My Best Mistake, by Kerry Bertram

| Anna Eaton

That day only two customers came into the room, buying a cheap beer from the artily-grotty bar and glancing at everyone’s hard work, without making eye contact. Unfortunately, that had been the experience of many days at craft, arts and makers fairs. On that day I started to face the realization that this was a very big mistake.

In a dingy room in the Northern Quarter- Manchester, on a dull day in September, I sat in front of a rickety table covered in a pristine white cloth. My lovingly made wares; I’d contemplated their display, bought deep red dahlias to show off the vessels. I’d priced moderately, keen for a confidence boosting sale over a fair reward for effort.

The Mistake

The mistake was not being a stallholder on that day, but that I had staked my whole identity on being an artist maker. I’d convinced myself of a future of studios and textures and making. I’d moved to a new town, spent my meagre wage and abundant time on creating unwanted things. I was pregnant, with a future plan that probably wasn’t going to happen.

Gathering tatters of my ego off the floor, I needed to stich myself back together and found some comfort in the idea of my Nana’s 30 year old sewing circle, my conviction that craft could be radical, and my entrepreneurial Mum. A couple of days later I pinned a handwritten note up in my local Morrison’s, paid 20 quid to my local church hall and braced myself for another situation where I was going to offer something that no one else wanted.

Making Something

Within months we had a group of 60 people, meeting every month to make stuff together, share ideas and be inspired. We had talks on developing an online presence, there was intergenerational skills sharing and a sense of community. Older hobbyists, graphic comic makers, doll knitters, retro jewellers and contemporary artists shared space, time and energy. Someone made me a baby play-mat, I helped write their business plan. We gained funding, then commissions to put on arts events, craft fairs and public workshops in shopping and tourist venues. All the profits were spent on materials and support for members to develop their practice.

FUSE Crafters continued for two years and I learnt the ‘craft of community’. The pleasure/pain of committees, the power of equalising through collaboration, the energy of collective enthusiasm, the importance of humility (making something crap in public!) I learnt facilitation skills, balancing workloads (I was also working full time) motherhood, and why giving time to each other is important and fulfilling and fun.

Why and Now

This group was created when I needed a purpose, connection and sharing. I was isolated and wanted to make something bigger than just me. By putting that out there, on a Morrison’s noticeboard, a tribe of people waiting to get involved turned up. That tattered ego of mine had to take a step back when I realised Fuse Crafters was about us, not just me. Unexpectedly, we crafted a kind of togetherness, shared a bit of life together, valued and felt valuable.

Later I put words and concepts to how I’d dealt with my collection of wants and needs – Growth Mindset, prototyping and ‘the happy accident’. As I learnt more about personal development and worked in communities, with VCSE organisations and now with the NHS, I embellished with processes, tools and evidence of community activation.

Those threads of initial ideas and inspirational people, the intention and persistence to make something that someone wanted, the realisation that it could only be done collectively and the talents and friendliness of the people wove together to make Fuse Crafters.

Experiencing that mix, has shaped my deep need to be with and around exciting ideas, have permission to explore and reflect and think and make space to pursue an inventive approach.

My work now focuses on communities, people, creativity and wellbeing. I’m still making stuff – maybe not things you can hold, display or buy, but still creations that have been crafted, the difference is that this time, we are making them together.

Follow Kerry on Twitter.

Photo by from Pexels

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