The recession of the past years has sparked a lot of debate around the fate of the arts and craft industry. With manufacturing power is moving Eastward toward mass production factories in China and India, what is left of Europe's history in true craftsmanship?
It was during the 1850s and the upsurge of industrial manufacturing that English textile designer and author, William Morris, also a part of the Arts and Crafts movement, predicted the death of craft. However, a few centuries later history has shown that periods of economic change have been linked to the resurgence of the design industry; an industry to have lifted Europe into a new era of cultural prosperity.
Post-war Italy became the centre for avant-garde furniture design after the fall of fascism. The 1946 RIMA exhibition (Riunione Italiana per le Mostre di Arredamento) changed the face of the industry, establishing Italy as a leader within the design landscape. Knowledge surrounding manufacturing processes is still a strength of Europe and even though the emerging economies of the East have come up with formulas to use design to drive their economies, designer and architect Jay Osgerby comments that "It is not what designers want, they want to be challenged."
A strategy for survival in the current climate is to follow the needs of the economy rather than servicing a luxury market. Evidently, whilst being interviewed by Crane.tv, Architecture and Design Critic at the FT Edwin Heathcote argues; "We are sitting on this bum-freezing Thomas Heatherwick bench which is a beautiful thing but it is not going to save anyone's economy."
Although we have the skills and knowledge to manufacture beautiful products, perhaps a solution is to shift the focus to products that are equally functional and useful also to developing countries. Moreover, concentrating on these areas and bringing manufacturing back to Europe can only help strengthen the largest segment in the UK economy, second only to banking.
According the Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Martin Roth, the answer to the question of whether design can save Europe seems to depend on the cohesive nature of the arts in the different creative hubs of the continent; 'Art creates a European identity, if we have a declining situation, we need culture and the arts to keep societies together.'
Text by Seyna Van Der Linden for Crane.tv
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