ACC Conference - An Opinion from Wendy Rosen
Long Tail - Blockbuster versus Netflix, and the art/craft world.

ACC Conference - Why the ACC is more famous for football than craft?

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The Devil Inside Brooch,  Recycled tin cans,  Harriete Estel Berman

A rude awakening.  When I told a distant relative that I was blogging for the ACC Conference she was blown-away impressed, shocked, surprised!!!!!.....until she found out it was not THE ACC, the Atlantic Coast Conference (college football), it was just the American Craft Council Conference. (Although a D.I.Y. jewelry maker, she had never heard of them.)

A second blast to my ego arrived upon finding out that the blogger who writes "Monday Morning Quarterback" gets 1 million readers each week. (I'm not sure if it's per day or per week, I'd take a million either way.)

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Homemade Handmade Brooch
Recycled Tin Cans
Harriete Estel Berman

The Point
Our society spends tons of money and time on many other discretionary purchases even in this tough economy. People spend $80 for a football ticket and not on a pair of earrings or a handmade ceramic bowl. And I ponder how the arts end up being such an orphan.

While it is very entertaining to see Helen Drutt saying that "Martha Stewart doesn't belong at this Conference" (visualize Helen standing at the podium, indignant, proud and outrageous all in one moment), I think we make a big mistake trying to be exclusive in the arts and crafts club.

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Handmade Nation Graphic

Why does the established studio craft world feel threatened by the D.I.Y. movement? Why do the art and craft elite feel a need to divorce themselves from Martha Stewart and any other amateur craft effort? Why were the ACC Conference Convenings "by invitation only?"  Who are they afraid might come? 

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Groupthink graphic from Wing. TV

Breaking Out of GroupThink
Let's break out of "groupthink," the tendency of an insulated group to rationalize its own actions and to dismiss any divergent thoughts, ideas, and concepts as "alien" and not worth consideration. (Read the Symptoms of Groupthink below this post.) Any organization that defines itself strictly within its existing membership profile without reaching outside for new members will eventually shrink and wither.

Let's take football for a comparison.  Football has Pee-Wee football, high school football, college football, professional football, and tons of money and visibility. No professional football player is worried about amateur players in a pick-up game or a high school football game stealing their market share or diminishing their credibility.  In fact, all of these organizations tend to support and reinforce each other. Individuals migrate from one to another.  The respective groups literally feed on one another.  They intuitively understand that they each represent different groups within a larger whole.

Spin 180 degrees back to Craft.

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Famous Selection from the series:
"The Deceiver and the Deceived"
Harriete Estel Berman
Photo Credit: Philip Cohen
Collection: Renwick, Smithsonian

Craft has many dimensions, forums, and levels of participation.  From Martha Stewart to D.I.Y., the museum world, Michael's Craft Store, and Rio Grande, they all have a place in creating energy and visibility for the joy of making by hand. The American Craft Council seems wrapped up in groupthink, especially when it "disses" other groups and cultural movements that develop from the bottom up. 

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Harriete working on the Pencil Project
during the Maker Faire, San Mateo,  
Ca. 2009 at the Metal Arts Guild booth

The ACC needs to get used to the reality that there are multiple craft communities.  The broader community is represented by a menagerie of participation without judgment, the importance of social networking, blogs, twitter, Facebook, and on and on. The ACC advertised the ACC Conference to only their members (...at least that is where I saw it the most). Could they attract more audience with posts on Crafthaus or Etsy, just to name two examples? Why weren't there signs or sponsored ads at Maker Faire?  Yes, there is an ACC Conference Facebook page, but I didn't find that until after the conference.  I also found over 30 Facebook groups for the other ACC (sports).

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emiko oye and I volunteered to blog for the SNAG membership and anyone else who wanted to listen. We thought there was merit in sharing the information with a new level of immediacy. And indeed, the 2009 ACC Conference was an inspiring event. The organizers produced a superb conference.  But is it just preaching to the choir?  Why weren't more artists and makers at this event?  From my personal observation, far too many artists and makers think it isn't relevant to them. This is unfortunate.

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Pure Pin
Recycled tin cans
Harriete Estel Berman

Ultimately, I believe with all my heart that superior work, quality craftsmanship and  thought-provoking content will always be recognized on their own merit.
The essence of the community is not contaminated, but cross fertilized by connecting with other makers from the D.I.Y., Michael's Craft store, Martha Stewart crowd, etc. These other groups add to a spectrum of opportunity for the public to enjoy and can develop a larger marketplace and political support. 

The ACC has stated its intent to be an umbrella organization for all the crafts, but has functioned primarily as a sponsor for wholesale/retail shows. Advocacy for the larger craft community means inclusion of all facets of that community and taking responsibility for adapting to its evolution. The ACC does have a lot to offer but cannot retreat within and hope to maintain any relevancy.  It too must step out into the messy, chaotic, and divergent real world. 

Harriete Estel Berman

Excerpt from Wikipedia - Symptoms of groupthink
Irving Janis devised eight symptoms indicative of groupthink (1977).
  1. Illusions of invulnerability creating excessive optimism.
  2. Rationalizing warnings that might challenge the group's assumptions.
  3. Unquestioned belief in the morality of the group, causing members to ignore the consequences of their actions.
  4. Stereotyping those who are opposed to the group as weak, evil, biased, spiteful, disfigured, impotent, or stupid.
  5. Direct pressure to conform placed on any member who questions the group, couched in terms of "disloyalty".
  6. Self censorship of ideas that deviate from the apparent group consensus.
  7. Illusions of unanimity among group members, silence is viewed as agreement.
  8. Mind guardsself-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting information.

Groupthink, resulting from the symptoms listed above, results in defective decision making. That is, consensus-driven decisions are the result of the following practices of groupthinking.

  1. Incomplete survey of alternatives
  2. Incomplete survey of objectives
  3. Failure to examine risks of preferred choice
  4. Failure to reevaluate previously rejected alternatives
  5. Poor information search
  6. Selection bias in collecting information
  7. Failure to work out contingency plans.

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