Craft in the time of COVID

Guest Blogger Lauren Baker shares her research and internship experience during COVID.

There are any number of unexpected encounters when you are part of a PhD programme, but a global pandemic was not something that I had factored into my third year timeline. However, if there is one thing I have taken away from my time working towards my PhD, it is the need to adapt to uncertainty. My doctoral research is focussed on contemporary craft in Scotland, and the role organisations take in developing the career pathways of practitioners. Having always worked in the industry, I am passionate about the exceptional people in this relatively small sector and advocating for their futures. So when I had the opportunity to undertake an international internship, I knew exactly who I wanted to work with.

Since the Summer of 2019, I had been co-ordinating an internship with my dream organisation – the American Craft Council (ACC). I knew about the dedication of the organisation, its programme of events, and its very unique asset of a dedicated craft library and archive. I spent time chatting with the ACC team via Skype, aligning our values, and getting to know about their strategies for the future. I devoted time to creating a project plan that combined these elements, utilising my skills as a researcher and offering them project outcomes that met their own strategic goals. This was distilled into a number of project agreements and training programmes that could satisfy the application for funding, the sponsorship for the visa application, and the needs of my university and supervisory team. It felt like an epic push, but when I walked away from my Visa interview at the US Embassy on a cloudy Tuesday morning with the final approval, it felt great to know I would be in Minneapolis in just a week! As I waited for my passport to be posted back to me, it became pretty clear that I wasn’t going anywhere – by the end of that week, my University had ceased all international travel, and the USA had introduced travel bans.

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To lose this opportunity at the very last hurdle, when I had worked so hard, left me pretty gutted. I spent a solid day watching the news, and desperately piecing together documents that argued why my University should let me travel to the USA. Over that weekend, I had to come to terms with the fact that it wasn’t going to happen: pretty much every craft event had been cancelled for the foreseeable anyway, there wouldn’t be anywhere to gather project data. My main concern shifted to the extent to which this kind of global event would impact on small businesses like those found in craft and the creative economy – with markets, exhibitions, and retail spaces closing across the world, craft practitioners would see a significant loss of sales, not to mention cancellations of freelance contracts for design work, teaching, or facilitation. How would practitioners tackle this? What would organisations need to do to help them manage it? I quickly realised there was a whole new project plan lying ahead of me.

Swiftly reframing my plans, and gaining approval from the many stakeholders, I now find myself working from my kitchen table, hunting out useful resources for craftspeople, gathering examples of how they’ve adapted to new ways of working, and moderating weekly online forums of hundreds of practitioners. I’ve had to completely recalibrate many of my expectations about this project, and there’s still a lot of uncertainty: What will the outcomes be? How will the organisation make best use of this info? Am I using the Slack channel properly?? Does my kitchen look a mess over Zoom??? But I’m realising it’s important to take time to be kind to yourself, accept that everyone is working differently, and give yourself the space to acclimatise. It’s so easy to pile pressure on ourselves for productivity in academia, but what is most important right now is ensuring everyone is safe and well. There’s so much we can’t control, so let’s focus on what we can: simply doing whatever you can, wherever you are.

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You can follow me on Instagram @doctorlozzo, or if you want to chat craft, corona, or crushed dreams (just kidding!) you can email me at l.e.baker@dundee.ac.uk

Image Descriptions and Credit

Featured Image: I’m massively lucky that the PhD has provided me opportunities to travel and research, like my trip to wholesale tradeshow NY NOW in Feb 2020 (picture shows a busy conference centre entrance, with many banners reading ‘Retail Renaissance’ and ‘NY NOW’, surrounded by queueing people. Additional images show brightly coloured products on display in stands, including neon signs, stationery, and a cut out Godzilla).

Pic 2 – It was almost all worth it for the super interesting experience of the US Embassy in London, but I definitely celebrated my departure a little too soon (picture shows the US Embassy in London,  which is textured silver building, with the US flag flying in the foreground, with am emoji saying ‘USA is calling’.

Pic 3 – So now my residency is a lot less in the ACC archives in Minneapolis, and a lot more in my kitchen (picture shows my silver laptop, notebooks, tea mug and speaker on my wooden kitchen table, with the background view of my partner’s socks drying on the radiator).

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