Skills for crafts – exploring new territory together

Can excellence in crafts be a source of inspiration for future generations of artisans?

The people behind Homo Faber the showcase of excellence in European crafts – believe so. Their partnership with the European Training Foundation has now helped to bring master crafts people from our partner countries to the 2022 exhibit in Venice.

In parallel, the ETF invited ten representatives of crafts associations from mainly Eastern Europe and Central Asia to the event, which opened in the magnificent Italian city on 10 April.

On the day preceding the launch, the group met with ETF staff and external experts who presented the preliminary results of the ETF partner country study on skills development in craftsmanship and design.

Without the slightest hesitation, the group launched into a debate about the very basic premises of the issues at stake: what are crafts, how much can they modernise without losing their integrity as banner bearers of our cultural heritage and how should the crafts sector respond to some of the most pressing challenges (and opportunities!) of our time, such as digitalisation, globalisation, mass tourism and indeed mass production.

Preliminary results from an ETF study on skills for crafts in the partner countries confirm a gap between the new skills needed, such as new technical skills, digital skills and sales and marketing skills, and access to adequate training in the crafts sector.

“Six out of 20 polled Armenian small businesses in crafts introduced new tasks in the past two years, while seven out of 10 employees said that changes in technologies or tasks required them to learn new skills,” said Loes vand der Graaf, one of the study researchers.

“But there is limited cooperation between these crafts companies and education providers,” she said.

Ana Shanshiashvili of the Georgian Heritage Crafts Association confirmed this. For the people she works with, she could even be quite specifically say what new skills are needed most among crafts people in Georgia.

“Sales is the key problem. People don’t necessarily all want to learn how to market themselves, but they all want to sell,” she said.

Her organisation, however, is not just telling crafts people to modernise. On the contrary, in some ways Ana Shanshiashvili thinks a big step needs to be made back in time.

“There is a reason why things produced by artisans look the way they look. During Soviet times, crafts as such were promoted but the system took the meaning out of it. One of our missions is to get that meaning back into the crafts.”

Others nudge in different directions. Elizabeth Miroshnichenko of the Handicraft Chamber of Ukraine told her colleagues about experiments with Fablabs that grouped designers and artisans into teams to explore innovation in crafts. Setting off with some very hesitant crafts people, the end results were hailed by all participants, including the crafts people who had been very hesitant initially.

So there appears to be a lot of scope for upgraded skills even in a trade that is so steeped in tradition as craftmanship is and regardless whether you use a very narrow definition to define crafts or you use a broader measure.

In the months ahead, we will write more about it and publish some of the videos we have recorded with our group of partner country representatives in Venice.


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