Leilani Duke, chair of the American Craft Council Board, says the ACC made the decision to move to the Twin Cities after soliciting proposals from 11 cities known for their strong craft communities. Duke says they chose Minnesota not only for its nationally acclaimed craft community, but also for the numerous art galleries and museums in the area, the region’s robust academic and philanthropic institutions and, not least, the affordability of rental options and relatively low cost of living.
She says that in a difficult financial climate this move is the best way to ensure the longevity of the organization: “We’ve had to trim our sails significantly, and we expect we’ll have to be very budget-conscious over the next few years. Financially, staying in New York simply isn’t sustainable.”
The ACC currently has an annual budget of around $6 million and a staff of 21; she expects staffing in Minneapolis to shrink to between 12 and 15 full-time employees — and a fair number of them will be new, local hires. She says, “Most of our staff in New York isn’t anxious to relocate, so we’ll likely be bringing on five or six new staff people once we complete the move to the Twin Cities.”
The ACC has seen its fair share of tumult in recent years: On Nov. 1, the organization’s executive director, Andrew Glasgow, resigned his position for health reasons; revenue from its national craft shows and flagship bimonthly publication, “American Craft,” has been shrinking along with the economy.
Core offerings intact
In spite of all this, Duke says they’re committed to keeping the ACC’s core offerings intact: “We just finished a prioritization of all of our programs last year — our website, our magazine, our craft shows remain important educational programs for us, and we’re very much focused on keeping them strong.”
Duke says relocating to the Twin Cities will go a long way toward resolving the organization’s immediate, practical concerns. She says, “Compensation will be less here, given the relative affordability of the cost of living. Rent, too, will be less — and that’s been a significant issue, because the American Craft Council will need about 10,000 square feet of space to house its offices and vast library of print and visual materials on craft; the library alone will require between 3,000 to 5,000 square feet of storage space.” The organization is in the midst of negotiations with prospective sites around Minneapolis.
The organization’s prestigious archive — with more than 6,400 books, 7,000 exhibition catalogs, 700 bound volumes of periodicals, a substantial collection of artist files, and an accompanying database — will be accessible to the public by appointment. Duke says that the ACC is hoping, eventually, to digitize many of those materials, so that many of them will be available online as well.
When asked whether the ACC intends to partner with some of Minnesota’s notable craft organizations — e.g. the Textile Center, Northern Clay Center, American Association of Woodturners — she says, “While there are no specific plans in place now, we are definitely open to such partnerships as we settle into the Twin Cities arts community.”
Steering clear of turf wars
On the subject of the evolutions in “craft culture,” an issue central to the ACC’s recent national conference in the Twin Cities, Duke is insistent on the need to steer clear of turf wars about credentials, or about distinctions between studio crafts-people and self-taught crafters working in the indie scene.
“There are a group of young, energetic people — many of them DIY crafters — who are the new seed corn of our field,” she says. “We need to begin to think about how we bring in, not only young people who graduate with BAs and MFAs in craft, but also those crafters on the DIY side of things who are making truly remarkable things from their homes. We need to wrap our arms around them and find ways to bring them into the ACC’s programs, workshops, and shows.”
She goes on, “I think this question — how to become more inclusive — is what everyone is asking. Orchestras, museums and arts organizations of all kinds are looking for ways to broaden their audience support and appeal. We are all looking at ways to ensure the continued relevance and appeal of their offerings for younger generations of artists and patrons.”
As we wrap up our conversation, Duke reiterates the organization’s eagerness and enthusiasm about the upcoming transition.
“On our site visits to the Twin Cities, we felt the American Craft Council was so welcomed and wanted by this community. The selection process was competitive, and there were a number of other communities with strong traditions in craft that were very disappointed that their cities weren’t chosen. But after a year of weighing our options, the [ACC] board was unanimous about the decision. We couldn’t be happier about the prospect of moving to Minneapolis.”