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Building diversity into creative careers

Deborah Crowe in her studio surrounded by Another World exhibition
Fraser Crowe clothing designs
Deborah Crowe, 'Blush', from recent exhibition Not Just Flowers
Crowe Creative provides workshops, training and mentoring to artists
Deborah Crowe discusses a sustainable model for building a career in the arts.

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Deborah Crowe is an arts entrepreneur who has been working towards building a “sustainable interrelated creative model” that binds together the three core aspects of her practice: making art, delivering art services and textile and fashion design. Deborah talks to The Big Idea about the ways that she is advancing her creative enterprise.

“Diversification in practice creates opportunity: it’s stimulating, challenging and enriching to work across and between various areas and contexts of art and design.”

Deborah is originally from Kirriemuir, a small country town in Scotland, famous for being the birthplace of the author that brought Peter Pan into our world. The town is also known as Thrums, which is a weaving term for the threads left over once a cloth is woven. She likes this name because it reminds her of her granny who was a weaver in a factory there. This story perhaps holds deeper threads into Deborah’s love of textiles and fashion, and her commitment to designing and creating clothing in a way that minimises waste.

Currently, Deborah and her business partner, Kim Fraser, are working on re-launching their clothing label Fraser Crowe which was born in the 1990s. After an almost 20 year hiatus they have reformed the label and started collaborating again. They work mainly in silk and use a lot of their own textile designs printed onto the garments. Their business has a strong ethical and environmental focus with a goal for creating heritage garments that can be passed from one generation to the next. They have factored these ethics into the way that they design, cut and present their clothing. “The complex prints suggest a conversation between the organic and built environment, we cut patterns to minimise textile waste, utilise offcuts and salvage textile and fibre trimmings for eventual reuse in reclaimed fibre felt/paper. We are currently designing multi-purpose packaging from reclaimed felt.”

The theme of the impact of humans on our environment is also present in her work as a visual artist. Deborah loves cities and gains inspiration from walking around her neighbourhood and observing the natural and built environments, “when space and place tangle”.  She holds a repugnance for personal waste and has recently displayed a new digital collage artwork in Not Just Flowers at The Vivian Gallery in Matakana. In this work she included photographs that she had taken on her walks of waste left behind in the streets. “These quite lush images observe the vibrancy, beauty and symbolism of flowers, but house buried matter in their shadows - literally and metaphorically. Below the pictorial reference to an ‘everyday’ cut floral arrangement, they conceal images of rubbish destined for landfill that I collect photographically when walking around the city, and in my immediate environment.” She hoped that these would be “small reminders” to people that their waste does not just disappear.

Alongside these two creative endeavours, Deborah also provides workshops, mentoring and training to artists. She enjoys the diversity of people she meets through these services. In a recent workshop for visual artists in Hokianga, Deborah found that there was a big range of participants seeking further career direction and a sounding board for project ideas. “[There were] some artists far on in their career with lots of exhibiting experience, some who were re-evaluating their direction, or wanted professional development, and some who wanted to extend their idea development strategies.”

It is this diversification of creative endeavours that Deborah feels has put her in good stead. She had been working more recently on business plans to bring these three core aspects of her practice into what she calls a “sustainable interrelated creative model.” This is what she hopes she will be able to build on through her experience with the creative business acceleration programme ART Venture. “I was keen to be part of an energised and forward thinking venture focussed on merging creative and business approaches and thinking.” She hopes to use this time to strengthen her base of creative projects and business approaches into a model that is sustainable. She plans to make the most of the opportunities that arise from this award in order to pitch for seed funding and work with specialist coaches. So far, Deborah says, “The experience is stimulating: I have a fantastic peer group and am learning from some very generous specialists.”

  • Deborah Crowe is an ART Venture 2016 participant - an initiative of Arts Regional Trust Te Taumata Toi-a-iwi (ART) with delivery partners The Big Idea.

Written by

Hannah Mackintosh

18 Apr 2017

Hannah is a Wellington-based writer, community organiser and lover of stories.