In December 2018, the Association for Israeli Decorative Arts (AIDA) sent four representatives from three US crafts schools to explore the contemporary craft scene in Israel. Below is a letter from Mia Hall, Executive Director of Penland School of Crafts (Penland, NC) detailing her trip to Israel, and her plans to integrate Israeli artists and organizations into Penland's vision of the future.

Letter from Mia Hall
Executive Director, Penland School of Crafts

Dear AIDA Board of Trustees and Supporters,

As the new(-ish) director of Penland School of Craft, I was very fortunate to be invited to participate on the recent trip to Israel with Chris Taylor and Tina Aufiero from Pilchuck and Paul Sacaridiz from Haystack. Chris has very eloquently described our wonderful time in Israel, so I am going to add some of my own impressions and reflections to “round out” the feedback.

I want to start by communicating a heartfelt message of gratitude to all of you who made this opportunity a reality! It is my hope that this is not a one-time interaction, but rather the beginning of a a long, meaningful and fruitful relationship between our organizations. I also want to thank Aviva – our formidable guide! Her honest assessment of the state of craft in Israel as well as her guidance through the complex and multi-layered cultural landscape made this trip so very rich, educational and enjoyable. And the food! We all joke about Aviva’s “light lunches” that proved that we were all lightweights in terms of the art of Israeli dining.

Doug told us before we left that he knew that this trip would benefit us as new directors and of course, he was very correct. We got to know each other and had an opportunity to brainstorm ways that our organizations can work together towards our shared goal – helping people access high quality education in the disciplines we offer. For that I am very grateful. However, I suspect that you are all much more interested in hearing how the Israeli artists and organizations will fit into this vision of our future and therefore I will focus on that aspect.

I met several artists, such as Esti Knobel, Deganit Shocken and Dafna Kaffeman to mention a few, who we at Penland would be absolutely ecstatic where they to consider traveling to North Carolina to teach at Penland. I have sent a summary of my impressions of these artists to our Director of Programming, who is in the process of starting to contact teachers for the 2020 summer sessions, and I am hoping that we will be able to schedule some of them. Of course, we will keep all of them in mind for the future as well.

I just mailed packets to the two schools, Bezalel and Shenkar, and the Benyamini Ceramics Center with information, catalogs and books, as well as information about our international scholarship program, in the hopes that some students may consider coming to Penland. In doing so, I am also very interested in attracting some of the professors and teaching professionals at these institutions. When offering an opportunity to one artist you have a chance to impact that one artist’s life and career, but when you offer an opportunity to an educator, their experience often ripples out benefitting all the students they subsequently interact with. Therefore, I have put a little extra emphasis on enticing them to consider a workshop at Penland. Part of our commitment to art education is offering a full Penland scholarship for a two-week summer class this summer to one of the educators from these institutions making them responsible for only travel and materials while in class.

Attracting teachers and students to Penland is of course the most obvious way to interact with the artists I was introduced to during the trip. However, the opportunities are limited as is the exposure. While traveling home and during the time following our Israel trip, I have thought a lot about how to forge connections beyond Penland. I was rather impressed by the jewelry and metalsmithing department at Shenkar University, as well as the head of the department, Uri Samet, and immediately felt that US educators would benefit from seeing how Shenkar has structured their curriculum. The director of SNAG (Society of North American Goldsmiths) Gwynne Rukenbrod is a friend and during a recent meeting I shared the materials from Shenkar asking her to consider looking into inviting Uri to present at their 2020 national conference. A connection has been made and I am hopeful that an invitation will materialize. Gwynne mentioned the possibility for Shenkar to show some student work during this conference as well.

When visiting the Benyamini Ceramics Center it became clear that there may be an opportunity for Penland to exchange a residency with them. Introductory e-mails have been sent and we are exploring what the opportunities are for their educator to attend the month-long Penland winter residency in exchange for an artist from the Penland sphere to travel to Tel Aviv for a month-long residency at Benyamini. I will keep you posted as this develops.

The fiber, video and mixed media artist Gil Yefman mentioned during our very interesting and mind expanding visit to his studio that he has been invited to “Elsewhere” in Greensboro, NC next fall for a residency and I just discovered that he is included in a group exhibition at the Weatherspoon Art Museum titled Dread and Delight this summer and fall. I am exploring an opportunity for him to visit and stay at Penland as a visiting artist (which we would of course pay him for) while in NC. Warren Wilson College has recently launched a new and exciting MA program in Critical Craft Studies, and it is my hope that they, and the Center for Craft in Asheville, will be interested in hosting a public lecture by Gil to present his poignant and timely work.

In the future, when I see opportunities for the extraordinary Israeli artists, and for our organizations to collaborate, I will communicate with Aviva and Doug. I look forward to our continued relationship and again thank you all for having facilitated this opportunity for. It would most definitely not have been possible without your very generous support!

— Mia Hall