I’ve been working on a book for the past years on and off. It is about why art is important and what its worth is outside of an economic one. Lots of the posts in this blog have been exploring this topic (see, for example the categories art and the market or art and healing).

The deeper I go into it, the more I see that it is not an isolated issue, that the changes needed and indeed happening in the arts are changes happening in every sector and will shake this whole society to its roots.

That is why it feels on topic to talk about an amazing TV program I saw here in Holland this week. Here is a link if you are Dutch. It was called ‘Transitions’ and addressed the present crisis and the creative initiatives happening at grass roots level to come out of it. Actually the projects in the program were not about ‘coming out of a crisis’ but creating a new way of living in society.

The main focus was on Jan Rotmans, professor of Transition studies in Rotterdam. He says that in Holland there are maybe 10,000 creative people who are thinking and acting in a completely new way,, outside the existing paradigm. They are the tippers (ie causing the society to tip into a new way of being),  and the thinkers so far outside of the box that the box doesn’t even exist.

Rotmans says we are in a crisis that is different from any before, that this sort of crisis happens once every 100-150 years, and

it isn’t that we’re living in an era of change, but in a change of eras.

Briefly, this is a deep  and far reaching systems crisis- we are in a transition period between a consumer society and a sharing society.

The program focused on 5 different projects each in a different sector- healthcare, energy, urban design, building, and mobility.  For example, the neighbourhood care project (Buurtzorg) now in every city in Holland and soon to be picked up by the US, Sweden, and Japan. Jos de Blok’s simple idea is to put the responsibility for care and the organisation of care  back into the hands of the professionals who do it,and cut out managers and middle managers. It is based on small local groups of nurses and social workers who hire and fire, manage their schedules, and pay system etc. This saves money and  improves care. And it works.

Another project brings people who want transport together with those who are offering it – a new kind of carpooling, but via internet. Poeple make a profile, there is a feedback system, the payment goes via the site. (Toogethr.nl  – founder Martin Voorzanger) Voorzanger says,

the trend is toward trust not only being a condition for a sharing economy, but the new currency as well.

If people increasingly barter, trade, rent- they take their consuming into their own hands instead of buying from big companies. then this will be the real economy and we’ll stop measuring in terms of economic growth.

The new values emerging in all these initiatives are trust, connection, community building, self sufficiency, sustainability.

So yes, it is crisis, and at the same time it is an incredible opportunity to build new ways of relating to each other, using energy, living in neighborhoods, taking care of each other, and getting what we need in terms of objects and services.

The arts too have a role to play in this transition-  as tools to assist and catalyse transformation in times of change.

So I’ll be writing more about this topic in future posts, and hopefully one day gather it all together in a book to give hope and inspiration to everyone whose heart has been touched by music, painting or other arts. And whose heart, like mine,  is breaking when they see how marginalised and commercialized the arts have become in this soulless society we’ve all created together.

We are capable of better, I know it.

In praise of a craft economy

February 21, 2011

embroidered denim shirt

A little funk & flash

felt work

Craft love

Several years ago, there was a European project to promote tourism in our area. They invited all the artists and craftsmen to see if, together, we could come up with some ideas for getting funding by developing the arts and crafts more in the region.

The mind-boggling result of the meeting of 400 creatives who attended the first meetings, is that the majority of the professional Artists flatly refused to work together with ‘just craftsmen’ and walked out.
Craftspeople, including wooden clog makers, weavers, potters, etc. were seen as somehow inferior to the artists and they felt that being associated with these crafts would devalue their work.

The stigma around handwork is very strong in Dutch intellectual society. I have run into it repeatedly. Crafts are seen as dabbling hobbyism. Sometimes, when a craftsperson is doing groundbreaking work, she or he can be admitted into the upper art world echelons. But this is rare. Luckily, with the rise of craftivism, crafting (the rise of old craft skills in a hip context), etc, this is starting to change. But very telling is that the Dutch version of Etsy will be called something to the tune of ‘cutesy stuff’.  Sigh.

I have been advocating the virtues of working with one’s hands to produce excellence and beauty for all my adult life. So I find that living in Holland sometimes feels less than craftfriendly.

I was so heartened recently to run into the work of Satish Kumar and others connected with his magazine Resurgence.  This loose community of environmentalists, artists, craftspeople, intellectuals, educators, writers, poets, nature lovers, etc. has a philosophy where the arts play an integral role in leading a whole, healed life. The magazine spends equal time on education, ecology and craft and explores creating small, sustainable local economies based on spiritual values.

Here is a quote from one of Kumar’s editorials in the December 2010 issue of Resurgence:

‘Being an artist is not a hobby: it is a livelihood. Moreover, a craft economy is a truly sustainable and resilient economy: indeed a, peace economy.

The sooner we embrace the arts and crafts as an integral part of our daily lives, the sooner we will be able to address the economic, environmental and spiritual issues of our time. The industrial economy is a growth economy- never enough and never satisfied-  whereas the craft economy is a dancing economy-  always active and always joyful.

 ‘The way to a fulfilled life is through the arts and crafts. They lead us out of consumerism. The practice of arts and crafts is a spiritual practice through which we honour the material world, and while we do that we develop a sense of beauty and generosity in our lives’.