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09.40  Museum, Heritage and Craft, a Case Study: The Ceramic Collection of the Art Gallery of Burlington

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9:00, Sunday 5 Jun 2016 (30 minutes)

The recent closure of the Museum of Contemporary Craft (February 2016) in Portland, Oregon once again raises the question regarding the future of craft. It follows the closing of the Canadian Craft and Design Museum (Vancouver, 2004) and the renaming of the American Craft Museum into the Museum of Art and Design (New York, 2002), not to mention the erosion of craft practices in postsecondary programs. Craft seems to have become a dirty word. In his essay, “How Envy Killed the Crafts Movement” (2008), Garth Clark attributed the demise of craft, circa 1995, to art envy. Was he right, or are our leading institutions simply, but tragically, suffering from “craft-phobia”? If, as artist and author Daniel Duford writes, “the responsibility of an institution housing a museum is to protect the objects and history from the vagaries of a vain and fickle fashion,” why are we not celebrating (and opening more) craft museums? 

Collecting museums are the keepers of heritage, and a large part of this heritage is found in material culture that includes many “craft practices [as] a form of archive of knowledge not only in the transmission and preservation of technologies but most importantly of fundamental human experiences.” It is important to acknowledge the many institutions that privilege one medium, such as the Textile Museum of Canada (Toronto, ON) or the Gardiner Museum (Toronto) whose collections are international in scope. Other museums and galleries focus their collecting on Canadian works such as the Idea Exchange (Cambridge, ON), which is known for its textile collection, or the Art Gallery of Burlington (AGB) for its contemporary ceramics collection. In these cases the medium is the subject of inquiry demonstrating that: craft is a rich field of research; “craft claims something human”; and craft is in constant flux, evolving from a diverse history. In this paper, I will argue that this slow erasure of craft from our cultural institutions threatens multiple histories and most importantly our heritage.

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