22nd Nov 2019 in Arts

Christmas shopping in Belfast? The Cathedral Quarter now has another wonderful place for you to shop local and support local producers!

“I believe the new Craft NI gallery will really add to the arts and cultural life of the Cathedral Quarter.”

– Katherine McDonald, Director of Craft NI

Katherine McDonald is Director of Craft NI, the sector lead body for the Craft Sector in Northern Ireland, making it the industry body responsible for championing and supporting independent makers and crafters of all kinds across Northern Ireland. The organisation recently merged with the Craft and Design Collective.

“Craft NI is the organisation charged with developing the craft and design sector in Northern Ireland. Our principal funder in the Arts Council of NI. We support craft makers to develop sustainable businesses through training and development and through the retail sector to find a route to market. So it’s finding a way for the 700 or so people making these wonderful products to show and sell their wares.

“On the website there is a craft directory and map – so whatever work you’re interested in commissioning, whether that’s jewellery or ceramics, or glass, etc – or you should be able to find a fantastic retailer or gallery selling or displaying the kind of work you like.

“August Craft Month is our flagship event, and artists and venues will put a fantastic effort to offer something really special during that month. You can go to a workshop or class and learn to make something and try it for yourself, which really helps people to appreciate the skill that goes into making these things.

“It’s a lovely set of events that showcases and increases access to the craft available in Northern Ireland.”

 

The Craft and Design Collective ran the popular SpaceCraft shop selling a varied range of high-quality products from NI’s talented makers from their well-known premises on Fountain Street or ‘off the back of Boots’ as so many of us know it!

“They had a really successful retail/gallery space for over ten years and in 2017 the Boards of both organisations decided to merge. So now we have a Northern Ireland wide regional sector body which actually has physical premises with over 50 makers showing and exhibiting. So hopefully we are a good combination of both of the strengths of those organisations.”

The shop, now under the Craft NI banner, has just reopened as the Craft NI Gallery in its new location in the Cathedral Quarter on Royal Avenue. The Craft NI Gallery showcases a varied range of craft, and applied art and design, by established and emerging local Artist/Designer/Makers alongside an exhibition space featuring a varied exhibition programme.

All of the items are available for purchase and are suitable for all budgets, with some items starting at just £1 or £2. On the shelves you’ll see jewellery, homewares, decorations, artwork, ornaments and cards, and practically any material and craft you can think of is represented, from wood, linen, plastic, silver, paper, ceramic, silk and much more.

The exhibition space is currently displaying selected works from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s Craft Collection.

Katherine works with a small but dedicated and effective team.

“Lotus De Wit runs the gallery space here so all the makers who are selling through the Gallery will know Lotus really well,” says Katherine, “We also have a Craft Development Coordinator, Jan, who’s responsible for our professional development programme, august craft month and some of the other outreach work we do.

“I work with the board to develop next steps for Craft NI, keeping in touch with the makers through our Craft Forum and the Craft Advisory Panel that we’re currently recruiting for, to help us understand how we can best serve the sector. Then there’s also fundraising and the financial side of things.”

Katherine has been in the role full-time since April 2019 and one of her first challenges was to find fit-for-purpose premises to provide a new home under one roof for what was previously two separate organisations.

Her career didn’t begin in the creative sector, but she has forged a path which led very naturally to her current role.

“I spent 12 years in lobbying and PR working for an organisation called Stratagem and I loved it. It was a really good education – finding out about how governments work and how cities work.”

This inspired Katherine to take a sidestep into the voluntary sector, and pursue her interest in social change.

She continues, “After that, I worked for 4 years in a big mental health charity and three years with my own interim executive and charity consultancy, and I came to Craft NI that way through doing some work with them. I thought they were a great organisation and then the job came up and I applied for it.”

“It’s such an interesting sector and tells such a positive story about Northern Ireland, all these beautiful things that we create; the links that the work gives you to the place and I thought ‘What a brilliant job, to try and tell that story’.”

She may not always have worked in the creative sector, but she has found her skills and experience helpful in getting the story across clearly.

“I’ve always been interested in social progression, so having worked and lobbied in different charities – the key things about profile, awareness-raising and partnership-building are the same. We think Craft is going to be really important in the tourism sector, it’s important in the small business sector, and it’s really important in the arts and culture sector.”

Katherine believes that the opening of the Craft NI Gallery on Royal Avenue is not only a boost to the Cathedral Quarter’s thriving independent retail economy, but represents an important addition to its cultural offering too.

“We were delighted when the space on Royal Avenue became available. We hope we’ll be a really good addition to the cultural offering in the Cathedral Quarter and we think we will.”

“Belfast City Council have done a lot of research into this area about audiences. That research suggests that people who like to look at and buy craft also like to go to the theatre and to try hands-on experiences and go to outdoor concerts and events.

“We thought the Cathedral Quarter was a great home for craft because the kind of people who like it will also like the other fantastic things on offer here including the nightlife and the food and drink and wonderful places to have coffee. We hope this makes the Cathedral Quarter even more of a destination.”

Finding a great new home in the city’s creative quarter is a major plus, however Katherine is keen that the shop signposts to, rather than competes with, other crafter retailers in the city. She envisages the Gallery acting as a beacon and a promoter of all of Belfast’s independent, maker-led shops and sellers.

“We’re looking forward to making connections with the creative organisations and be part of things going on in Belfast more widely. We would love this opening to be the beginning of promoting Belfast as a craft destination. It’s not just about what we are selling in the gallery; we also want to flag up the other wonderful craft retailers in Belfast such as Born and Bred (formerly Studio Souk), Wicker Man and of course Unique at Ulster University.”

Katherine says developing the website will be a key priority over the next year or so, as the organisation realises its ambition to be a one-stop hub for craft in NI.

“We are also developing a professional development programme for makers. We want to help makers tell their stories and sell their work outside of Northern Ireland, so we will be working towards telling those stories outside Northern Ireland over the next couple of years.”

 

To stay up to date with Craft NI’s work, find out about their events and workshops, or to find a craftsperson, maker or craft business, check out the Craft NI website and be sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The Gallery is also on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

If you’re in the Craft NI Gallery for your Christmas shopping over the next few weeks, don’t forget to tag us in your social posts – we are @cqbelfast on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and we’d love you to use the #CQBelfast hashtag.

All pics in this article: Carrie Davenport Photography

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