THE CLAY STUDIO
The 28-foot long table in The Clay Studio gallery is draped in white cloth, decorated with flowers, stemware and beautiful platters. The event—a dinner party called The Crafted Table—represents a new vision of art engagement: making craft accessible by using artisanal pottery for practical purposes instead of pondering it at arm’s length. In this case, the ceramic dinnerware was designed and handmade by various artists.
There’s gaiety in the room as the 30 paying guests engage in happy chatter and The Clay Studio’s President Chris Taylor hovers, making sure all is well. A tantalizing aroma wafts from the kitchen, where Chef Anna Maria Florio of La Cucina at the Market is preparing dinner. It’s a fun evening with a serious goal: “First and foremost is our mission to get people in to experience and fall in love with this great craft,” Taylor said.
Naomi Cleary, Retail and Communications Manager, was one of the staffers who inspired this new paradigm. “In a relaxed social atmosphere, people don’t feel intimidated the way you can be when you walk into a gallery and everything’s on a white pedestal and you’re not supposed to touch,” she said. “When it’s something you’re being asked to physically touch and use, it breaks down a barrier for people.”
The Clay Studio, an internationally acclaimed non-profit which provides studio space, classes and a gallery, has been hugely successful in creating such new avenues to attract a coveted younger audience unfamiliar with this niche art form. Special events such as introductory classes, date night workshops, family workshops and special occasion Sunday brunches, are always sold out. The school has doubled its revenue and quadrupled its enrollment in five years. The Clay Studio was cited as a successful case study in building arts audiences in a recent Wallace Foundation report The Road to Results. One of the focuses of The Wallace Foundation is to foster the vitality of the arts for everyone. The report found that “The Clay Studio saw such success because it developed multiple ways for its target audience to get to know it. Audience-building practitioner and expert Donna Walker Kuhne calls this creating ‘points of entry…creating doors where none had existed before.’”
Over the next three years, with the support of The Barra Foundation grant, The Clay Studio will leverage this momentum. It will continue to host Crafted Table dinners and four to six smaller events which present ceramics as functional beauty: tea tastings with handmade teapots and cups; coffee tastings with handmade mugs; flower arranging in handcrafted vases. Once people become familiar with the work of The Clay Studio, they often turn into students, collectors or frequent visitors.
“It’s a movement in the culture industry,” Taylor said. “Arts institutions aren’t going to survive by saying, ‘Here’s a piece of art work, get it or not.’”