are other organisations that use DCMS categories to allocate funding such as the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust

Another update HCA's main focus has been to question the Nesta methodology and the way in which it is used to determine which sic and soc codes are deemed creative or not. Geoff Mulgan who heads Nesta made a blog post on the issue here http://www.nesta.org.uk/blogs/geoffs_blog/lies_damned_lies_and_crafts_statistics/


  1. The craft of traditional upholstery is both creative and skilled as practiced by the majority of traditional upholsterers. A designer may be able to create a great drawing of a chair, but it take a skilled upholsterer to interpret that design and transform it into a comfortable and practical piece of furniture fit for purpose.

    1. But that's not creative at all. An architect can design a building but that doesn't mean builders are all creative geniuses for building it.

  2. If DCMS drop craft from the creative industries it would be disastrous.I think the 5 point check list reflects a completely wrong-headed idea about creativity, not to mention how craft might be judged on these terms. To divide the manufacturing process from the creative process is to separate thinking from doing and reproduces/reinforces the age old schism between mind and body. This seems to be very out-dated thinking most academics who have studied craft would be ashamed to see this being reproduced in government documentation.

    It strikes me that the role of materials is almost wholly absent from the list and it is the relationship that we develop with these which is at the heart of the creativity in craft. For instance, pt 1, the ability to deal with uniquely varied natural materials as opposed homogenised processed ones means that the production step is always always creative. By drawing on a wide repertoire of (traditional) skills, knowledge and experience the crafter creates outcomes with sustainable uniquely varied materials.

    Pt 2-Mechanisation relies very much on consistent uniform feedstock. Again the variation found in natural sustainable materials mitigates against the use of mechanisation. On a similar vein the crafter employs creativity to work with the material (variation) not against it, hence each step of every production process is interpretive and creative.
    Pt 3 Again in this point we have mention of skill, creative impulse and learning BUT no mention of materials!!!! Its the material which, in part, makes craft produce unique whilst at the same time making each creative act unique in term of a specific set of choices and techniques being unique to each object. yes, some objects are similar but I guarantee that none are identical and even when they are similar that sameness might have been achieved by the use of very different problems being addressed. This point should say "....the interplay amongst skills, materials, creative impulse, and learning."

    Pt4 I would say this point is very important. Yes (traditional) craft is novel and creative regardless of the production context but this is to miss the point. Through practising (traditional) crafts we create more than things...we actually CREATE the CONTEXT OF PRODUCTION. Of course, how we choose to interpret our craft effects the character of the contexts of production that we simultaneously create. This is so important, and we only have to think of the value addition that our activities generate in terms of visitors, on lookers the way a 'atmosphere' of a district/place with active crafters is tangibly different to other areas, i.e. contexts of consumption (shopping centres). We should remember that the things we craft have lives and stories which in their use entangle themselves with others.

    Pt 5 This is a terrifying statement which suggests that those who drafted (created!!) it really had a poor understanding of creativity and craft. My comments on pt 1 are relevant here but I also think the issue of interpretation has been raised in other points. Again I think the exclusion of the role of materials is critical as it is through these that we engage in interpreting the material in the process of crafting. I would argue that crafting is interpretation with the artefact being a material testament to ones interpretive ability.

    We should definitely act to stop this ludicrous system of 'measurement' being passed....

    best wishes


  3. The skill and creativity of 'traditional crafts' needs to be nutured not threatened. Too many things have been lost for ever.

  4. Signed it. I think it is a bigger issue than 'traditional crafts' alone in that craft skills are essential for a wide range of activities, including various arts, engineering, machine operations etc at very many levels.
    In any case it may not be possible to know in advance that the application of learned craft skills will be creative or otherwise.
    The term "creative' isn't particularly useful anyway and confuses the issue e.g. most musicians never play anything except other peoples compositions? Arguably not creative, but so what?

  5. it is this sort of reoccuring argument that continually undermines crafts and put high quality young people we need off of working in this sector.

    1. The government uses a system of classification for occupations called the Standard Occupational Classification. It looks similar to the system used in libraries to classify books (the Dewey Decimal System). In the government's Standard Occupational Classification there are just six major categories divided into a great number of sub categories, and most occupations that people would typically classify as skilled crafts fall in just two of the major categories - no.3 'creative' and no.5 'skilled'. This is the official government list of occupations - the Standard Occupational Classification - not the separate and unrelated DCMS list of 'creative' industries. While a quick read of the phrase "DCMS reclassifies crafts as not creative" is not exactly going to endear professional makers to the DCMS, I'm unclear exactly what the DCMS's list gets used for exactly, is it just for filing? Will the Churchill Trust cancel their new partnership with the Worshipful Company of Carpenters (cabinetmakers are not in the 'creative' category) as a result of a DCMS reclassification? It seems unlikely to me. I'm guessing that most young people are not looking at the DCMS list of creative industries before they decide whether they want a career in skilled crafts.

  6. Michael Excell21 May 2013 at 00:49

    For what purpose does the DCMS use this definition of whether a particular occupation counts as creative?
    Can anyone give any concrete examples of organisations or individuals that are likely to suffer some tangible loss as a result of this DCMS reclassification?

  7. Well traditional crafts on their own aren't creative. Contemporary crafts are creative. Reproducing ancient pots takes no creativity whatsoever. It's just copying. As mentioned above, musicians who don't produce their own material also aren't creative.

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