Women's Community Arts and Crafts Study,Canada/New Zealand/Aoeterao

Research Team


Exhibitions and Artworks

This three-year international comparative study examines the educative and learning potential of women's advocacy arts/crafts projects. These projects are created for, by and with the community and foster cultural leadership, critical social learning, dialogue, arts literacy, and community building. Specifically, this research aims to:

  • Identify and interview grassroots women in Canada and New Zealand/Aotearoa who engage in advocacy arts/crafts practices, and seek to foster social justice through their art/craft work;
  • Facilitate connections among advocacy artists/craft workers both within and between Canada and New Zealand/Aotearoa;
  • Advocate and legitimate the work of women artist/craft workers as community educators by sharing their stories widely;
  • Broaden the theory and practice of feminist adult/popular education by including women's aesthetics and community arts;
  • Work collaboratively to showcase advocacy art/craft work at conferences, through articles, academic presentations and other types of popular materials.


Research Context

Like many countries in the world, the social, environmental and cultural fabrics of Canada and New Zealand are fraying under neo-conservative policies and the forces of globalization. In the interests of 'fiscal responsibility' and 'global competitiveness', social programmes are systematically cut or privatized and environments are further exploited and polluted. The impacts of globalization and economic restructuring are felt most strongly by women as they remain primarily responsible for the health/well-being of their families and communities and have consistently less access to educational opportunities than men.

Innovative pedagogies help to facilitate the learning that must occur to meet the complex and multi-layered challenges women face today. As women attempt to make sense of and create meaning in today's globalizing world, working with and through symbolic media can stimulate dialogue, critique, knowledge, imagination and action by developing a common space of choice, creativity, control and learning.

This study concerns women who use community arts/crafts as educational tools to create new paradigms for comprehending and valuing art, promoting political consciousness and strengthening participation in civil society. This work inhabits the ambiguous interstices between the practical and the aesthetic, the traditional and the innovative, the active and the passive, the private and the public. Generated by and focussed on communities, they often carry strong educational narratives and are powerful exemplars of the ways cultures are spontaneously and irrevocably shaped and reshaped through familiar, accessible media. Photography, textile crafts, murals, monuments, and street art simultaneously record and create the history, values and beliefs of individuals and communities.

Particularly relevant to the creation of a strong civil society are women's community arts/crafts which are 'defiant' or have what Jane Thompson refers to as "the courage to be undutiful". For this reason we focus primarily on the socially/environmentally transformative potential of community arts/crafts in women's lives by examining works which challenge injustices, question existing social, political, economic and cultural norms and encourage social and/or environmental action. Also relevant is the potential of community arts/crafts to be a rich training ground in cultural leadership for women. In many respects their community arts/crafts work intersects with and builds upon the goal of arts literacy projects which is to develop a better understanding, appreciation and awareness of the arts within society.


Our experience, confirmed by other feminist researchers, is that a collaborative approach helps strengthen women's knowledge and skills. Since the data gathered was complex and value-laden, we conducted a descriptive and interpretive case study using a critical/feminist lens.  In order to collect data on participants' views of their experiences on arts/crafts: 

  • We carried out interviews of individual artists/crafters of approximately one and one-half hours. The open-ended questions probed the woman's experiences of resistance, support, struggle, joy, learning and intellectual engagement, political and emotional growth, and the role of the arts in developing cultural/artistic literacy.
  • Where the project was created by a community of artists/crafters we conducted focus group interviews.

We saw the women's artistic products as integral to this project. This 'sensual' data was captured through the medium of photography. The arts/crafts were often analysed in terms of the meanings they have to their creators but we also explored them for what they meant to us. Our observations of projects 'in progress' and our reflective journals helped to inform our findings and their interpretation.