Community of Makers: Crafting the Future

Community of Makers: Crafting the Future

A collective of artists provides equitable opportunities in craft – and schools are matching its scholarships.
Crafting the Future scholarship recipient Shanti Broom at Penland School of Craft

With a scholarship from Crafting the Future, Shanti Broom attends a workshop at Penland.
Photo: Sarah Parkinson

Glassblower and painter Corey Pemberton and furniture maker Annie Evelyn met in 2014 at the Penland School of Craft in North Carolina. While Evelyn completed a resident artist program at the school and Pemberton was living and working in the Penland community of artists, they found themselves asking: Why aren’t there more artists of color in these programs? “I had expected these institutions to create the community that I wanted, which is, quite frankly, a community that represents our country,” says Evelyn. “Art is supposed to tell the story of the world.”

A Rhode Island School of Design graduate who had been living in Brooklyn before moving to Penland, Evelyn says a culmination of events in 2015 – including the Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting – illuminated the urgency of the issue. “There was all this anxiety and emotion around racial injustice,” says Evelyn. “This was my first time as an adult in a formalized community of artists, and I thought there were missed opportunities to have Black artists as residents and core fellows at the program.”

Pemberton grew up in Virginia and studied craft and material studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. During college, he spent two summers at Penland and lived in Missouri, Denmark, and Norway after he graduated. “My whole life, as a Black person in the arts, I was the only Black person in almost every room I entered. But to see other people – specifically white people like Annie – get so impassioned about this inequality made me want to address it even more,” explains Pemberton.

So, in early 2019, Pemberton and Evelyn established Crafting the Future, a collective of artists working together to provide equitable opportunities in craft, art, and design. The organization – led by director Pemberton and deputy director Evelyn – partners with youth arts organizations across the country to provide students with scholarships to renowned craft schools and pre-college programs. “The people who know the students and their potential are nominating them for the scholarships. This is bringing new voices and new stylistic aspects to craft programs,” Pemberton says. “We are connecting the dots and creating one larger, more diverse community.”

Crafting the Future scholarship recipient Shanti Broom studying ironwork at Penland School of Craft

Crafting the Future scholarship recipient Shanti Broom studying ironwork at Penland School of Craft.
Photo: Sarah Parkinson

In 2019, Crafting the Future sent two students from YAYA, a New Orleans community arts program, to a two-week summer program at Penland. Shanti Broom, a young multidisciplinary artist from New Orleans, was one of the scholarship recipients. Crafting the Future covered the cost of Broom’s tuition, room and board, travel, and art supplies, and also provided a stipend to help her with other miscellaneous costs.

Broom, who was enrolled in cosmetology school at the time, enrolled in a two-week program in iron with no experience in the medium. “I had no prior knowledge of what Penland was,” she says. “The iron workshop was a trial run that turned into an interest that I can now see as an eventual career.” When Broom returned to New Orleans, she connected with a local blacksmith to continue learning the craft.

Broom says her experience at Penland has had a lasting impact. “I don’t get discouraged as easily in myself anymore because I’ve met other like-minded artists who are confident that what they’re doing is the right thing,” she says. “And that’s an experience I think everyone should have.”

In 2020, Crafting the Future expanded its mission by merging with Better Together, an event series that celebrates and supports the careers of BIPOC artists, performers, and entrepreneurs. Whereas Crafting the Future was previously focused solely on connecting students with scholarships to attend craft schools, “now we are connecting BIPOC artists – from early career to professionals – with opportunities to help them thrive, like internships, teaching gigs, grants, and more,” says Pemberton.

Corey Pemberton director of Crafting the Future at the first Better Together event

Corey Pemberton, director of Crafting the Future, at the first Better Together event.
Photo: Umba Monga

Because the students who were going to go to Penland this year were unable to attend due to the coronavirus pandemic, Crafting the Future’s goal was to provide some programming for those students. It funded three Zoom-based classes for eight students each, issued one grant, and commissioned two works of arts from Crafting the Future alumni.

Crafting the Future has also experienced a groundswell of support for its programs. Just this year, the collective has raised nearly $175,000 – enough to complete some of its planned programming for next year. When the collective reaches its goal to raise an additional $50,000, it will be able to send 33 students to craft schools for workshops and two students to six-week pre-college programs; fund several internships and apprenticeships, as well as some emerging artist grants; and help fund upcoming community-building Better Together events. The organization has also expanded its network. As of now, eight craft schools – including Penland – have enthusiastically agreed to match scholarships.

We are connecting the dots and creating one larger, more diverse community.
~ Corey Pemberton

“At the start of this pandemic, our nation found itself in yet another civil uprising, and we experienced a large jump in support and engagement,” says Pemberton. “It’s unfortunate it took these events for people to get behind this cause, but it’s energy we’ve been able to harness, and is a silver lining to a big black cloud.”

As for long-term goals? Evelyn says, “I want to make it a normal practice that as an artist you work to change your community for the better.”

To support Crafting the Future, visit craftingthefuture.org and become a member or join a fund-raising crew.

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