Collective futures: The Discovery Phase
I’ve just spent two enjoyable days in Shetland working on a case study as part of a collaborative project I’m working on with colleagues from Glasgow School of Art and Gray’s School of Art. The project is titled Collective Futures and focuses on the role of designer/maker collectives within the creative and cultural sector. It is a Creative Scotland-funded project and you can read more about it here.
As part of what we’re calling the Discovery phase, project partners have produced an academic literature review and undertaken an environmental scan of existing collectives across a range of artforms and disciplines – all informing our first case study of Shetland. Shetland was of interest to us because of its unique geography and landscape (and the fact that it attracts artists and makers because of this uniqueness) but also its contained setting. We wanted to explore whether the characteristics of an island setting with its geographical boundaries represented were a help or hindrance to working, and operating, collectively.
We found some really interesting cases of collective working and organisation over the course of the short visit and I just want to draw out a couple of examples to provide a flavour of the issues emerging from the Discovery phase and our case study of Shetland:
1. Being artist-led (here I’m including designers/makers) is crucial to the sustainability of the collective. Collectives need a purpose, a raison d’etre that extends beyond mere instrumental value if they are to flourish in this period of austerity in public finances. A good example of an artist-led collective is Veer North which is run by its members who came together on the basis of an identified need (by the artists) to work together to highlight the quality of visual art being produced by Shetland artists. Veer North also wanted to act as an entity that could interact with creative and cultural policy makers and funders to advocate for artists in the Isles. This collective has sustained itself because it was artist-led from the outset.
2. Professionalism, including clarity of roles and remits and a clear set of guiding principles, enables collectives to grow and offer their members outcomes for the whole that are greater than the sum of their parts. Shetland Arts and Crafts is a well established collective that is self financing and has a quality assessment scheme in place for full members to encourage high standards in design, workmanship, packaging and production.
We’ve got lots more to discover as our project progresses and we’ll be updating everyone via our project website.