In the latest of our series of interviews with Design-Nation’s brand ambassadors and partners we catch up with Jon Tutton of Tutton & Young , the organisational powerhouse behind the very successful MADE craft fairs and other events.
Design-Nation asked: Please tell us about Tutton & Young and what you do, especially how you got into the craft fair business.
Jon Tutton answered: Tutton & Young organise art fairs and craft fairs in London and the South East. (Jon’s partner Sarah is the “Young”). Primarily MADE BRIGHTON, MADE LONDON, and Brighton Art Fair. We first got into the craft fair business by accident and involving alcohol. We are artists and makers ourselves who have been making and selling work for many years, and we’ve had many and varied experiences of different ways of selling work from galleries, online, pop-ups, open studios and fairs.
A good while ago we found ourselves in the pub discussing with friends the fact that although Brighton was a centre for artists and makers it lacked decent galleries to sell work in. We thought that what was needed was a big event that would shine a spotlight on the great artists that were in the city. By the end of the evening we’d bizarrely agreed to book the biggest and best venue in the town for the first Brighton Art Fair. It was immediately very successful and two years later we ran a second show Brighton Craft Fair which became MADE BRIGHTON, and then we launched MADE LONDON. The latter has been a success as it stepped into a void following the demise of the Crafts Council’s annual show ‘Origin’.
D-N: Do you have a team – who else is in it and how do you work?
J.T: Like many organisations we hide behind a big logo but the actual organization is tiny (or lean). Sarah Young and me (Jon Tutton) are the core team – (Tutton and Young). Sarah in control of design and curation and I do most of the organising. We have other workers coming in on a temporary basis. At peak times there’ll be a maximum of four people, plus event staff manning the doors and contractors building stands. Most of the time it’s just Tutton and Young.
D-N: How do you discover the designer-makers that exhibit with you?
J.T: We have an open call for entries and we look at all applications at one time and try to create a balanced show each year, that is both visually exciting to look at and that moves on each year. We achieve this either by bringing in new makers, or encouraging previous exhibitors to launch new collections at the show. In addition to that we do try to keep an eye on graduates or new emerging makers by visiting exhibitions, pop-ups, fairs and degree shows. These days Instagram is an invaluable aid to seeing work and discovering new and original talent, often involving long and winding late night Instagram journeys. We do contact makers and suggest they might want to consider the show, but in the end we have to look at all applications together and selection depends on the number, variety and qualities of the applications as a whole.
D-N: What do you enjoy about working with designer-makers? Are there any down sides?
J.T: We actually love working with designer-makers. Setting up a show can be stressful and sometimes tempers can be frayed but generally we find that designer-makers have a professional attitude, are pretty organised, and are happy to work with us to promote themselves and the show. Over the years many makers have come to know us and more importantly each other and the shows have a very friendly and helpful atmosphere where many makers become friends.
Downsides are the occasional grumpy exhibitor who can spread gloom but we aim to make sure the shows are always busy enough that there isn’t too much time for gossip. Luckily in most cases the makers who have the most interesting and original work are the most professional and pleasant.
D-N: What do you think are the main challenges today for the design and craft sector, especially for retail?
J.T: There are as many opportunities as there are challenges. Internet selling for some is huge – selling on Instagram makes sense “see it, love it, buy it”. As far as we’re concerned this might have the effect of nudging events into becoming more of a promotional opportunity to get people to interact online at a later date. I do think there is still a place for galleries and shops and I do spend time visiting interesting shops and galleries, although I can see it’s difficult running a gallery/shop selling craft, especially if work is cheaper direct from the maker. Another double edged sword is the rise of the experience economy: there are more opportunities for makers to supplement their income by teaching craft courses, but the other side is that many people want to buy less and do more.
D-N: Do you have any advice for emerging designer-makers?
J.T: Be organized, professional and efficient with regards to your business organisation. But in your making be original, don’t follow trends, and have fun. The originality and fun will shine through.
D-N: What are you planning towards in the next few months?
J.T: Well we have MADE BRIGHTON and BRIGHTON ART FAIR coming up at the end of November then we rest and eat and drink. (And plan for next year)
D-N: What are Tutton & Young’s ambitions and challenges in the next two years?
J.T: We don’t particularly want to expand and take over the world, just do what we do as well as we can. We want MADE LONDON to remain the best contemporary craft show in the country and develop by increments.
We look forward to be able to move back to the Brighton Corn Exchange with the Brighton Art Fair and MADE BRIGHTON. We’ll have a lot more space in the new venue and are planning new ideas to bring in new audiences and buyers. This may not be till 2021 so we have plenty of time to plan!
Design-Nation were delighted to exhibit at MADE LONDON last month with our first ever group stand at that event, and we very much hope to work with Jon and his team again in the future. MADE BRIGHTON is 22-23 November and Brighton Art Lair at Lewes is 30 November- 1 December.