21 February 2006

WPA 2.0

Etsy.com is having a flyer design contest to promote the site. The idea is that the fliers will be posted by members of the new Etsy street teams. My aesthetic tastes are somewhat different from a lot of those crafty young hipsters over there. My background is different too.

In keeping with my art history background, I delved into the history of craft in an effort to find inspiration. After poking around the Library of Congress website, I found a really cool WPA poster for craft classes. The artist, Jerome Henry Rothstein, started working for the Federal Art Project as a teenager during the Depression. I loved the way that this poster incorporated so many forms of craft into a single image. Since the WPA posters were produced by a government agency, they are not subject to copyright protection. As a result, I decided to simply modify the Rothstein poster to produce an Etsy flyer that spoke to my aesthetic sense.

Conveniently enough, this also worked well with my current philosophical bent. I've been thinking a lot recently about the role of craft in modern life. Some of those thoughts were sparked by listening to podcasts while I work in the studio. I've downloaded quite a few of them to play on my little Trio. While I enjoyed the Crafty Chica podcast that I listened to, and the CraftSanity podcasts were really enjoyable, it's the CraftyPod interview with Betsy Greer from Craftivism.com that has occupied my thoughts for the last few days.

I've been subscribed to Betsy's blog via Bloglines for quite some time now. Through her blog I found Cinnamon Cooper's notes from the Craftivism/Craft Culture panel at Columbia College in Chicago in October 2005. Although long, the notes made fascinating reading and really had a lot of resonance for me.

So many of the women that I've met through online business forums and the discussion forum at Etsy.com have been mothers trying to contribute to their family budgets by working from home. They do things that they love and balance the needs of their families with the demands of trying to run a business. Their efforts are often dismissed. Their work is deemed trivial. "It's a hobby," some say. "How nice," say others, "that you get to stay at home and do your thing. If I wasn't working I'd have time to do something like that."

Many of the women that I've talked to have said that they made more money and were more valued as members of society when they worked outside the home. So, why don't they just get real jobs? It's not as simple as that. Once you add childcare costs to the mix, it can easily end up costing a family money for both parents to work outside the home, especially if you have multiple children. A home-based business allows a mom to supplement their household income without contracting out childcare.

While the economists seem to doubt the probability of another "Great Depression." My personal experience (which has no real sociological value but does inform my opinions, which you must be interested in to have read this far) is that I know more people who are unemployed or under-employed now than at any other point in my adult life. Very few families of my acquaintance can make it on a single income. More and more families rely on high interest credit cards to make up shortfalls in their income while they struggle to make ends meet and hope that the solution to their problems is just around the corner.

When I glanced back through history via the WPA posters on the Library of Congress website, I couldn't help but think about similarities between the artists employed by the WPA during the Depression and craft artists today. And, as I thought about it, I also thought about what Betsy Greer says about craft as activism. "Because we create to connect beyond ourselves. Whether it's next door or across the globe. Craft and activism both take and inspire passion. When used as a joint force, they can quite possibly begin to slowly challenge and change things." I agree, even if the things that we challenge and change are only the circumstances of our own lives.

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