The Textile and Fiber Art List is Eight Years Old! What’s next?
When I launched TAFA back in 2010, social media as we know it today, was in its infancy. A core group of us kept bumping into each other on these new platforms, everybody had a blog where they showed off their art, family, flowers and dogs, Etsy was the preferred destination for selling handmade and there was a general feeling of excitement as well as confusion in the air. That has pretty much soured to a feeling of exhaustion, annoyance and disgust for many of us. The big social media sites (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn) each have a specific features that are useful and have become everyday destinations for a large portion of the world’s population. But, each is racked with issues, mostly based on monetization of the sites (pay to get seen) that can end up costing a great deal for little reward. Etsy has eroded into mass production with a bad search engine and Amazon as a competitor. The trend is for art businesses to have their own shops on their own sites. Blogs are not as vibrant and many have been abandoned. My goal with TAFA has always been to focus on the business side of what we do and I subscribe to several journals and blogs that talk about these things, trying to keep abreast of the biggest trends or tips that we can use for our benefit. But, it’s not fun.
What is fun is the community that can develop on any of these platforms if there is some give and take. I delight in the sharp minds, innovation, and compassion that I see in our field. The textile world and the handmade arena in general currently lives within an exciting time where modern ideas meet history and the studio is an extension of a wider conversation on the web. The internet has made it possible for us to live anywhere we want to in the world and even the most remote places have some kind of access to the global community. That is exciting as we can hone in on ideas and skills and get feedback from others in a lightening speed. We can get support, offer insights and channel these gifts into the solitary work that bubbles in our brains and takes shape through our hands.
Making a living from what we do is another beast. While greater access to the web and user-friendly tools have made it possible for us to document what we do with impressive photos and videos, the pace to keep up with tech requirements is insane. Every platform and search engine has its own algorithm which demands study and gives birth to pundits selling the solutions of what we have to do to get seen. All of the professional groups and support communities that are out there do a great deal to help deal with this problem but every artist or group wanting visibility is forced to invest a great deal of time and energy to keep their websites and online presence relevant. There is the constant nightmare of spam, viruses and security breaches. One example: Sites that have the https at the beginning of their address are paying for a security certificate. Google is downgrading any site that does not have it, making it harder to find on online search results. Most of our TAFA members do not have their sites optimized for that new update. There will be something else to take care of next year and who knows what the landscape will look like in five years or how people will be using their computers?
Change is in the air!
2017 was really tough for me. I can’t sit in front of a computer for 10 hours a day like I used to. My feet swell up, my eyes go buggy. I’ve gotten fat and my world has shrunk down to a small screen in front of me. I got seriously behind in my tasks, was stressed and by October knew that I didn’t want to do this anymore. At least, not in the same way. I do know that I have built something special with TAFA and Artizan Made and now it needs to grow to another level.
I am also distressed at what is happening globally: war, refugees, environment, wildlife, racism, hatred… the list goes on and on. I came to the conclusion that I need to actively do something on a local level to try to make a difference. In thinking about what I how I thrive, I zoomed in on culture, diversity, sustainability, economic development, product development and all of that done within the context of the arts. What does utopia look like?
The vision is coming together: A cultural hub with programs around the handmade life and sustainability. TAFA and Artizan Made will become a part of a larger effort to create a community that addresses some of these issues I want to tackle. We will have a gallery, exhibits, workshops, an exchange program, a production center (making things out of garbage) and continue to expand on the web. I can’t do all of this alone and have a lot to learn as there are logistical things I have never done. But, Paducah, where I live, is a Unesco City with an artist’s community, a Mayor and City Planner (both women) who are committed to moving the city to sustainability and the environment is just right to implement this idea. I will find my tribe here, little by little… I am using my personal site to do some brainstorming and am currently calling the new project Green Roof Culture Hub. The project will have its own website once it is more developed.
These ideas are evolving and will change, but each of these posts looks at how some of this could happen.
Click on the images to visit the posts.
I am looking at UpperTown as a site, a traditionally African-American neighborhood that is now diverse, but that can use some support. The Flower Power Club will be a community effort to bring homes interested in sustainability and art into gatherings and group projects. Some ideas are in this post. The two kids are from that neighborhood. He likes to draw and paint flowers and birds. She likes power tools. !!! The fence in the background was painted by Boisali Biswas, one of our TAFA members.
Utopia, for me, would include structures that have character, that are built from garbage and are influenced by interesting designs from around the world. This has been a dream of mine for a long time and although it won’t happen at first, creating an eco-Village is a long-term goal.
The decorative circles in the photo above are made from bottle bricks. Take two beer bottles, cut them at the necks, tape the two bottom halves together and you have a brick. Embed in cement and the light shines through. That will be one of our first products for use in gardens and construction. There is no glass recycling here and I almost weep every time I toss a bottle into the garbage.
Money Makes the World Go Around
I need money to make this all happen. Running TAFA and Artizan Made has not been a profitable enterprise, but I have had cheap lodgings and live simply. I will take a loan out to get this going, but would greatly appreciate community support around this.
Can you pitch in $100 to Give A Hand?
I’ve started a campaign where each donor will also send in a “hand” which will be embedded behind glass in a mosaic installation. The hand can be as simple as a line drawing on a piece of paper or you can create art. The idea is that visitors to the site will be able to place their hand on your hand and have a physical connection with someone around the world who made this project happen. Read more here. The first hand has come in! A beautiful felt piece by Melanie Shovelski of Cheyenne, Oklahoma, one of our TAFA Members. Each donor will be posted on that page, too. (And on the new site when it is built.)
It would take 300 hands to reach that goal. I believe that it is achievable and there are many of you who have disposable income and could buy more hands for your friends or kids. This will be an eye popping installation and will surely become a tourist destination. The $30K will be used as a down-payment on the building and help fund the beginning stages of this project. There are many abandoned buildings here that will need work or big houses that are zoned for business. Please share this with your friends and art communities.
How it will all play out…
I’m sure I will still spend a lot of time on the computer, but my hope is that I will identify local people here who can learn some of these skills and if the production side of things takes off, I will be able to hire staff and eventually transition this project off to new people. I’m 56 now and figure that if my health holds up, I can give another 10 years to make this work. It won’t happen all at once, but each step will build on the other. I work best with a goal in mind and then build on that. Eventually, I would like to work on my own art and maybe travel. Who knows what will be happening in the world in 10 years time? All I know is that I would like to do my best to carve a little space of Eden here and if you are ever in this area, you will have a guest room to land in!
Questions? I will be happy to answer them in the comments. This vision is not original as I am taking bits and pieces from what I have seen others do. I hope it will inspire others to do similar efforts in other communities. If we all get out there and make a difference, maybe we can truly make the world a better place.
About Rachel Biel
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