“ I have never before, in my long and eclectic career, been gifted with such an abundance of natural beauty as I experienced filming War Horse on Dartmoor.” Steven Spielberg.

MAKE Southwest – the New Name for Devon Guild of Craftsmen Heralds Exciting Regeneration for the Crafts Charity

MAKE Southwest is the new name for Devon Guild of Craftsmen, the crafts promotion charity based in Riverside Mill at Bovey Tracey, Devon.

This renaming represents a period of exciting change for the Charity and reflects its ambitious vision for an inclusive crafts culture throughout Southwest England. In addition to this more contemporary and inclusive name will be a major creative exhibition programme; an expanding, dynamic public education programme; rebranding of its visual identity; and plans to improve the building. All this will drive forward the creation of a crafts culture for all.

The name – MAKE Southwest – recognises the organisation’s wider remit to promote all that is best in crafts in the region: from Cornwall north to Gloucestershire, and east across into Dorset, including the major urban centres ofPlymouth, Bristol and Bath. The Charity was established in 1986 by a ‘guild’ of distinguished craft makers who had collaborated in exhibiting and selling their work since 1955. It continues to energetically represent and celebrate the many talented makers from across the Southwest area. With the help of Arts Council funding, MAKE Southwest increasingly offers craft education to the public as well, and encourages participation by people of all ages and backgrounds in making craft.

Following on from this symbolic name change, 2022 looks to further the pioneering regeneration at MAKE Southwest. There are plans afoot for the historic Grade II Listed Mill building, which dates from 1854, to have extensive redevelopment to provide better access for visitors, more teaching space, and restoration of the heritage waterwheel.

The forward programme will include a landmark exhibition curated by MAKE Southwest’s President, Royal Academician Peter Randall-Page, himself a sculptor of international standing, that will seek to dissolve the boundaries of fine art and craft and will feature artists with an international reputation. This November there will be the annual exhibition celebrating the best work by MAKE Southwest’s Maker Members highlighting the unique quality of their craftsmanship, as well as an in-depth look at the medium of wood engraving, and focused presentations of individual makers.

A complete reworking of the visual identity of the organisation, its logos and website will complete the transformation.

As MAKE Southwest Chair, Louis Victory says: “Although the early months of the pandemic were difficult, we are now operating successfully, having taken the opportunity to modernise and plan for an ambitious and exciting future as a leading player in the crafts renaissance which has taken hold in Britain recently.

“We are working to improve our much-loved Mill building for those who want to visit and buy from our craft galleries or see outstanding exhibitions of ceramics, textiles, jewellery, printmaking, photography, sculpture, furniture, and much more. We also have plans to make the building a creative place in its own right, with craft makers working and teaching on site and through outreach to schools and communities.”

For the Charity’s President, Peter Randall-Page RA these changes illustrate that “We are entering a new era at MAKE Southwest, which will further raise the profile of the Charity’s professional makers and at the same time create a new generation of people who appreciate ‘the art of craft’ and want to enhance their life by turning their hands to making it”.

Chief Executive Laura Wasley adds: “Our Charity is buzzing with energy and enthusiasm as we embark on a new era of creativity at the heart of this historic town on the edge of Dartmoor, which is also home to the annual Craft Festival which attracts visitors from all over the world. We are building afresh on a wonderful heritage of six decades, and I believe that MAKE Southwest will become a beacon for crafts culture in the UK”.

The new name of MAKE Southwest is the culmination of a modernisation process begun in 2020, which has rebuilt the organisation, and will transform the building over the coming years to contain more teaching and events space, community facilities and studios. MAKE Southwest’s vision is to inspire creative excellence by increasing the understanding and appreciation of contemporary craft, and the direct engagement with it of people from all walks of life. It develops activities that generate excitement and creativity, both involving people directly with the act of making, and engaging them with the excellence of crafts made by professionals.

Becoming a charity meant that there was more access to public funding for the arts: in particular from the Arts Council, which has given much support to the organisation’s growing educational work through exhibitions, teaching and events.

To support this, in 2004 a large extension, the Jubilee Gallery, was opened. It has become a major public exhibition venue showcasing the best craftwork in the region.

Running alongside it, the charity continues to sell outstanding Maker Member crafts through its retail galleries. Visitor numbers have been in the region of 160,000 per annum, and this is likely to grow given the ambitions of the Charity to develop greater public engagement with craft, and an even stronger reputation and membership across the Southwest and nationally. The location of Bovey Tracey has excellent access off the Devon Expressway, and the town is fast becoming the main visitor attraction on the edge of Dartmoor, as an arts hub also hosting the internationally famous annual Crafts Festival, and now having the new community arts centre Bovey Paradiso as well.