Six Questions with Susan Hanrahan

Mentor, Pop-Up Craft Exhibition for Art Out Loud - Creative Nova Scotia Arts Awards, November 7th, 2015

This interview took place in the context of IOTA and Off the Leash's Artistic Direction for the 2015 Creative Nova Scotia Awards Gala featuring the Prix Grand Pré, Established Artist Recognition Awards, Community Arts and Culture Recognition Award, Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia Masterworks Award, and the Portia White Award. Over twenty talented artists were invited to participate in the evening’s event, offering collaborative artistic expression that shows the diversity of artistic vocation in the province; visual, media, performance, light and sound designer, craft and installation were all included to perform and present their work throughout the evening adding to the vigor of the thematic, emphasizing that Art is Out Loud

Susan Hanrahan is Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Designer Crafts Council. A graduate of Dalhousie University, majoring in Philosophy, she joined the staff of the NSDCC in 1987. She became their Market Coordinator in 1991, with responsibility for coordinating the organization’s two annual retail markets as well as other marketing initiatives and outreach. In 1995 she became the NSDCC’s Executive Director. Not a craftsperson herself – she describes her fingers as being ‘all thumbs’ – Susan considers herself to be the other half of the craft equation: a knowledgeable, appreciative consumer of craft. For her, jewellery is an occupational hazard.  Susan has been a member of the Arts Nova Scotia board since 2012.

Susan Hanrahan is Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Designer Crafts Council. A graduate of Dalhousie University, majoring in Philosophy, she joined the staff of the NSDCC in 1987. She became their Market Coordinator in 1991, with responsibility for coordinating the organization’s two annual retail markets as well as other marketing initiatives and outreach. In 1995 she became the NSDCC’s Executive Director. Not a craftsperson herself – she describes her fingers as being ‘all thumbs’ – Susan considers herself to be the other half of the craft equation: a knowledgeable, appreciative consumer of craft. For her, jewellery is an occupational hazard.  Susan has been a member of the Arts Nova Scotia board since 2012.

IOTA: You are Director of the Nova Scotia Designers Craft Council. What lead you to this position?

SH: I was Secretary on the CKDU-FM Board of Directors and Marie Palmer (then Executive Director of the NSDCC) was serving on that board as a Community Representative. At that time, Marie happened to be hiring for a new secretary. She really liked the job I did recording and preparing the minutes for the CKDU board, and asked if I would be interested in applying. I did so, and was hired in 1987 as Executive Secretary to the Executive Director. 

In 1991, the NSDCC’s Market Coordinator position shifted from a part-time to a full-time position and since I had trained the several previous Market Coordinators I asked Marie if she would consider me for the position. She hired me that same day as the NSDCC’s Market Coordinator, a position which I held until 1994, working under both Marie and Carol Oliver who replaced Marie as ED in 1991.

In 1994, Carol became seriously ill and had to take an extended sick leave. The NSDCC Board asked if I would serve as acting ED during Carol’s absence.  After a year Carol resigned and I applied for and was hired as the NSDCC’s Executive Director where I have been ever since.

IOTA: Craft is one of the most ancient forms of art making, how do you think craft artists are reinventing themselves in 2015?

SH: Through innovative design, through the use of non-traditional materials, and through enduring excellence in craftsmanship.

IOTA: What is the role of mentorship and apprenticeship in craft practices?

SH: As long as there has been craft practice, people have been transferring skills from one individual to another through some form of mentorship and apprenticeship. This can happen formally with a high degree of rigour involved, or quite informally. An effective mentor and apprentice relationship should result in the retention and expansion of skills, opportunities for ongoing growth and employment, and the production of excellent work.

IOTA: Do think that a return to traditional craft can be interpreted as an act of rebellion?

SH: Yes it can in the sense that an act of rebellion can be to resist or defy convention.  Our current consumer society promotes mass produced items for mass consumption, with an accompanying expectation that objects consumed will be short-lived and disposable. The qualities of craft – the unique, the handmade, the authentic, and the enduring – speak in opposition to that. 

IOTA: What is your hope for the craft community in Nova Scotia?

SH: That crafts are valued, that they are recognized and appreciated for the role they play in the unique character and rich heritage of Nova Scotia, that craftspeople are well paid for their work and that crafts businesses are successful, that our reputation for excellence brings students, makers, collectors, and buyers to our province from the world over.

IOTA: What’s next?

SH: In early November I will be heading to SOFA Chicago (Sculpture Objects Functional Art) where the NSDCC will be showcasing Life’s Work: Six Conversations with Makers. Life’s Work (www.lifesworkfilms.com) introduces viewers to six of Nova Scotia’s master craftspeople. Through the videos we get to visit them in their studios, and learn a little about their lives and what inspires their creativity. We will be bringing these films to an international audience of craft buyers, collectors, gallerists and enthusiasts.