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2nd November 2017

Crafts Council: Grant Gibson Q&A

Crafts beats the drum for outstanding makers and groundbreaking projects. The magazine, which is published by the Crafts Council but is fiercely independent, has been edited by Grant Gibson for ten years. And over this period he has shaped it into a beautifully packaged, thought-leading title that we can’t wait to land on our mat every other month.

The magazine has also been instrumental in expanding the definition of craft. “There’s a sense of possibility and of (perceived) boundaries being broken in the field at the moment,” says Grant. “There’s so much untapped potential – actually it reminds me very much of the design world in the nineties.”

Grant himself has made magazines from a young age, launching his first title with friends when only 16. After rising through the ranks to deputy editor at design magazine FX, he became editor of Blueprint at just 28, before joining Crafts after a period as the RIBA Journal’s executive editor. Given Grant is coming up on his ten year anniversary at the helm of the title, we wanted to quiz him on the magazine’s mission and how craft itself has changed over his decade-long tenure.

Grant Gibson

First up, tell us a little about your career. How did you come to be a journalist specialising in the creative industries? Was it always the goal?

I’ve been obsessed with magazines as long as I can remember from reading Shoot! and Smash Hits as a child through to The Face, Arena and, well, Wisden Cricket Monthly as I got a little older. As soon as I worked out I wasn’t going to be good enough to play cricket professionally around the age of 14, I wanted to make magazines. I launched my first title with a bunch of mates at school when I was 16 – it was called Legendum (we were young) and had a Bauhaus image on the front cover.

I left university in 1994 with a history degree and a desire to get into the industry but no idea how. So I ended up back at my parents’ house in Chelmsford and went for a job – wearing a suit from Next teamed with a pair of navy blue braces – at a nascent publishing company called ETP, that was co-owned by this ridiculously young bloke called Lee Newton. He gave me a job in telesales at which I was completely useless. Fortunately, a junior editorial position opened up at the company’s flagship title FX, a contract design magazine that in its own way was quite groundbreaking at the time. Lee and the then editor, Aidan Walker, took a punt on me and I think it worked out OK. I did five years there, becoming deputy editor and then landed the editorship of Blueprint at 28. On reflection I was too young but I couldn’t turn the opportunity down.

Crafts magazine issue 268. September/October 2017.

And what about Crafts magazine, how did you end up as editor? What attracted you to the role?

I’d finished a short-term contract as executive editor at the RIBA Journal, working with my friend Hugh Pearman and I needed a job. I’d written for Crafts as a freelancer while it was under the aegis of my predecessors Geraldine Rudge and Caroline Roux, so I had a healthy respect for it. There was enough cross-over between the craft and design worlds for the appointment not to seem too absurd but, by the same token, I couldn’t pretend I was an expert in the field. Once again it was really a question of people – in this case the Crafts Council’s executive director Rosy Greenlees and the magazine’s publisher Keith Grosvenor – taking a bit of a punt. I was also intrigued by the prospect of working with Stephen Coates, who Caroline had brought in to art direct the magazine. I’d always admired his stuff from afar. I remember turning up and being really impressed by some of the writers already in the stable – Tanya Harrod and Glenn Adamson spring immediately to mind.

What is the long-term editorial vision for Crafts magazine?

It should also be pointed out that, much to the Crafts Council’s credit, the magazine has always been allowed to have an independent voice. In November I’m celebrating my 10th anniversary here and I’m not sure the vision has really changed. Essentially we’re keen to illustrate how making is a vital element of every aspect of our lives from art to industry, via technology, science, medicine, education, design and architecture. It’s part of the way we live and the way we work. Plus the magazine needs to look really beautiful and read well too. Ultimately I hope it educates and entertains in roughly equal measure – Lord Reith was on to something I reckon. 

Crafts magazine issue 267. July/August 2017.

It’s interesting that the Crafts Council has a magazine. Why is print still so relevant and important?

First and foremost it would seem counterintuitive for an organisation that extols the virtues of materials not to produce a physical product. And magazines remain an extraordinary medium for combining information and imagery. If they’re made well, they become objects to collect and cherish in their own right, which gives them a sense of added weight and gravitas. You don’t just get into Crafts because there’s a team churning out a hundred stories a day – you feature on its pages because you’re brilliant (or sometimes because we think you might be potentially brilliant) at what it is you do. As a result it genuinely means something.

That said, the publishing landscape has changed enormously over the past decade or so and it isn’t enough just to make a single product. That’s why we launched events such as our Book Club, where we talk to an author in front of a live audience about the relationship between making and writing – so far we’ve had the likes of Alison Britton and Sir Christopher Frayling – as well as a film festival called Real to Reel. That’s done in conjunction with the Crafts Council at London’s Picturehouse Central over three evenings in May, during London Craft Week. In the past two years tickets have sold incredibly well. It’s something of which I’m very proud.

What sets British craft apart from the rest of the world?

I’m not keen on jingoism if I’m honest. I’ve just come back from the Amman Design Week in Jordan which featured some extraordinary work and our latest issue of Crafts is full of wonderful glass, textiles and ceramics from Afghanistan. I think we do produce good stuff though. Partly I think that’s because we’ve always been very accepting of new ideas culturally – whether that’s in music, food, design or art – which must have had something with the waves of immigration we’ve experienced historically. Also I believe it has something to do with our education system, which as Crafts has regularly pointed out, is under severe pressure at the moment.

Crafts magazine spread featuring Wendy Ramshaw.

The terms ‘maker’ and ‘craft’ are becoming increasingly ambiguous. What are your reflections on this? Does such fluidity help or hinder the industry?

I’m always nervous of people trying to define things too rigidly. It seems to me the best work often happens to the grey areas between established disciplines. 

How would you define craft?

I think historically the field has lost too much energy worrying about whether certain objects should be seen as ‘craft’ or not. There’s a distinct danger that you end up gazing at your navel, forgetting to look upwards and outwards. Shortly after I started editing the magazine Richard Sennett published The Craftsman, which beautifully illustrated how we are surrounded by craft on a day-to-day basis. I like the notion of craft being the desire to do a job well for its own sake. That’s good enough for me.

Real to Reel: The Craft Film Festival Trailer 2017
Crafts magazine picks the best of the London Design Festival 2017
Subscribe to Crafts magazine here.

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