20th September 2017

I thought I might begin with a personal observation. I am an arts journalist with a special interest in the cross over between art and craft. I have watched with pleasure the way that craft has grown to embrace conceptual ideas and the way that the art world has begun increasingly to recognise the fluidity of boundaries between art and craft. Craft skills can be put to many purposes. I admire the initiative of Cockpit Arts in offering support for two years to an artist who wishes to find a way of sustaining their creative life in this exciting but uncertain terrain. I think that Jane Hoodless was an admirable recipient of the first residency. She is a perfect example of a maker keen to use craft skills to explore complex and sometimes controversial ideas. As such, she presents an altogether novel face of Cockpit Arts to the world.

The stage two evaluation embarked by interviewing seven professionals established within the wider art, craft and residency fields. These included visual artists, a conceptual jewellery artist, a senior figure supporting entrepreneurship and career development amongst makers and a senior project manager within a residency-offering arts organisation. They offered their perspectives on the residency and how their understanding of it had influenced their perception of Cockpit Arts.

A primary impulse for Cockpit behind the two-year residency has been the desire to send a strong signal that the organisation is not solely concerned with product and ‘commercial’ business development but also with creativity and concepts as a means of developing artistically and sustainably.

It is clear that the Artist-Maker Residency has surprised and intrigued observers. It has changed perceptions of Cockpit Arts, by showing that this crafts-orientated organisation is alive to the importance of artist-makers within the craft universe, and is prepared to help and encourage those trying to make a financially stable life working in this creatively adventurous arena. On the other hand, the residency has also been recognised as playing to Cockpit Arts’ strengths – through the business support it can offer, through the community of makers it offers to the resident artist and through Cockpits’ support for craft based artistic practice at a time when there is a reaction against our increasingly digital/technological society.

The positive aspects of the residency mentioned in the interviews included the unusual length of time, two years, of the residency, allowing for a true development both of artistic practice and of the strategic thinking needed to sustain a practice of this kind. The open-endedness of the brief was another important attraction, with “freedom” being a key word interviewees used in relation to Cockpits’ offering to artists. Cockpit is perceived as being innovative in offering this really substantial support and in placing few constraints on the outcome.

This residency is a pilot. It was clear that interviewees felt the residency, and as a consequence Cockpit Arts’ profile, could be built on and strengthened further in future by establishing relationships with other arts organisations, whether commercial and public galleries or other arts organisations operating in the residency field. Cockpit Arts unique offer is its focus on being the UK’s only specialist craft incubator. However the success of any business relies on the ability to think laterally and to collaborate; the craft world alone is too narrow to sustain an artist maker practice with opportunities and so this outreach would benefit both the resident artist maker and Cockpit itself.

As the pilot evolves and is reflected on through evaluation there is also the opportunity for Cockpit Arts to clarify the objectives of the residency initiative, the application process, and the award criteria. It was felt universally that the residency was an extremely important and valuable initiative and one that demonstrates the significant role that Cockpit Arts has the potential to play in the rapidly evolving field of the craft-based visual arts.

Emma Crichton-Miller is a writer and journalist specialising in art, craft and design. She is a member of Cockpit’s external selection panel for studio applications.

This residency is supported by Arts Council England.

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