Annie Warburton on craft
Annie Warburton is the CEO of Cockpit Arts. She’s a zealous spokesperson for creating thriving business environments for craftsmen and women in London.
Cockpit Arts’ support starts with the provision of subsidised studio spaces across its two creative hubs in Holborn and Deptford. There you will find 170 makers, ranging from weavers and ceramicists to leatherworkers and silversmiths. Their business models vary too, with some specialising in batch production orders for retailers such as Heal’s and Fortnum & Maison; whilst others create fine art pieces. These are presented at events such as Collect at the Saatchi Gallery in London or Design Miami in the US.
Business support and coaching are further services that Cockpit Arts offers to its residents. They cover a variety of subjects, from how to price your work, to marketing your practice. The third and final support pillar is connecting makers to their customers through the open studios scheme, international trade events and visits from buyers and commissioners.
When asked about the history of the discipline in London, Annie recalls that the 70s and 80s were the golden age of craft. That’s when both Cockpit Arts and the Crafts Council were founded. Then the 90s followed when craft became ‘a dirty word’ and design took the top spot as the most noteworthy creative discipline.
Currently, Annie’s noticing a slow resurgence of interest in materiality and craftsmanship. She believes it’s due to our lives becoming more digitised, and our sense of touch being neglected. Whilst interest is slowly picking up, she points out that craft as a professional discipline is still facing problems.
Firstly, there’s a lack of understanding of what craft really is. It can be a beautiful hand-stitched bag, but craft skills can also be applied across a variety of disciplines, ranging from stop-motion animation and car design, to science and engineering. One example of an unexpected collaboration was Karina Thompson’s work with King’s College London and the University of Kwazulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa. Karina uses her skills to embroider conductive threads into garments, which pick up signals from muscle movement. Application of this solution resulted in the development of sensors to control prosthetic limbs. It’s a democratic solution which can support people globally, thanks to its low cost and ease of use.
Apart from challenging the perception of craft, Annie’s other hurdle is the UK education system. Over the past few years, the number of students taking up art and design, and design technology GCSEs fell by 50%. All, in Annie’s opinion, due to the fact that these subjects are not included in schools’ performance assessments and are expensive to teach; requiring space, equipment and materials.
Whilst these challenges prevail, Annie remains optimistic, highlighting that now is the time for British craftsmen and women to thrive. Globally there’s still a huge thirst for British craft. It’s recognised as synonymous with quality and heritage, with artists like Grayson Perry, Edmund de Waal, Tracey Emin and Jennifer Lee championing craft as a contemporary, urban and professional discipline, with a unique position at the nexus of heritage and innovation.
Music by James Green