There's a bit of a discussion raging in the Creative Fibre (NZ Guild) about the contents of their annual festival. I'm a total outside when it comes to Festivals, (I've been to one; Mom to more than five), but what from what I've read and heard in the last few years, this is the story.
Every year an entire Area volunteers to host the annual Festival. 2009 Festival was supposed to be in Auckland, but after months of planning and negotiating, they just couldn't put together a tidy package at around the usual cost. So about 18 (?) months before the Festival, they announced 2009 wasn't happening in Auckland. In came Timaru (in South Canterbury, a little south of Ashburton and Christchurch,) saying they will organized an abridged Festival, and everybody applauded. And at the time everybody was so relived that this was to follow 2008 in Gisbourne, another abridged version for reasons I can't remember, but possibly cost, went unchecked.
A weaver in Timaru burst into the scene this week saying there are no weaving workshops in Timaru 2009, and would weavers want to hold a piggy back weaving event. Fair enough. Slowly the plans for Timaru Festival started to come out that there will be lectures in place of hands-on workshops, and arguments for/against lectures/workshops/free trial stalls, along with cost/preparation-time/volunteer-time/aging-membership/recruiting-younger-members concerns got thrown into the mix. For polite Kiwis, issues seldom rage, and this has been a mini coup.
Different learning styles have come up, as have the increasing cost of travel, and the bang-for-the-buck factor, and of course the obligatory "volunteers put in a lot of time and I appreciate anything" talk. Sincere, but doesn't add to the discussion. I'm sitting on the sideline enjoying the view.
I go to Marlborough Weavers 90 minutes away because they have a robust weaving program, and they hold great workshops. I love the ladies there, but I don't travel 90 minutes each way, have Ben leave work early to get me there, and come home around midnight, just for their company; to me it's all about what I can learn, be it show-and-tell or workshop or lecture or a slide show. And to that end I study the menu carefully. And this after five years to decide to join.
There are several groups in and around Nelson, and I've come to know some lovely ladies in the Nelson group, some through my gym. But the group's focus is not weaving, and in fact from what I understand the social aspect is bit in Nelson, so they don't meet my needs. I don't know if they think I've snubbed them, but time in valuable to me, and socializing in the weaving contest, no matter how much I like the ladies, is not my thing. I hate to overgeneralize, and I'd be the first to admit I can be such an misanthrope at times, but I can't help thinking it's also a generation thing.
So going back to the Festival. I don't go because I can't afford it in the first instance, and it often coincides with Easter (Ben works that weekend most years), and/or Ben's birthday. And re. learning experiences, to me the Festival format is somewhat of a watered-down version of the workshop style I prefer. I know many people learn from talking and mingling and looking, and I do experience that sometimes, but being a restless kind I prefer the rigid, structured environment. And the "socials" in such a big scale is torture to me.
I think what nobody is coming right out in saying is that a large number go to the Festival for socializing. Some have given up their crafts, (particularly weaving), and some are happy to continue to do what they've always done, some are curious to see what everybody else has been up to, but perhaps learning is no longer a main reason for everybody, or even a majority. And I wouldn't be surprised if some members come purely out of a sense of duty or habit.
Does it tie in with the perception of fiber craft (primarily wool craft) in New Zealand by the participants/practitioner? That's part of it. There are members who do new things, make a living out of their craft, and display fabulous things at the exhibitions. Or try to. But like the world at large, how do you bring together an organization and keep it robust when a good proportion is aging, the young are busy or have different ideas, and the needs of the membership can be so diverse.
It's not a unique problem to New Zealand Spinners, Weavers and Woolcrafts Society; I bet it's not even a new problem. But it is one of those make-or-break times. So, rage on, ladies.