What’s the role of skill in the D.I.Y. community?

The roll of skill within the D.I.Y. craft community is varied from self-taught to well-trained makers. My personal belief is that the foundation of D.I.Y. is that there are no rules. Based on this opinion, there is no imposed system of ranking in regards to where you went to school or who you studied under. To be a part of this loose creative movement that continues to grow and change over the years, you simply have to participate.

Photo by Photo by Kerianne Quick

Photo by Photo by Kerianne Quick

Faythe Levine teaching students to embroider at the University of Champaign-Urbana, 2009. Photo by Kerianne Quick

This makes it very difficult to define and talk about what is going on within our community, especially when talking about topics such as skill and quality. I often like to remind people that D.I.Y. is not just an aesthetic, but for a lot of us, D.I.Y. is a lifestyle, a decision making process that overflows into all of our daily choices.

This past September I spoke at the American Craft Council Conference “Creating a New Craft Culture”. What I didn’t realize when stepping into the conference was that a large part of my presence there was to define and surprisingly to me, defend D.I.Y. craft. When making my film Handmade Nation, this was not my agenda. My number one goal was to produce a film about the people around me making amazing things, focusing on this incredible supportive creative community. In a way I have found myself a permission giver to many. I am more than thankful that I have been able to tour, talk and educated about D.I.Y.  I have found that it is difficult for me to defend something that I am fully immersed in, and actually feel like doesn’t need defending. As I stated in my talk at the conference to 300 ACC members, educators, curators and students “Whether you like it or not, it’s [D.I.Y.] there.”

Dying workshop with Kathi from Chicks on Speed

Dying workshop with Kathi from Chicks on Speed

Dying workshop with Kathi from Chicks on Speed at "Viva La Craft"in Hamburg, Germany where Handmade Nation premiered, 2008. Photo By Faythe Levine

I have realized I do walk a fine line. First and foremost, I promote, some would even say preach, that making something with your hands is empowering, powerful and in my opinion political. I truly believe that in this day and age if people are turning off their TV’s to make a creative decision, even if it’s one I am personally uninterested in, it’s a positive exciting step in the right direction for humanity. Here is the tricky part; I am a very selective curator and collector. I constantly tell people that their work isn’t “good enough” or the “right fit” for a project I am working on. I always end rejection with a positive note “good luck on your creative path” or suggest another show or gallery that may be interested in their work. When I lecture I always try to let people know I was turned down for 95% of my grant applications for Handmade Nation and still get rejections from film festivals weekly. One persons opinion only goes so far, only means so much.

After the past three years of interviewing, traveling to shows, galleries, boutiques and doing Q&A’s and lectures I am thankful for everyone I have met. My community has doubled, maybe tripled in numbers. This has allowed me to become a hub of networking. I recently had a friend ask if I knew of anyone who did custom velvet painting, I did and passed along the contact information hoping she would get a commission. D.I.Y. is about community, sharing and support. The most frequent feedback I get after a screening of my film is “I am inspired to go home and make something”.  That is what it is all about, not just the over saturation of owls, deer, apples and uncountable piles of cuteness that one can choke on at an indie craft fair. And with that said, most people have a sweet tooth and are always looking for more, just not this collector. I am in search of the strange, weird and oddly beautiful.

To summarize, staying focused, setting goals and moving forward. These are the skills that D.I.Y. are based on.

On The Midway at ArtScape booth by Stefani Levin

On The Midway at ArtScape booth by Stefani Levin

On The Midway at ArtScape in Baltimore. "Things To Put On Your Face" booth by Stefani Levin, 2008. Photo By Faythe Levine

In my next blog entry I look forward to discussing the demographic for Handmade Nation, and if there ways of expanding it, as well as my opinion on the future of D.I.Y.