Mapping the Crafts Sector in Southern Ireland
In October 2012, WMUD was appointed together with Yellow Book and Drew Mackie by a consortium of five Local Development Companies and the Crafts Council for Ireland to carry out a cultural mapping study of the Crafts Sector in Southern Ireland – West Cork, Ballyhoura, South Tipperary, Kilkenny and Wexford. The objectives of the study were to:
- map the geography of the crafts sector in rural Ireland, and the factors that shape it
- understand better how places and landscapes influence the work of designer-makers
- analyse the business, professional, artistic and social networks that sustain crafts in rural Ireland, and
- examine the contribution of the crafts industry to a prosperous and sustainable rural economy
It was confirmed that the WMUD study should focus on the five LDC areas. However, the parallel economic study by Indecon covered the whole of Ireland, and it was agreed that the mapping study should offer insights and recommendations for action in all areas, especially rural communities.
The literature review has highlighted the contribution of the crafts sector, in Ireland and elsewhere, to the development of the modern, post-agrarian rural economy, especially tourism. The other elements of the study have provided some corroboration for this proposition. It was a key theme of the workshops, with many participants acknowledging the role of crafts in the cultural tourism market. The popularity of open studios and galleries was recognised, although some makers admitted they were ambivalent about the former. Galleries and shops feature in the network maps discussed in the previous section, and the GIS analysis confirmed a tendency for designer-makers to cluster in popular coastal towns.
The study has shown that the geographical distribution of craft enterprises and related organisations tends to follow the general pattern of settlement, with bunching in and around towns and around main roads. As a general rule, it is more likely to be fruitful to observe these patterns – and any evidence of clustering – than to try to influence them. The exception might be projects to promote the development of dedicated craft studios in particular locations. However, our fieldwork suggests that more could be done to promote the visibility of the crafts sector in key locations like seaside resorts – and this is our second recommendation. Our fieldwork and online searches using Google Maps such that, even in areas with a relatively dense concentration of craft enterprises, this may not be apparent to visitors. We have seen some excellent craft directories and print/online craft trails and this may be best way to proceed in some cases. But there is also a case for raising the profile of the sector by signposting studio premises and increasing the number of brown direction signs for craft galleries and studios.
The network mapping exercise revealed a number of issues and potential weaknesses and one of our recommendations is that action should focus on addressing these weaknesses, which include:
- over-dependence on public sector agencies and organisations such as CCoI and LDCs
- limited evidence of functional/supply-chain linkages
- strengthening Ireland’s links with the international designer-maker community and global markets
Network weaving is the process of facilitating new connections across a network through both online (peer to peer networks) and offline methods (events, local workshops, etc); this will require training for craft enterprises in the use of peer to peer online methods. Extending the reach and density of networks will help them more durable and resilient in the face of shocks.
The sharing of resources by enterprises and organisations could be explored as a way of reducing costs of equipment, transport and administration and ways of doing this should be explored by the local development agencies. This will open up new fields of local network collaboration, possibly including the creation of craft cooperatives.
Holding an invited event for potential network ambassadors who would seek to engage others in the network and initiate online action such as social reporting – blogging, tweeting and online publishing. The aim should be to create and promote a “peer to peer” network of crafts related enterprises and agencies that allows communication directly between members rather than through a central hub. This will require technical support and design in its early stages.
Peer-to-peer networks could also be used to promote and raise awareness of the use of technology in the craft sector as well as:
- developments in the wider international design and crafts communities
- areas of common interest across the whole of Ireland
- shared explorations of technique
- shared sales methods and potential markets
- cultural added value – “revealing the hidden stories behind the craft object and its maker”
- calls for assistance to support unexpected surges in customer demand
Finally in relation partly to the invisibility of the craft network and the potential benefits of an increased profile, it would be useful to consider promoting local community and business collaboration. An obvious starting point would be to develop this in locations which show a high degree of centrality in the transport network combined with existing uses that have high network centrality.