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

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. 

Research Team

Principle Investigator:

Dr. Darlene Clover
Leadership Studies, Faculty of Education
University of Victoria
Victoria, B.C. Canada, V8W 3N4
Tel: 250-721-7785
Email: clover@uvic.ca


Dr. Joyce Stalker
Dept of Policy, Cultural and Social Studies in Education
University of Waikato
Hamilton, New Zealand/Aotearoa
Tel: 64-7-856-2889 x8257
Email: stalker@waikato.ac.nz

Research Assistants:

Catherine Etmanski, PhD candidate, University of Victoria
Julia Shinaba, PhD candidate, University of Victoria
Corrina Craig, M.Ed candidate, University of Victoria
Odette Laramee, M.Ed. candidate, University of Victoria
Amanda Putman, M.Ed. candidate, University of Victoria


Clover, D.E. (In Press). Tapestries through the Making: Quilting as a valuable medium of feminist adult education and arts-based inquiry. In D.E. Clover & J. Stalker (Eds.), The Arts and Social Justice: Creative Approaches to Adult Education and Cultural Leadership. Leicester: National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education (NIACE).

Clover, D.E. & J. Stalker. (2007). The Arts and Social Justice: Creative Approaches to Adult Education and Community Leadership. Leicester: National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education (NIACE).

Clover, D.E. & Stalker, J. (Eds.) (2007). The arts and social justice: Re-crafting adult education and community cultural leadership. Leicester: NIACE. 

Clover, D.E. (2005). Sewing Stories and Acting Activism: Women?s Leadership and Learning through Drama and Craft. Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organization, 5(4), 629-642.

Clover, D.E., J. Stalker and L. McGauley (2004). Feminist popular education and community leadership: The case for new directions. In Adult Education for Democracy, Social Justice and a Culture of Peace,

Proceedings of the International Gathering of the Canadian Association for the Study of Adult Education and the Adult Education Research Conference, University of Victoria.

Clover, D.E. and G. Markle (2003). Feminist Arts Practices of Popular Education: Imagination, counter-Narratives and activism on Vancouver Island and Gabriola Island. In New Zealand Journal of Adult Education, Volume 31, Number 2, November, pp.36-52.

Clover, D.E. (2001). Feminist Artist-Educators and Community Revitalisation: Case Studies from Toronto. In Proceedings of the Canadian Association for the Studies of Adult Education (CASAE), Laval University, Quebec City, pp.43-48.

Clover, D.E. (2000). Community Arts as Environmental Adult Education and Mobilizing Tools. In Convergence ,Vol.33, No.4, pp.19-30.

Clover, D.E. (2001). Aesthetic Activism: Women, Leadership and Community Arts. In Artwork Magazine, March 2001, Published by the Community Arts Network, South Australia, pp.1-7.

Clover, D.E., S. Follen and B.L. Hall (2000). The Nature of Transformation: Environmental Adult Education. Toronto: Transformative Learning Centre, OISE/UT.

Stalker, J. (2005). Women?s learning. In L. English (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of Adult Education
(pp. 659-663). NY: Palgrave MacMillan.

Stalker, J. (2005). Fabricating new directions for women?s learning: Case studies in fabric crafts and fashion. In P. Jarvis (Ed.), Human learning: A holistic approach. NY: Jossey Bass.

Stalker, J. (2003). ?Ladies? work? and popular education: Fabricating new approaches. Journal of Adult Learning, 31(2), 21-35.

Stalker, J. (2004) Stylish women: Learning, fashion and identity formation. In D. Clover (Ed.), Proceedings of the forty-fifth Adult Education Research Conference (pp. 456-461). Victoria, BC: University of Victoria University.

Stalker, J. (2003). ?Ladies? work? and feminist critical pedagogy. D. Flowers (Ed.), Proceedings of the forty-fourth Adult Education Research Conference (pp. 399-404). San Francisco: SF State University.

Beckett, D. & Stalker, J. (2002). Productive diversity, productive pedagogy and creativity. In Wang Chien Ming (Ed.), Proceedings of the 2nd International Symposium on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (pp. 315-320). Singapore: National University of Singapore.

Clover, D.E. (2007). Feminist aesthetic practices of community development, education and activism in Canada: The Case of Myths and Mirrors.Community Development Journal, 42(4), 1-11.

Clover, D.E. & Stalker, J. (2008). Feisty fabrics: Women’s education, learning and activism through fabric arts in Canada and Aotearoa New Zealand.Studies in the Education of Adults, 40(1), 80-95

Clover, D.E. (2012). Feminist theatre-based research in Canada. Re-imaging research relationships, Proceedings of the Fifth Living Knowledge Conference(pp.77-79). Bonn: Science Shop.