Craft Still Lives Here
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
— Margaret Mead
My fellow OCAC community members,
To all of the people who rushed to get in touch, who sent heartfelt cards of sympathy and wrote angry letters to administrators, who organized gatherings and got involved, to everyone who showed how much they care about this community: thank you. These past few months have been tremendously hard, and I could not have navigated them without the love and support of the people of OCAC. I am sure that many of you feel the same.
When we hosted that open meeting in April at the Central Library, I walked into the room feeling complete dread, and walked out invigorated and happy and full of inspiration for the future. The people in that room were the people of OCAC. I almost didn’t attend the last celebration on campus because I certainly didn’t feel like celebrating, but in going I saw people I hadn’t seen in years, people who flew in from other states, people who drove for hours to attend, just so that they could be there and be together, and I stayed for hours. Those are the people of OCAC.
In all of the media coverage of the college’s closure, the thing that irritates me the most is the framing that this is “the end.” Just because the college as an institution has closed, do they think we all just disappear like it never existed?
To all the media outlets and Facebook commentators bemoaning the “death” of OCAC and “the end of an era,” remember that every new era began with an ending. In her recent article, OPB’s April Baer quoted Angel TwoBulls’ (Oglala/Lakota) reaction to “the end of craft in Oregon”: “Craft has been around pre-contact,” they laughed. Craft did not begin at OCAC, and it certainly won’t end with a campus closure.
The Arts & Crafts Society of Portland, OCAC’s originating body back in 1907, was not a school or a degree or a campus. It was part of a social movement. It was a lifestyle. As the daughter of an artist and craftsperson, I grew up valuing quality workmanship, attention to detail, the beauty of the hand and the special satisfaction in using something carefully and lovingly made. Just as in William Morris’ era, when average people became craftspeople (and craftspeople became better craftspeople) in protest of the social, economic, and environmental horrors of the Industrial Revolution, people today are finding a refuge in craft as they flee from the consequences of irresponsible globalization, fast fashion, mass manufacture, and use of synthetic materials. Craft will never not be relevant to a human life.
The rapid-fire closing of so many revered art institutions in Portland in the past few years - the Museum of Contemporary Craft, Marylhurst University, OCAC, and continuing worries of threats to PNCA and the Multnomah Arts Center - is evidence of a systematic problem, not a social one. The issue is not that people don’t care about art and craft; that much is evidenced by the outpouring of grief, anger, and support as these institutions implode.
To all of the talking heads throwing up their hands and saying “well, this is happening everywhere,” thank you for your opinion. Now kindly get out of the way.
Since its 1907 founding, this community of creators has gone through many transformations. It slowly grew from a social group inviting artists from further afield to come and teach in empty buildings and friends’ homes, gradually acquiring this building and that building, moving across town, and finally into a campus of its own. Before OCAC it was the Oregon School of Arts and Crafts, and before that it was the School of Arts and Crafts Society, and before that the Allied Arts and Metal Guild and the Arts & Crafts Society of Portland. The college has been granting degrees for 24 years. The organization has been teaching and learning for 112. Personally, I think that’s just too much history to stop at a campus sale and a closed door.
At the community meeting in April, we discussed returning to the “1907 model”: an umbrella organization conducting classes and seminars in whatever satellite locations may be open to us; a network of teachers and students and studios collected around the desire to learn and share and improve our crafts. In the wake of the closure, individuals and organizations have already begun stepping forward to offer space for future classes.
In line with the ambitions discussed at that April meeting, and with the resolution that our community is the greatest thing we refuse to lose, I have begun building a plan for our next incarnation, tying together all the offers of help, the dreams for the future, and the unique expertise from community members who have reached out. While I would classify our plan as early stage, I see it developing into a new version of OCAC, another evolution on its century-long journey. We already have the students and teachers, a patchwork of studios, and a supportive community. All we need is a structure to hold them together. I hope that you will share this vision with me and join us in working to make it a reality. Never hesitate to get in touch with questions, advice, or (especially!!) a willingness to volunteer.
Please continue reaching out. We are here to tell you that we are reaching back.
Dakotah Fitzhugh and the Friends of OCAC