by Meghan Urback.
At Handful of Salt, we’re always striving to bring attention to American makers, but also to the marketplaces and organizations that support them. In the past, we’ve spoken with craft leaders such as Stephanie Moore of the Center for Craft, Creativity & Design, Brigitte Martin of Crafthaus , an online community of US-based makers, and Jill Read of the Crafts Council in the UK. In the coming months, we’ll be featuring the work of several more national craft organizations. We like to think holistically about the future of craft—be it in the marketplace, academia, museums, non-profits, magazines, or in the homes of makers—and what can be done to promote its growth as a way of life. These are some of the places and people helping to make that happen.
One of the only national organizations in the United States that supports makers across all craft media, the American Craft Council (ACC) probably needs little introduction. Since its founding in 1943, the ACC has funded a wide variety of craft exhibitions, publications, and programs.
Over the course of its history, the ACC has undergone several identity changes, growing and shedding publications, exhibition spaces, and partners. The organization continues to evolve, searching for how best to represent craft makers and how to catalogue their history in this country.
Aileen Osborn Webb, founder of the ACC
The ACC began as the American Craftsmen’s Cooperative Council, an organization which resulted from the merging of two different organizations, each founded by an intrepid female craft patron, one in New York and one in Delaware. Aileen Osborn Webb, one of these patrons, also founded the Museum of Art and Design in New York (originally called the Museum of Contemporary Crafts and begun under the auspices of the ACC). Today, the ACC is one of the few large arts organizations left in this country whose name includes the word “craft.”
After decades in New York City, the organization, along with its extensive craft library, is now based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Their offices are located in a historic building along the Mississippi River that housed one of the largest breweries in America from 1891-1976. The ACC strives to be an excellent advocate for American craftsmen. In addition to their annual juried craft shows and their bimonthly magazine, the ACC hosts craft conferences and gives peer-nominated awards of excellence to craftsmen around the US. In an effort to identify the exact needs of craftspeople nationwide, the ACC hosted a series of listening sessions around the country asking makers what their biggest challenges are and what the ACC can do to address those needs.
Director Chris Amudsen explains that the organization is centered around three strategic goals: to advocate for craft as an important cultural resource, to strengthen economic opportunities for craftsmen, and to provide and cultivate leadership around contemporary craft.
As a childhood devotee of American Craft Magazine and now, a young person striving to make a living selling goods that I make by hand, I often find myself with big questions for organizations like the ACC—questions that are difficult for non-profit arts organizations to answer. How do you galvanize and support the next generation of American makers? How do you attract them to organizations whose members are often several decades their senior? How do you partner with for-profit companies selling American-made goods in order to grow consumer awareness of American makers? How can interior designers, architects, and craftspeople work together?
The ACC is certainly taking a stab at answering these questions. They co-host conferences like Making Meaning in the Marketplace with art schools like California College of the Arts, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Savannah College of Art and Design. The goal of these conferences is to introduce soon-to-be graduates to various lifestyle options available to those striving to make a living producing handmade goods in the United States. The ACC has plans to launch an Emerging Voices award to recognize the work of a new generation of craft thinkers, which will complement their existing Gold Medal awards that recognize lifetime achievement.
As part of the upcoming American Craft show in San Francisco this August, the ACC is working with Bay Area interior designers who will each put together a unique showroom on the craft show floor. Each room will incorporate an object made by a participating craft show artist. The goals are to connect designers and artisans and to inspire consumers to incorporate fine craft into their homes.
Efforts such as these—hosting panel discussions about career options for students and coordinating spaces where the design and craft communities can mingle—should be applauded. The challenge lies in bringing these events to the biggest and most relevant audiences in order to maximize their impact.
This challenge hits close to home here at Handful of Salt and with the ACC’s hat in the same ring, we’re excited to see what’s next for them and what they can do for the world of American makers and their crafts.