Craft partnered with business

 12 January 2012

Craftspace is a craft development organisation which built an unusual relationship with household sewing machine manufacturer and distributor VSM (UK) Ltd.

VSM have sponsored Craftspace projects for a number of years. They explained how this arragement brings benefits to both sides.

How to find a business partner for the arts

Linda Strain, Craftspace

"We were looking for a partner for our tour of contemporary craft exhibition: 'Made in the Middle', which tours the region.

"I called up VSM [distributors of Pfaff and Husqvarna Viking sewing machines] and arranged a meeting. Once I'd secured the meeting, I sent them some information and a catalogue, which was a really good product from our last 'Made in the Middle'.

"It looked good, it showed our professionalism and the way we operate and the level of quality we operate at.

"I think one of the most crucial things was learning about their business. I did a lot of research about what they did, what they'd already done in terms of collaborating with the arts."

Making a business case for the arts

Mike Harris, Managing Director at VSM UK

"Understand what the business is. Understand what the expectations are and see how you can provide benefits."

"Linda really wanted to look at what we did as a business, to see what synergies there were with the type of activities she was involved with.

"It was a very interesting meeting because it actually challenged us to look at what we did as a company.

"Linda then came back with a proposal to work with Craftspace on their new project. Linking the textile side with an education programme, where we would provide some skills and some sewing machines so they could run a project with Birmingham City University."

Linda Strain, Craftspace

"One thing I’d say is that it takes a long time for a partnership to be developed. It took eighteen months from that first initial phone call to the project actually taking off and happening."

How artists and businesses both benefit

Karina Thompson, textile artist

"Because I was going to be working with Pfaff and Husvarna sewing machines, I needed to be familiar with them. I did tease Mike quite heavily to start off with, that I saw the artistic aim of the first leg as, 'Let's see if we can break one of their sewing machines!'

"As a result of being aware of that level of technology – how you can digitally programme a sewing machine – that's actually had a big impact on my own practice. Because they've lent me a state-of-the-art sewing machine that I've been essentially playing with for the last two years."

Mike Harris, Managing Director at VSM UK

"The work that was produced in the class was exhibited. We used it, as it toured around, to take our distributors and some of our key customers to meet us at the exhibitions. So we started to gain those benefits from it as well.

"It was from there that Craftspace demonstrated that working with them took us to a different level. They provided us with different skills, a different set of environments that we had originally expected to see."

Building long-term partnerships with business

Linda Strain, Craftspace

"We had worked on three projects with VSM, and we’d come to the end of a cycle, really. Then the business partner was so pleased with the way things were going, he very generously said he’d like to support something else if I could come up with something else that would interest them.

"So the Craftspace team thought about what would really work. What we wanted to do was access a diverse community within Birmingham with whom we could work and with whom we could work with VSM, who saw this as an opportunity for staff development in terms of cultural diversity. We introduced their all-white staff to a different community."

Ranbir Kaur, lead artist, Kiran Rangoli & Creative Arts

"To use machines and handstitchery was something very new."

"Linda phoned me one evening and said they have got a very good idea of using sewing machines. I said I haven't used them before. So she said, 'Not to worry, you can go to VSM and have some training.'

"And I was delighted when I went there. I was meant to be there half a day but I spent the whole day playing with different types of machines.

"All my life I have been creating my handicrafts with handstitchery, and for me to use machines and handstitchery was something very, very new."

What business can offer the arts

Linda Strain, Craftspace

"VSM have been enormously generous in terms of their support of this project and in support of the entire partnership with us:

  • They’ve given us cash.
  • They’ve given us the loan of machines – which has been quite costly to them because it’s taken those machines out of their supply for however many weeks each project has gone on.
  • They’ve paid for the transport, insurance and the staff time.

The staff time has been really valuable to us because we've benefitted hugely from their expertise. We couldn't have done it without them.

"They bring the machines up, they set them up, they give us a tutorial, they lead the participants through, and they're there to mend needles and put creative input too. And quite often they've had fun making some of the pieces as well, and learning new practices."

Sumra Ruhee, support artist, "Having that support throughout this whole session has really helped me as a growing artist, and the ladies that we have been working with."

Karina Thompson, textile artist, "It's almost been like having magic fairies there. You say, 'Oh, we're gonna need some thread, or some kit, or this machine won't do this' and ping! – for the next session it's there or that problem is solved. It's been really fantastic."

Ranbir Kaur, lead artist, "Tom, who used to help the ladies with the machines, said, 'I never imagined that handstitchery and machinework would work together, but it has."

Mike Harris, Managing Director at VSM UK

"I've got sewing experts who have given up their own time to go back to the previous project, to run a class that wasn't part of our project.

"They wanted to go back and do it themselves because they thought it would be great fun to do."

How to approach a potential business partner

Mike Harris, Managing Director at VSM UK

"It's always difficult for any arts business to approach a commercial enterprise and say. 'Can you give us money, can you give us whatever?'

"Craftspace provided us with different skills, a different set of environments that we had expected."

"Understand what the business is. Understand what the expectations are and see how you can provide benefits.

"I believe that if you open up the discussion by accepting that the business has a lot of things to offer – not just money – see the skillsets there, how can that be integrated into the project.

"You can provide a much broader set of benefits for the business. So research is critical, and an open mind is critical."

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