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UK’s Controversial Declassification of Crafting as a Creative Industry

by Allison Meier on May 10, 2013

Card making by Clara Breen (via Crafts Council UK)

Card making, one of many crafts industries deemed no longer creative in the UK (via Crafts Council UK)

A proposed declassifying of crafting as a creative industry in the UK has the the country’s cavalcade of craft makers bristling. The broadly and ridiculously named Department for Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) released a paper in late April directed at evaluating the creative industries, including the elimation of “crafts” as one of the accepted creative industries categories.

In this “Classifying and Measuring the Creative Industries” paper the DCMS stated:

Most crafts businesses are too small to identify in business survey data, so while there has been a crafts section in the former classification, we’ve not been able to provide GVA data. […] We recognise that high-end craft occupations contain a creative element, but the view is that in the main, that these roles are more concerned with the manufacturing process, rather than the creative process.

This paper is meant as an update to the 1998 Creative Industries Mapping Documents, Dezeen explained, that were an intial stab at taking a measure of the country’s creative businesses in relation to the broader economy. Naturally, the assertion that crafting is more of a”manufacturing process” than a creative skill has infuriated organizations like the Crafts Council UK, especially when DCMS sectors like “software and computer services” and “interactive leisure software” (the British government really has a way with bureaucratic naming absurdity) are included.

Why would crafters care whether or not some government department declares them as creative or not? Well, Julia Bennett, research and policy manager at the Crafts Council UK, wrote in the Guardian that while the DCMS assured crafters that it wouldn’t impact funding and it still holds that crafts are important (whatever that gets them), “to omit this as a category denies makers, craft agencies, and organizations and the government itself robust and commonly agreed data that evidences craft’s importance. Without data, the sector understandably has concerns that it is less visible than other parts of the creative industries, on the principle that ‘what doesn’t get counted, doesn’t count’.”

Metalwork by Lindsey Holmes (via Crafts Council UK)

Metalwork by Lindsey Holmes (via Crafts Council UK)

On their website, the Crafts Council also responded:

The Crafts Council’s own research Craft in an Age of Change shows that the estimated craft-related income for contemporary craft-making businesses in 2011 was £457m (larger than spending on music downloads and only slightly smaller than London West End theatres) with a GVA of £220m. Of the estimated 23,000 businesses, 88% are sole-traders, a number of whom will be under the VAT threshold and thus invisible in the methodology DCMS use to count the creative industries.

Basically, not having the designation may make it more difficult for craft organizations to get funding, as it won’t be as easy for them to show how their industry is a part of and contributing to the British economy. It’s also kind of lazy of the DCMS to just be cutting an area that is hard for them to classify rather than finding a way to accurately evaluate it, and it certainly doesn’t assure the crafters that they have much government support for their work. Also of note, but less in an uproar, is that “art and antiques” is also up for elimination (this relates to the retail of it, not the creation), with the DCMS stating that “we recognize that there is some creative activity involved in curation and that people may visit galleries to view and consume art rather than to buy it. The former ‘Arts and Antiques’ group used a small percentage of this retail employment to represent this creative activity — but this was not an ideal approach and for consistency we are keen that retail activities aren’t included in the Creative Industries estimates.”

Responses to the paper (with requested supporting evidence) can be submitted online through June 14, and there’s also an ongoing petition against the changes. As the petition states: “Calling an IT Business Analyst a creative but refusing the title to a skilled potter or ceramicist shows the level of understanding that those proposing the change have of what is and isn’t creative.”

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