LivingArts: Business, But Also Not

Every thing that is trying to stay alive has critical stock in activities of gathering or creating the things they need to live/thrive. Making objects is part of life’s own history of leveraging environments to create the things needed for advancement. History is thick with craft. In efforts to evolve past DIY-ing as a consumer society (in essence to free our time from the hold of providing for our own basic needs in the west) we exported both our manufacturing and this history elsewhere.

Whenever the consumer and consumable fissure, new manufacturing businesses rise to fill the market-niche gap. This phenomenon was clear during the recent* media surge of Maker coverage, a boon for small crafts businesses. But if the measure of a modern ‘successful business’ is defined by large and infinite increases in profit over time, I might boldly add that most small maker businesses aren’t on the shortlist. In the modern marketplace craftspeople face a customer base who doesn’t have to wait for their products, experiences general detachment from the production of their goods created by anonymous makers, and expects a price tag in line with those of chain stores: prices obtained through exploitation of global markets.

Often a craft-based business is supported by its founder(s) holding of another job, the profits of which are redirected to the business. No differently from other creative endeavors, you simultaneously incarnate both sugar daddy and trophy wife (Julieta Aranda, Anton Vidokle, Brian Kuan Wood, Introduction, Are You Working Too Much?). Founders continue operating small craft-based businesses, but the lack of market reliance on local making situates them in what almost feels like an economic novelty bracket, meaning that in order to be motivated to fight not shutter, business returns must also be extra-economic. These are both economically rooted businesses, and not.

I am deep enough within this wormhole to have grafted one unprofitable creative endeavour onto the precarious structure of the newly profitable one that came before, and to realize that the extra-economic returns of creative production and business are primarily social and skill based. Making, and making others aware of your making, gives you endless small talk fodder but also connects you with other people who are trying to make interesting things happen. It brings projects to you and shows others a clear way in which they can invite you to participate in their own. It is empowering to provide for yourself from within the context of a genuine economic alternative, flexible enough to take your life into account. Notwithstanding that, I am always hyper-aware that nourishing returns must be checked against the essential reality of making a living.

To centralize these ‘peripheral’ economies, they must be recognized as connected to the health of other livelihoods, and to the enlivening of maker and customer, communities, cities, and to the stories we have to tell about the geographically grounded and interconnected daily lives we lead. If we hope for interesting and attractive cities to materialize, buying from local makers who enrich our cities in ways both fiscal and extra-fiscally, and paying them a fair price for their product, is one important initiative to undertake.

* (maybe not so recent as to still be trendy, but recent enough to still be popular)