US craftsmen -- including new refugee emigrants and ethnic groups that are preserving their Old Country craft heritage -- are being invited by the National Endowment of the Arts and the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies to make their needs known. What these skilled handworkers reveal will help fashion future government assistance.
It is reckoned that some 40 million American craftsmen -- those persons who "invest the work of the hand with energy of mind and spirit" -- could benefit from the current project to survey the needs of cratfspeople. The results could greatly help the woman refugee from Southeast Asia, who is now turning out stunning batiks in her California kitchen. Or give valuable marketing assistance to the small group of skilled needlewomen who are making exquisite things in Memphis and are now struggling to sell them.
Livingston L. Biddle Jr., chairman of the endowment, terms this first project a "milestone effort on behalf of the individual crafts artist." A 32-member task force of experts has already begun the 14 day-long hearings that will be held in craft-rich regions all over the United States.
The first hearing was held Sept. 10 in Asheville, N.C., a center of Appalachian crafts. According to Carol Sedestrom, president of American Craft Enterprises Inc. and a member of the listening and recording task force, the meeting revealed that the hundred crafts people who attended from surrounding states share the following needs and concerns:
* More education on survival techniques, including more practical marketing and bookeeping information.
* More long-term, low-interest loans for craftsmen, to help them start up their own businesses, buy equipment, and improve current studios.
* A national craft data bank, or hot line, which would provide resources and names of organizations that a craftsman anywhere could plug into for help in finding materials, or information.
* More exhibition opportunities, and of the need for museums to give crafts a more prominent place in their exhibition schedules.
* Most were concerned about means of preserving America's great regional craft skills, many of which are dying out. The craftsmen would like to see more done in recording and documenting these skills for future generations.
* Many would like to see the US consider the Japanese tradition of designating as "national living treasures" those artists who contribute significantly to the national culture.
* Some spoke of the help that travel grants could be to craftsmen, and of the stimulation and information that comes from weekend get-togethers of craftsmen who exhibit their work, listen to lectures, talk to one another, and view slide shows.
* Many said they were wary of government regulations and "interference" and, being traditionally independent and hard-working, they were not so much interested in government hand-outs as in the government provision of vehicles or conduits through which they could help themselves.
Hearings to ferret out feelings and comments from craftsmen living in other areas will be held in Miami; Atlanta; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Springfield, Mass. Jackson, Miss.; San Antonio, Texas; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Cleveland (this last session scheduled for Nov. 20).
The material gathered by the task force will be assimilated and discussed at a National Congress of Crafts Administrators to be convened in Arvada, Colo., in May 1981. At that time, says Eudorah Moore, crafts coordinator for the endowment, "Our aim is to coordinate information, activities, and use of resources, and by working together, we may be able to clarify and enhance the services that state, federal, and private agencies can provide for the crafts and visual arts."
The project is being coordinated by John McLean, of the visual arts program of the endowment, who says the task force will also listen to that important segment of craftspeople who teach and study in universities, as well as retired people who have begun working in crafts, and parttime craftspeople.
"When the American Crafts Council was formed in 1943," Mrs. Moore reminds, "there were no national organizations concerned with the crafts field at all. Today, 37 years later, government, at both state and national levels, is active in support of the arts and crafts, and many national organizations and publications have come into being to deal with various aspects of the crafts."