Crafting Dialogue: Social Justice and the Arts at Contemporary Craft

Janet McCall of Contemporary Craft

Janet McCall is as sincere as they come.  She believes in humankind, and the possibility for communities to foster growth and healing.  Janet serves as the Executive Director at Contemporary Craft, a 45+ year-old arts organization, which has been a cultural anchor in the Strip District.

Over the course of the past five years, Janet has chartered a course with the staff at Contemporary Craft, addressing hard to discuss social justice issues, through the use of craft.  When she began the journey, one of the first questions she asked herself was whether or not people would come to an exhibition focused on topics such as violence or mental health. 

She and the Exhibitions Director, Kate Lydon, came to the conclusion that as an organization, they would need to take a neutral stance on the subjects.  Their aim was to be a conduit, encouraging visitors to explore their own experiences by engaging with artwork and processes. 

“People need to deal with their emotions.  Sometimes just looking at art, or making art, can help through a non-verbal experience,” said Janet.

She went on to say that Contemporary Craft has the intention of creating a safe space, where visitors are also able to find resources or share in conversation. To prepare an arts organization for discussion about such topics, Janet and the team have enlisted the help of others. Prior to each exhibition they set up a panel of advisors – professionals in the field of which each exhibition will focus.  That larger team helps to identify common goals, provides staff training, and assists with production of an accompanying curriculum guide.

The first exhibition was titled, ENOUGH Violence: Artists Speak Out.  One of the pieces from that exhibition which resonated with Janet was a mandala, by artist Beth Barron. 

Janet recalled the impact of the piece, “While having a series of her own difficulties, the artist stumbled upon a used Band-Aid, which caused her to recognize the struggles of others.  As is the process with mandalas, the piece became about community.  The artist put together the mandala by collecting additional used Band-Aids from others.  It truly expressed a community of healing, and speaks to the power of material.”

Implosion 1 by Beth Barron

Currently in the gallery is an exhibition titled, Shelter: Crafting a Safe Home

“People need to be acutely aware of what it means to be unsheltered in life,” said Janet.  There are more than 40 works, created by 14 nationally recognized craft artists, with the timely goal of focusing attention on the basic human need for safe housing.  As with all of the socially engaged exhibitions at Contemporary Craft, Shelter offers a wide array of accompanying programming.  There are workshops in the studio, an evening conversation series, and lectures in partnership with local scholars.

The exhibit had an intrinsic way of asking me to recollect my own experiences with shelter, and consider ways in which those memories intersect with those around me. If you’re curious about how you can become part of the social impact that is happening at Contemporary Craft, visit the calendar on their website for hours and a list of events.

Cleopatra by Clara Grace Hoag

Photos courtesy of Clara Grace Hoag, Seth Clark, Beth Barron and Janet McCall.