The primary aim of the project was to determine how online distribution is changing the environment for operating a creative micro-enterprise, and with it, the larger relationship between public and private spheres. A key research question was: what are the ‘self-making’ skills required to succeed in this competitive environment? Specifically, the research sought to:

  • Identify the attitudes, knowledge and skills required to develop and run a sustainable creative micro-enterprise, including the acquisition of making/production skills, business skills and acumen, personal capacities and decision-making around self-marketing;
  • Analyse the spatial and temporal negotiations necessary to run an online creative micro-enterprise, including the ways in which divisions of labour are gendered; and
  • Examine how the contemporary creative economy contributes to growing ethics-based micro-economic consumer and producer relationships that privileges small-scale production, environmentally-sustainable making practices and the idea of buying direct from the maker.

The project focused on the contemporary craft and designer-maker micro-economy, which is at present experiencing unprecedented growth as part of the larger upsurge of interest in making as a cultural and economic practice. This research project has generated new insights into the changing nature of contemporary creative work, and both the tacit and explicit knowledge that individuals require to succeed as makers.

In this project we recognise that not all handmade micro-entrepreneurs are at the same stage of their career or have the same origin story. Therefore this qualitative, mixed-methods national research project consists of three parallel data collection activities: semi-structured interviews with established makers; a three-year longitudinal annual interview monitoring of arts, design and craft graduates as they seek to establish their making careers; and a historical overview of the support mechanisms available to Australian handmade producers.

Across the four years of the project we interviewed: 20 peak body and industry organisations, 81 Established Makers, and followed the progress of an initial 32 Emerging Makers as they sought to establish their careers (Year 1 - ‘1-Up’ = 32 interviews; Year 2 - ‘2-Up’ = 27 follow-up interviews; Year 3 - ‘3-Up’ = 19 follow-up interviews, for a total of 71 interviews).

The study was explicitly national, and we spoke to makers and peak organisations in every state and territory. Underpinning the selection criteria was the need to gather as large a diversity of experience as possible, and thus to seek to capture a breadth of people across: geography (urban, subur-ban, regional, rural, remote); practice and business model; age; race and ethnicity; and gender.

As an ARC Discovery Research Project the primary focus of Crafting Self was on original ‘blue sky’/basic research, not to be government-facing. However, arising out of the research, a number of policy recommendations did clearly emerge through the study, namely:

  • Business skills development: Consider extending the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS) to people not on Newstart but also not currently employed or receiving an income who are committed to developing a sustainable business in this sector. Access should apply regardless of de facto or marital status (see p. 75 for further discussion);
  • Reinstate grant schemes to support collaborations between industry and creative micro-enterprises
  • Provide funding to maintain higher education studio practice: Need to re-establish funding levels that enable high quality studio practice and hands-on learning if the making skills necessary to grow the design craft sector, as well as enable the contribution of craftspeople and designers to innovation in making in Australia, are to exist into the future.
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