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Rising facility costs, challenges of brick-and-mortar retail facilitated board decision.

“Child’s Play” exhibition ends Sat., Jan. 18; onsite/online retail open through Jan. 25.

BOSTON – January 16, 2020 – The board of the Society of Arts + Crafts (SA+C) -- the country’s oldest non-profit organization promoting and supporting fine craft and the artists who make it – has announced it will restructure the organization, end its no-longer-viable initiatives, strengthen and enhance its popular CraftBoston events, and focus on building an ambitious advocacy and artist-support agenda.  The group relocated its headquarters to the Boston Seaport neighborhood in October 2016.

Board President Lois Russell says although the decision was difficult, the board supported the move as financial realities for the group became untenable, and changing needs within the field forced a rethink about how the Society could best serve its mission. In addition to successful, twice-yearly CraftBoston events (large-scale, juried convenings of fine craft artists that attract thousands of customers seeking artist-made everyday items and heirloom-quality art) the SA+C has been running a full-scale retail shop where such items were available year-round.  The group also mounted acclaimed exhibitions in its 9,000-square-foot, second-floor spot at 100 Pier Four Boulevard in Boston’s Seaport neighborhood.

“This change underscores the realities of maintaining a facility in one of the country’s most expensive real estate markets,” Russell says. “It also recognizes that brick-and-mortar retail establishments need specific things – a prime location among them – to be successful.”

The organization’s current exhibition, “Child’s Play,” closes January 18.  Online and on-site retail locations remain open and active until January 25.  The on-site retail store will be open Tue-Sat 10 am to 6 pm, and Sun 11 am to 5 pm (closed Monday).

Executive Director Brigitte Martin, who came to SA+C in March 2019, laid out an ambitious plan late last year to enhance the group’s ongoing work with a new effort to transform thinking about how woodworking, textile-making, ceramics, metalsmithing and other craft media can inform, and be informed by, 21st-century technology.  As facility maintenance costs increased, and the number of shoppers at the Seaport location diminished, Martin says it became clear the plan to move toward much-needed advocacy, convening and advancement of the craft field was a more sustainable business model. 

“In many ways, this reinvention harkens back to the original founding of the Society of Arts + Crafts,” Martin says. “In 1897, founders grappled with issues of industrialization, and the relevance of artists’ work.  Craft artists began using machines to realize their visions – textile looms, mechanical saws and the like. Now artists are contemplating how to use and adjust to contemporary technology, and how their work can be more sustainable, and done in service of social needs.”

Martin, a metalsmith, author and nationally recognized craft advocate, says SA+C has been forced to change its work and perspective several times over its history.  The most recent change saw a move in 2016 from the group’s decades-long residency on Newbury Street to the then-burgeoning Seaport Boulevard in South Boston. She says the challenges of relocating to a second-floor location in a still-rising neighborhood proved insurmountable.  While she and the SA+C board hope the group can maintain its headquarters among the technology companies that inhabit much of the Seaport’s real estate, Martin says the restructured organization could be headquartered anywhere in the area.

“Because our new move to connect artists, scientists, technology and academic entities will likely see much of its genesis with the companies and workers in Boston’s innovation district, we hope to maintain a spot close to our potential collaborators,” she says.

Martin says she sees a continued public connection to SA+C, too, through its nearly 20-year-old, semiannual CraftBoston event, which will be enhanced starting with the Spring 2020 edition.

Six of ten current SA+C employees will be laid off as part of the restructuring plan. 

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Media Coverage:

WBUR: "Society of Arts and Crafts Permanently Closing Exhibition and Retail Spaces" by Cristela Guerra, January 16, 2020

Boston Globe: "Society of Arts + Crafts to shutter Seaport retail space" by Cate McQuaid, January 16, 2020