History of Applied Arts Scotland

Information gathered from the AAS Bulletins from 2000 to 2006 which were printed until September 2006 when the AAS website was launched.

This is divided into two sections, the first on AAS’s role in developing craft in Scotland building networks and a community for makers and the second on AAS’s exhibitions and activities promoting craft by makers in Scotland.

Developing Craft in Scotland: Networks & Community

The Association for Applied Arts was launched in 1992 to lobby for government support for craft. The Scottish Craft Centre had closed in 1991. 

Sir Gerald Elliot was a founding patron providing support, vision and financial backing.  He had a long association with the arts as chairman of the Scottish Arts Council (1980-86) and later of Scottish Opera. He retired as AAS Chair in 2000 and former AAS convenor Martha Steedman thanked him in the AAS Bulletin for his work over the first eight years, writing:

The early years were fraught with difficulty but the determination and dedication of some committee members enabled the Association to set up an office, hold successful exhibitions, establish a database and become an accepted part of the Scottish arts scene. Always Sir Gerald was in the background.’

Martha Steedman

Amanda Game, then Director of The Scottish Gallery, took over as Chair. In 2000 AAS was a registered charity with an office at 6 Darnaway Street, Edinburgh which was open for four hours, three times a week. Makers paid an annual membership fee and could submit slides for the commissioning register.

AAS had expanded its role to representing crafts nationally and wanted to secure long term funding. The impact of the AAS database in providing the public and agencies with information on all aspects of craft and the need for this to be expanded was evident and in 1999 the Scottish Arts Council (who merged with Scottish Screen in 2010 to form Creative Scotland) had funded AAS to commission a study on the feasibility of a Scottish crafts publication.

AAS believed that the significant contribution of craft to the economy and culture of Scotland had to be demonstrated to secure funding and in August 2000 it held a national conference supported by Scottish Enterprise Glasgow for representatives of all the agencies in Scotland with a remit for the creative industries and crafts in Scotland to identify the missing elements in the structure of support and the way forward. The event proposed crafts as an industry and examined the Irish Model and parallels between the two countries.

Article in the Bulletin Winter 2000 on the national conference held in August 2000.

This conference sparked a series of initiatives, the most important of which was the decision in 2001 by Scottish Enterprise Glasgow, Scottish Enterprise National and the Scottish Arts Council to jointly commission a major study to provide up-to-date information and comprehensive data on the Scottish craft industry. The report Craft Businesses in Scotland: A Study was published in January 2002.

In 2001 AAS Convenor Jenny Antonio writes in the Bulletin that AAS had survived on donations from charitable trusts for eight years however the present sources of income were not a sustainable long-term option and the decision was made to close the Edinburgh office. Normal membership services were suspended for six months while the AAS committee carried out a series of consultations with makers and other representatives of the craft industry to produce a business plan for a trade association, publication, database and website.

In March 2002 AAS relocated to office space provided by The Lighthouse, Scotland’s National Centre for Architecture, Design and the City in Glasgow.

In July 2002 the Scottish Arts Council published their five year ‘Craft Strategy’ which aimed to develop the crafts infrastructure to allow people throughout Scotland to experience the best of contemporary work. This included launching a national information resource, database and website. In preparation for potentially managing this AAS incorporated as a Charitable Limited Company. AAS were invited to have a representative on a small working group to pilot the concept for a national website working with HI-Arts who ran an arts website for the Highlands and Islands.

In February 2003 AAS was preparing to tender to manage the new national craft information resource. The editorial in the Bulletin reflects on the craft sector in Scotland and the role of AAS:

‘Born out of passionate concern for the well-being and future of the crafts in Scotland, Applied Arts Scotland has survived for over ten years, despite the absence of any secure funding. With no assets other than expertise and commitment, it has succeeded in changing some aspects of thinking about the development of Scottish craft.’

AAS Bulletin

In March 2003 Carol Sinclair was elected AAS Convenor taking over from Jenny Antonio who she thanked for her tireless efforts in guiding and shaping AAS over a number of years and for her many hours of unpaid work. Members were reminded their modest membership fees enabled AAS to provide services to support makers across Scotland.

AAS tendered to manage the new craft website www.craftscotland.org which had been launched as a pilot site covering the Highlands in October 2003. Although AAS were not awarded the contract to manage the website, which was launched nationally in Aberdeen on 8 September 2004, close collaboration through “Exchange” and other events supported the introduction of the new organisation to the craft sector across Scotland.

AAS held a series of informal “Exchange” networking evenings around Scotland with the first hosted by Edinburgh College of Art in October 2003. A two day “Exchange” conference on 27/28 January 2004 at The Lighthouse was sponsored by Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Arts Council and was opened by Frank McAveety MSP, Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport. Through lectures and workshops participants were encouraged to ‘exchange their experiences, swap old tricks, learn new ones and establish or re-affirm contacts and networks in the applied arts community in Scotland.’

In September 2004 AAS moved into new office space in the Hunter Building supported by Edinburgh College of Art. A printed Skills Database was launched where makers could promote the skills they had in addition to their chosen discipline, such as workshops or design services.

There was an ongoing programme of “Exchange” events supported by Scottish Arts Council, HI-Arts and local partners. They were held at CCA in Glasgow and Edinburgh College of Art in September 2004. The November event took place at Lyth Arts Centre in Caithness with talks from Iain Gunn and Dan Klein and meetings with the artists in residence.

In 2005 AAS “Exchange” events continued in partnership with the venues and Cultural Enterprise Office at the Collins Gallery in January, Aberdeen Maritime Museum supported by Aberdeen Art Gallery in February, Cove Park and DCA in March and Ettrick Riverside in Selkirk in April.

The next “Exchange” conference was held at Edinburgh College of Art on 29/30 April 2005 and was supported by Scottish Arts Council and the venue. Speakers included Professor Simon Olding, Director of the new Crafts Study Centre, Sheryl Catto from Crafts Council, and jeweller Dorothy Hogg, Head of Jewellery at Edinburgh College of Art. Ann Marie Shillito ran demonstrations of the Tacitus Project. The reception was attended by Patricia Ferguson MSP, Minister for Tourism and Sport.

In April 2005 AAS piloted a six month PR service called craftnews Scotland which aimed to create an affordable and quick way for makers to promote their work and an easy way for journalists to access information about Scottish designers. This was not continued.

An “Exchange” networking event on collaboration took place at DCA in June and in October AAS did some island hopping visiting Taigh Chearsabhagh on Isle of Uist then Shetland with events in Scalloway and on Yell. The last “Exchange” event of 2005 was held in December in association with Edinburgh College of Art.

A series of factsheets with business advice for makers were developed by AAS, Craft Scotland and Cultural Enterprise Office supported by the Scottish Arts Council and available on the Craft Scotland website.

An “Exchange” conference was planned for 2006 however it was postponed due to funding difficulties. In April 2006 a two day “Exchange” event ‘How to Sell More Work and Make More Money’ was held on Skye and an event was held at Edinburgh College of Art. AAS, Stills Gallery and online craft retailer Hoppahaus held a one day workshop in May at Stills Gallery in Edinburgh on creating the right image.

In August 2006 the Board of AAS decided to use the internet ‘to encourage an independent platform for discussion and a focused lobbying voice for Scotland’s craft makers’ and to replace the Bulletin in a paper form with an email. In September the new website was launched and it there was a decision it should be free. An office at Edinburgh College of Art was manned on an ad hoc basis depending on the projects being undertaken.

During 2007 to 2012 AAS was led by Chair Alison Macleod and focused on online activities including blogs and email campaigns to connect and represent the voice of makers across Scotland. During this period greater emphasis was placed on having a maker run Board to fully reflect the needs of makers.

In October 2012 Inge Panneels took over as Chair and the organisation entered another new phase with the priority informed by member research showing a demand for face to face networking opportunities AAS also established their Facebook Page and joined Twitter to ‘build on our community and expand on our collective connections to build a platform for makers, by makers!’

In 2012 a sector survey was undertaken to better understand the demands for and barriers to apprenticeships in craft. This research has informed much of the subsequent work done by AAS in this area including piloting six Shared Creative Modern Apprenticeships across Scotland from October 2016.

Taking on the role of Chair in 2014, Jo Garner continued to drive forward the digital profile of the organisation, foster new partnerships and opportunities for professional development.

AAS has partnered with a range of organisations over the years to support delivery of professional development events including partnering with the Scottish Artists Union on a series of four roadshows across Scotland 2013 to 2014.

AAS developed Constructive Feedback sessions and held a series of these for makers in partnership with Emergents, Fife Contemporary, Vanilla Ink and Ardfern.

In 2015 Carol Sinclair began her second term as Chair, steering the organisation through a period of growth and development both at home and internationally. AAS began working with British Council projects in Thailand in 2015 and have been members of the British Council’s Crafting Futures Network since 2017, undertaking projects in Mexico, Chile, Canada, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, India, Egypt and Afghanistan.

In 2018 AAS was among the organisations taking part in the “Opportunities to Connect” conference in Kirkcaldy presented by Fife Contemporary to introduce new makers and craft & design graduates to Scottish arts organisations to allow participants to leave knowing where to go for support and information on how to develop their practice as a maker.

Expanding digital working, AAS was commissioned by the British Council in 2019 to create the Craft Toolkit, a digital business development toolkit for makers, translated into 12 languages. In 2020 The DISTANCE Project (Digital Immersive Technologies and Craft Engagement) was launched, introducing makers to virtual and immersive technologies. In September 2021 AAS presented ‘Identity, Collaboration, Sustainability: an online, international festival of craft’ informed by AAS international exchange project.

Other projects included the Resilience Programme, a mentoring programme in collaboration with Craft Scotland, Meet Make Collaborate, an exchange and exhibition programme, and Sustaining Craft Business Practice, a accredited qualification for both new and developing craft businesses in collaboration with University of The Highlands and Islands.

Current Chair, Lynne Hocking, took over in 2022 and leads on the innovative Hidden Floors project that explores the world of digital fashion, design and the creative process without the material constraints of fabric, scale and gravity.

More information on these activities and projects can be found in AAS Projects and further stories feature in the AAS blogs.

Promoting Craft in Scotland: Exhibitions & Activities

The first showcase was a first anniversary exhibition held from 6-27 November 1993 at Intermedia Gallery in Glasgow, which is now based at Centre for Contemporary Arts.

In 1997 there was a touring exhibition of printmaking and applied arts showing works by 55 artists inspired by words developed in partnership with Gracefield Arts Centre in Dumfries which toured to Edinburgh Book Festival, Stranraer Museum, Highland Printmakers Workshop in Inverness and Scott Gallery in Hawick.

AAS was approached by Made in Scotland’s International Trade Fair to present an exhibition within the trade fair, Scottish Select, showcasing some of the best in contemporary Scottish craft. Made in Scotland held this from 1999 for five years funded jointly by Made in Scotland, Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Enterprise Scotland until they decided it was no longer viable. It was delivered by AAS in 1999, 2000 and in 2003 when selected works from the showcase were also exhibited at Form in The Lighthouse, Scotland’s Centre for Architecture, Design and The City in Glasgow.

In 2000 AAS worked in partnership with the Scottish Executive, Royal and Overseas Unit to commission quality contemporary craft to be given as gifts by Ministers and Locate in Scotland representatives travelling abroad. First Minister Rt Hon Donald Dewar MSP made the final selection which comprised small carved boxes and ceramic bowls, vases and jugs.

Source, an exhibition organised in partnership with the Royal Museum (now National Museum of Scotland) was held in the Crafts Gallery, Royal Museum, Edinburgh from 4 November 2000 to 7 January 2001. It featured new work by 26 jewellers, glass artists, basket makers, wood carvers and ceramicists with each work displayed alongside an image of their ‘source’ of inspiration. There were demonstrations by a selection of the exhibitors showing techniques of calligraphy, wood carving, screen printing, basket making and jewellery design. There was a study day attended by 54 school pupils.

Redrow Homes (Scotland) commissioned AAS to deliver an innovative ‘Art for Everyday’ exhibition in 2000 in a furnished show home in Dunfermline. It showed work by 43 makers bringing craft to a new audience of at least 2,500 people. As well as a £3,000 Arts & Business Pairing Award, it received a commendation in the Arts & Business Scottish Awards and was shortlisted for the Financial Times/Arts and Business Awards.

The Scottish Arts Council funded an AAS stand at the Country Living Fair Scotland at the Royal Highland Centre in Edinburgh in April 2005 (detail of catalogue cover and Friends of AAS card pictured above) showcasing and selling work by 22 makers selected through an open call to Members. Sales were disappointing however many participants reported opportunities after the event including sales, commissions and exhibitions. There was also media coverage about the makers after the event. After careful consideration it was decided to not take a stand again and instead to research a new Scottish selling event for craft and applied art.

In 2021-22 AAS presented Meet Make Collaborate, a touring exhibition of individual and collaborative works created by makers in Scotland with international makers during three residencies and exchanges. It visited Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, The Barn in Aberdeenshire and Lochty Gallery in Carnoustie Library and the works can be viewed online.

In 2022 the exhibition |Matter| Earth, Materials + Making by AAS’s Closing the Loop research group exhibited new exploratory works by makers collectively working together to explore sustainable and took place at the Barn Arts in Aberdeenshire.

AAS held the Open Members’ Exhibition | APPLIED | Makers Offerings in 2023 at Custom Lane in Edinburgh celebrating three decades of AAS exhibitions and presenting the diverse and exciting array of approaches to making across Scotland today.