Making Leaders (Innovation & Change)

Plymouth College of Art in association with CraftNet, an independent network that promotes leadership and strategic development for contemporary craft. Convened by Paul Harper, CraftNet representative for the South West, and freelance researcher and writer on art and craft.

Camp 0 was an experiment in creating a co-operative and sustainable community (photograph above)


“Both the difficulties and the possibilities of making things well apply to making human relationships. Material challenges like working with resistance or managing ambiguity are instructive in understanding the resistances people harbour to one another or the uncertain boundaries between people.”  

“…the craft of making physical things provides insight into the techniques of experience that can shape our dealings with others… I argue no more and no less than the capacities our bodies have to shape physical things are the same capacities we draw on in social relations.”

                                                     Richard Sennett, The Craftsman, 2008, pp.289-290


This workshop will explore the under-exploited potential of craft makers as leaders and the value of creative maker practices in developing qualities that contribute to good leadership, not just within the contemporary craft world, but in wider work and social contexts.

Makers are perhaps not popularly considered the kinds of people who typically occupy spheres of leadership. Craft was (maybe still is) commonly associated with the romantic idea of the maker as a narrowly focussed specialist, perhaps somewhat taciturn in nature, deploying her or his on-going skill through (what are imagined to be) relatively stable practices of production and consumption. 

Needless to say, the actuality of modern craft production - operating alongside pre-Fordist, Fordist, and contemporary post-Fordist expectations, philosophies, production technologies, and work and consumption regimes - often dictates a largely future-facing modus operandi in which makers are called upon to intelligently problem solve and innovate around technology, form, function, aesthetic meaning and (not least) social relevance. Adamson, in the ‘Invention of Craft’, for example, shows how during the development of industrial modernity makers often functioned as innovative leaders in specific fields of production. Marchand further emphasizes and explores the diversity and complexity of problem-solving strategies employed by contemporary craftspeople in ‘Craftwork as Problem Solving’, (the outcome of a 2015 Making Futures workshop); while Sennett (quoted above) observes how many of the essential features of craft practice constitute resources that can constructively influence (indeed, positively inculcate) more inclusive social relations.

To develop these reflections further: while craft making can afford a total absorption in, and unselfconscious enjoyment of, work, it is also outwardly directed - an unfolding engagement that not only fosters ingenuity and resourcefulness, but stamina and perseverance expressed in practical problem-based decision-making. As well as this tenacity and inventiveness, the making encounter simultaneously promotes more subtle understandings of relational interdependence, empathy, equanimity, humility, and a certain generosity of spirit. Expressed through networks of fellow practitioners and friends, suppliers, clients, curators and audiences, as well as other employments, these qualities can encourage more organic goal orientated associations between selves and surrounding environments – human and non-human alike.

Building on these observations, this workshop will explore how the skills and sensibilities involved in creative making are perhaps particularly aligned to positive and constructive forms of innovative leadership that might benefit many spheres of human organization. Such a proposition runs counter to a certain regressive model of leadership that may appear to be gaining currency in political, business and institutional systems alike; one that (perhaps because of the rise of global economic, ecological and social instabilities) seems to favour the cult of the autocratic and didactic ‘strongman’. But our thesis is that makers might (and, indeed, frequently do) turn out to be uniquely adept creators of communities, organisations, cultures and institutions. In short, creative leaders who can, and do, orchestrate innovation and change, and who perhaps sometimes challenge conventional understandings of leadership itself.

In exploring this theme we welcome a broad range of responses to this workshop and are interested in both practice-led case studies and papers that explore historical and theoretical issues associated with the idea of craft and leadership. We anticipate that contributions might fall into two fundamental categories:

  • Presentations that explore the making experience as a resource that can support and develop qualities that have wider leadership values.
  • Past or present case studies that describe and demonstrate leadership and/or innovation positions whose performance bears a relation to maker practices. Examples might be drawn from private sector businesses, public sector institutions, or third sector voluntary and community organisations, including social enterprises, mutuals and co-operatives, and self-help and community groups. Examples might, or might not, include actors who have maintained a maker practice alongside a leadership role.

That said, we also encourage relevant submissions that might not fit either of these two groupings, including performative and participatory demonstrations that explore the overall theme.

This third workshop ostensibly shares substantial interests with Workshop 4: Curating Maker Cultures. Depending on how the submissions received approach their subjects, we reserve the right to combine these workshops to the benefit of the majority of the potential audience.