Indie Oxford Interview: Makers & Tools
This week on the Indie Oxford blog, we chat to Melody Vaughan, curator behind the current Makers & Tools exhibition at Arts at the Old Fire Station, about creativity, finding your tribe and her favourite Oxford indies. >>
Hi Melody, tell us about yourself, and how you started your business.
I’m a creative consultant for contemporary craft makers, which is a bit of a pick’n’mix role I’ve developed using my skills and background as an archaeologist, museum education officer and more recently as a craft maker myself. I love objects and the things people make, communicating about the stories behind the making, so it felt natural to set up a business supporting the creative practices of other people. I can help with writing & communication skills (like writing applications or creating text for websites) developing ideas or pushing forward new work.
Tell us about the Makers & Tools Project.
Makers & Tools is a collaborative making project that connects 6 contemporary craft makers in the early stages of their careers. It’s been designed to provide the makers with the space and time to take risks in their practice, to explore new ways of collaborative working and to develop skills that will contribute to the success of their careers in contemporary craft. I was also keen for it to offer valuable continuing professional development opportunities for makers in the SW and SE, as well as making the process of craft visible to a wider public audience through our residency and exhibition.
How did you come up with the idea?
Makers & Tools developed out of conversations I’d been having with makers about the role of tools in their practice. It’s obvious that tools are very important to makers – each way of making has its own distinct set of tools, and their applications, and makers pick the most appropriate ones for the task they need to do. But I was interested in seeing what happens when a maker doesn’t choose their tools. What if another maker chooses the tool? And, what if the other maker has made the tool themselves? I was intrigued to see what would happen!
What makes the project unique?
Most exhibitions start with existing objects that a curator selects and brings together. Or, if the work is being made for the show there will be some sense of the work they are creating. With Makers & Tools none of the work existed beforehand and the brief was so open that I had no idea what the work would be like until 2 weeks before I was due to set up the show!
The project’s extensive programme of public events (both at the project Residency at New Brewery Arts in April, and at the Exhibition at Old Fire Station) is also something I’m really proud of. I wanted bring people together, for other makers to have opportunities to connect or reflect on their own practices, and for the public to have a go making and seeing exciting contemporary craft.
How can people get involved?
The exhibition is running until 15th June and there are lots of Meet the Maker days coming up. Each maker will be ‘in residence’ in the gallery for a whole day, with some work, ready to share their experiences and tell the stories of the objects. I will be giving a couple of behind-the-scenes Curator Talks (6th & 15th June at 2 pm) where you can hear more about the whole project and the work the makers have created. And, of course, there’s the Creative Networking event for makers, artists, designers and creative business owners.
We’re really excited to work with you on the Creative Networking event on Thursday 6th June. Who is the event aimed at?
Finding good creative support can be tough when you are a self-employed contemporary craft maker, designer or artist, or run your own small business. Whether you need some creative input on your work, business advice or just a friendly face to share what it’s like running your own business and navigating your creative practice. So I thought it would be great to hold an event for people who might be looking to connect with other people in similar situations, or might be looking for some support for their work. It’s going to be a very casual evening, no scary ‘networking involved’! Just a chance to have a drink and meet some other like-minded people who are out there making things work for them on their own terms.
What would your advice be for anyone starting out on their creative journey?
Connect with other people! This advice works for anyone, whether you are establishing a business or working freelance, or are just learning some new creative skills and are thinking about options ahead. For all the positive aspects of a creative career, there can be times when it gets a bit isolating. And that’s where having a good network of peers, and other people who love what you do, is invaluable. I love Instagram for its incredibly supportive community of makers, and I also coordinate the Oxford Makers Group so that we can have some real-world support too. Making sure I see other people, have the chance to share my experiences, and to hear them talk about their work, this keeps me going.
Lastly, tell us about your favourite indie businesses in Oxford.
Oh my goodness, where to start? Oxford is just full of amazing indie businesses. But maybe with a creative/craft focus… Sarah Wiseman Gallery and Oxford Ceramics Gallery are great places to see contemporary craft, the Shop at the Old Fire Station is fab for picking up some hand-made gifts made by local makers. The Oxford Makers Group holds its monthly meetings at the Jam Factory and we’re always made so welcome by their staff, and we’re surrounded by other artists’ work in their gallery space which is lovely. Personally, whenever I’m back in Oxford I make a bee-line for The Handle Bar Café & Kitchen (I’m rather partial to their dirty chai lattes) and I indulge my passion for brushes and utensils in Objects of Use.