Saturday, July 25, 2020

Good news in a world of gloom – Craft ACT designs a stronger future on the global stage

Amongst all the gloom at the state of our once thriving creative sector, it’s easy to overlook important successes and achievements. Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic creative organisations have still been endeavouring to maintain momentum with some of the inspiring projects and programs that had been underway, strengthening international partnerships and building longer-term resilience.

In this challenging environment I almost forgot to mention two very important and encouraging pieces of news from an organisation close to my heart. Canberra-based creative organisation Craft ACT, the umbrella organisation for craft and design in the region, has secured an important international coup for its DESIGN Canberra initiative. DESIGN Canberra’s signature exhibition Glass Utopia, featuring 12 Italian and Australian designers, has been selected for the internationally renowned festival, Venice Glass Week, from 3-26 September 2020.


Chief Minister Andrew Barr launches DESIGN Canberra 2019 beneath the Murano
glass chandelier in the Italian Ambassador's Residence.

The exhibition is part of a new glass Renaissance, both locally and internationally, demonstrating how the power of beauty is stronger than ever, and that creativity has no borders. Craft ACT CEO and Artistic Director Rachael Coghlan commented, ‘DESIGN Canberra’s first international tour, to Venice Glass Week and Milan Design Week no less, is a momentous opportunity to celebrate the global context for Australian contemporary craft and design, and through that, to promote creative industries generally.’

‘On occasions many overlapping strands come together to make a project seem almost predestined to succeed. Glass Utopia is one of those projects. Canberra is the centre of craft glass practice in Australia and Venice Glass Week is a premier design festival globally. Through the convergence of a number of critical factors these two elements in the Glass Utopia project have been brought together.’

Curator of the exhibition, design writer Annalisa Rosso added ‘This exhibition is the start of an open dialogue which refuses sharp contrasts, but questions notions of borders and distance. In this way, we can redefine the value of tradition and innovation, aiming to discover surprising connections among the two countries, especially in terms of inspiration, technique, aesthetic and research.’

On occasions many overlapping strands come together to make a project seem almost predestined to succeed. Glass Utopia is one of those projects. Canberra is the centre of craft glass practice in Australia and Venice Glass Week is a premier design festival globally. Through the convergence of a number of critical factors these two elements in the Glass Utopia project have been brought together.

The Italian connection with our national capital
The 2018 DESIGN Canberra festival celebrated the legacy of Italian architect Enrico Taglietti, one of the pioneers of Australian modernism. He is one of the two renowned Italian designers – the other being Romaldo Giurgola, the designer of Parliament House – who came to Australia attracted by the professional opportunities it offered. Both architects ended up settling here and building their practices in Australia.

The Italian Embassy in Canberra is a 1967 building that is representative of the exemplary work of Enrico Taglietti. Central to its presence is the major chandelier made by a traditional Murano factory that Taglietti installed in the Italian Ambassador’s Residence next door. Murano is the Venetian island that has been designated for glass production since 1291. The chandelier perfectly reflects the thousand-year old tradition of Venetian glass blowing and offers an opportunity to build a potential bridge between Italy and Australia.

Inspired by the Murano glass chandelier, the Glass Utopia exhibition draws a parallel between Venetian contemporary glass production and the Australian experience. Glass Utopia comprises a selection of contemporary glass pieces by Italian and Australian designers which stimulates a visual dialogue between the objects, artists and glassmaking traditions in both countries.

‘Inspired by the Murano glass chandelier that Italian architect Enrico Taglietti and his wife Francesca installed at the Italian Ambassador’s Residence in Canberra in 1967, the Glass Utopia exhibition draws a parallel between Venetian contemporary glass production and the Australian experience. Glass Utopia comprises a selection of contemporary glass pieces by Italian and Australian designers which stimulates a visual dialogue between the objects, artists and glassmaking traditions in both countries.’

Venetian glass blowing had a magnificent history between the 14th and the 20th Centuries, yet there was a feared collapse or this craft in more recent years. From around the mid-1980s, with the lack of economic and creative interest from brands and factories and an increasing shortage of craftsmen, Venetian glass seemed lost. It is a familiar story worldwide, including long-established industries in Australia.

In the last five years a new generation of glassmakers and designers spontaneously revitalised the Murano glass blowing industry. A new sensibility ­– in terms of taste and willingness to experiment – has revived the creative practice. This recent interest is demonstrated by Venice Glass Week, now in its third incarnation, and by a new international market interested in contemporary glass design.

Beginning from the chandelier by Enrico Taglietti, a first bridge between Murano glass and Canberra, Glass Utopia went on to consider if a link does somehow still exist, after half a century. Through exploring contemporary Australian art glass, a number of common elements were discovered between the two countries: inspiration, technique, aesthetic and research.

Signature exhibition
Glass Utopia was was a signature exhibition for the 2019 DESIGN Canberra festival. It was curated by Annalisa Rosso and Francesco Mainardi of Mr.Lawrence, Milan, Italy. Mr.Lawrence is a Design and Brand Consultancy founded in 2018 by Annalisa Rosso, design writer, content consultant and independent curator, editor-in-chief of Icon Design magazine (Mondadori); and Francesco Mainardi (aka theBrandist), brand strategist and creative director, professor of Design Management at Istituto Marangoni.

‘Far too many exhibitions have considerable funding applied to their development, only to find that they are not toured as widely as they could be. If exhibitions can be toured more extensively, particularly internationally, then that is a far more cost effective use of arts funding and a way of maximising returns on the initial investment.’

The exhibition features six Italian designers – in collaboration with many furnaces and companies from the heartland of glass Murano – and six Australian designers including: Elizabeth Kelly, Federico Peri, Gala Fernandez, Jenni Kemarre Martiniello, Liam Fleming, Matteo Zorzenoni, Mel Douglas, Peter Bowles, Stories of Italy, Tom Skeehan, Federica Biasi, Zanellato/Bortotto.

The development and production phase of the exhibition was supported by Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre’s from its own limited funds, with generous support from Ausglass and Design Tasmania. As the first part of its distribution phase, the exhibition travelled to Design Tasmania, Launceston, in early 2020. This next phase takes the exhibition onto the international stage. Far too many exhibitions have considerable funding applied to their development, only to find that they are not toured as widely as they could be. If exhibitions can be toured more extensively, particularly internationally, then that is a far more cost effective use of arts funding and a way of maximising returns on the initial investment.

Major focus on international engagement
DESIGN Canberra has a major focus on international engagement, partly underpinned by the fact that many of its members have well-established international practices. Because of its location in Australia’s national capital, DESIGN Canberra has been able to work through the network of embassies that comprise the national diplomatic presence in Australia in order to build strong international relationships. As a result of this connection with the Italian Embassy, the opportunity arose of taking the Glass Utopia exhibition Italy, following its tour to Tasmania.

The collaboration grew out of a series of DESIGN Canberra engagements with embassies in Canberra. One element of DESIGN Canberra is its Design Diplomacy series. Design Diplomacy is a series of public conversations in an ambassador or high commissioner residence or chancery, which has been extremely well received by designers, embassies and audiences. A design professional from the hosting embassy's country meets a Canberra designer in a new card game in which playful and intelligent questions challenge both the speakers and the audience to reflect upon design as a part of intercultural exchange. The concept boldly combines prestigious diplomatic settings and architecture with informal discussions. Importantly, it builds vital international links for the embassies, speakers and audiences.

‘DESIGN Canberra has a major focus on international engagements, partly underpinned by the fact that many of its members have well-established international practices. Because of its location in Australia’s national capital, DESIGN Canberra has been able to work through the network of embassies that comprise the national diplomatic presence in Australia in order to build strong international relationships.’

Design Diplomacy was launched in 2016 as part of the Helsinki Design Week program and in 2018 was a signature DESIGN Canberra event. At the inaugural Design Diplomacy event for DESIGN Canberra, the New Zealand High Commissioner hosted a conversation between Canberra designers Alison Jackson and Dan Lorrimer and NZ artist Michel Tuffrey.

The festival that year also included an event hosted by the Italian Ambassador involving a conversation between architect Enrico Taglietti and sculptor Silvia Tuccimei. The speakers and audience reflected on design as a part of intercultural exchange. It was a memorable event which recognized Taglietti’s role in selecting the location of the Italian Embassy during his first visit to Canberra. In 2019, the event for that festival was hosted by the German Embassy, with a conversation between Plastique Fantastique Berlin-based designer Yena Young and Canberra designer Tom Skeehan.

DESIGN Canberra spans both arts and industry, with its focus on Australian craft and its link to design and, through that, creative industries generally. The tour of the exhibiton is a perfect opportunity to highlight the link between art and industry at a moment where there is a high level of focus on future economic relationships between Europe and Australia.

Future-proofing for an increasingly uncertain world

However, realising these sort of opportunities does not occur in a vacuum. In a fragile and rapidly unravelling world, building a longer-term base of support is increasingly crucial. Well before COVID-19 arrived, Craft ACT had been running a fund-raising campaign to help future-proof it for the uncertain times ahead.

For nearly 50 years, Craft ACT has played a vital role in sustaining Australia’s high-quality studio practice and supporting craftspeople, designers and audiences. Many people have been a part of its story. Whether a designer, a maker, a collector, a colleague, an educator, a customer or visitor. Craft ACT has touched many lives and built the careers of thousands of people since it was established.

Craft ACT wanted to use the lead up to its 50th birthday this year to build a long-term financial base to help support its community of contemporary jewellers, furniture-makers, ceramic and textiles artists, glass makers and designers so it could write the story of its next 50 years and establish a secure future for quality Australian craft and design. It hoped to raise $50,000 by its 50th anniversary in 2021 to secure its next 50 years. It planned to use the funds raised to forge new international collaborations and residencies, invest in artist development and mentoring, and sustain Australia’s high-quality studio practice.

‘For nearly 50 years, Craft ACT has played a vital role in sustaining Australia’s high-quality studio practice and supporting craftspeople, designers and audiences. Many people have been a part of its story. Whether a designer, a maker, a collector, a colleague, an educator, a customer or visitor. Craft ACT has touched many lives and built the careers of thousands of people since it was established.’

Craft ACT set an ambitious target, but developed a phased strategy to help achieve its goal by May 2021. Until then, every dollar donated would be matched by the Plus1 program of Creative Partnerships Australia. This meant the value of all donations would be doubled, making the total amount Craft ACT aimed to raise $100,000. Donations were tax deductible, since Craft ACT has Deductible Gifts Recipient status. The good news is that due to an array of supporters, 180 in all, who made contributions both large and small, Craft ACT met its $50,000 fund-raising target well ahead of time.

Looking beyond the obvious
I’ve said before that while artists and arts and culture organisations should continue to make the case for government support for Australian arts and culture strongly, they can’t rely on it. There is a crucial role for Government in supporting Australia’s arts and culture, because of its national significance in telling Australia’s story both here and internationally, not to mention its invaluable positive social and economic impacts. However, as Government seems determined to try to retreat back to the nineteenth Century in terms of limiting its role, it is critical to look beyond the obvious sources of support.

At the same time as building new partnerships, there is a need to carefully expand the broad base of support the arts and culture sector already has – demand and welcome recognition and support by government, but not depend on it. Whether it’s crowd funding, expanding donations, membership schemes, philanthropic or private sector support, charging for organisation services, generating more artist income from copyright payments or fees or raffles or jumble sales – or probably all of them – it will stand the sector in good stead in the hard years ahead.

‘While artists and arts and culture organisations should continue to make the case for government support for Australian arts and culture strongly, they can’t rely on it. There is a crucial role for Government in supporting Australia’s arts and culture, because of its national significance in telling Australia’s story both here and internationally, not to mention its invaluable positive social and economic impacts. However, as Government seems determined to try to retreat back to the nineteenth Century in terms of limiting its role, it is critical to look beyond the obvious sources of support.’

Despite the ongoing debilitating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the creative sector continues to do what it does best – telling Australia’s story at home and on the international stage, celebrating its cultural diversity and building global links between artists and creative enterprises. At the same time it has an eye to the uncertain future of support for creativity and culture, looking to build longer-term frameworks and models for a world turned upside down.

See also

‘indefinite article’ on Facebook – short arts updates and commentary
‘Short arts updates and irreverent cultural commentary about contemporary Australian society, popular culture, the creative economy and the digital and online world – life in the trenches and on the beaches of the information age’, 'indefinite article' on Facebook.

A world turned upside down – UNESCO Creative City of Design Wuhan
‘World-shaking events can completely reframe your perspective. When I drove from Canberra to Adelaide and Kangaroo Island in March this year, everyone was being urged to visit regional centres to help them recover from the devastating bushfires. Only weeks later, as I was heading home – via Victoria, a State entering lockdown as I passed through – everybody was being encouraged to stay home to help stop the spread of disease. Back in Canberra I had been involved in a long-running effort to have the city listed as a UNESCO City of Design. The new reality that threatened to overshadow that effort was the global COVID-19 pandemic. Ironically that pandemic had originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which as I discovered, was itself a City of Design in the global UNESCO Creative Cities Network’, A world turned upside down – UNESCO Creative City of Design Wuhan.

Now for the bad news and the good news – creative sector relief package finally announced 
‘For the creative sector it’s a case of both good news and bad news in a world that has been very much about bad news. With the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting shutdown of most of the creative sector, the announcement of massive reductions to Government support for humanities courses in universities, job losses at our major cultural institutions and continuing loss of ABC services, there has not been a lot to smile about’, Now for the bad news and the good news – creative sector relief package finally announced.
 
Shutting down Australian creativity and culture – timeline of a trainwreck
‘In its response to the pandemic the current Government came a long way in terms of its narrow economic views about minimising the role of Government. However the longer history of neglect of the creative sector shows how severe the Government's economic limitations are and how its grasp of the economy (without even mentioning the social sphere) is too narrow and out of date. It has missed a whole sector of the economy that was large, fast growing and included many of the jobs of the future. It's most recent actions have merely compounded a seven year history of neglect and damage,’ Shutting down Australian creativity and culture – timeline of a trainwreck.

Caught in the past – economic blindness overlooks the creative sector
‘The last few months have been a wild ride. First the national bushfires and now global pandemic. In February people were being encouraged to visit fire-ravaged regional centres to help boost local economies. By March they were being urged to stay home to help reduce the spread of pestilence. I’m quietly seething at governments which knew this was coming, but just didn’t have a fixed date, and thought they could make savings by pretending it wasn’t coming. Now the Australian creative sector has largely been infected as well, but without the ventilators required to keep it alive,’ Caught in the past – economic blindness overlooks the creative sector.

Out of the ashes – art and bushfires
‘While the current bushfires raging across much of Australia are unprecedented in their scale and severity, they are a reminder of how people have responded after previous fires, rebuilding communities and lives in the affected areas. They have also focused attention on the impact of the fires on creative practices and business and on how those in the arts and culture sector can use their skills to contribute to bushfire recovery into the future’, Out of the ashes – art and bushfires.

Better than sport? The tricky business of valuing Australia’s arts and culture 
‘Understanding, assessing and communicating the broad value of arts and culture is a major and ongoing task. There has been an immense amount of work already carried out. The challenge is to understand some of the pitfalls of research and the mechanisms and motivations that underpin it. Research and evaluation is invaluable for all organisations but it is particularly important for Government. The experience of researching arts and culture in Government is of much broader relevance, as the arts and culture sector navigates the tricky task of building a comprehensive understanding in each locality of the broader benefits of arts and culture. The latest Arts restructure makes this even more urgent.’, Better than sport? The tricky business of valuing Australia’s arts and culture.

What is art good for? Understanding the value of our arts and culture
‘With arts and cultural support increasingly under pressure, arts and cultural organisations and artists are trying to find ways in their own localities to respond and to help build a popular understanding of the broader social and economic benefits of arts and culture. Much work has been done in Australia and internationally to understand, assess and communicate the broad value of arts and culture. The challenge is to share and to apply what already exists – and to take it further’, What is art good for? Understanding the value of our arts and culture.

See also – indefinite articles in a definite world
‘If you are losing track of the articles I have published to my 'indefinite article' blog over the last few years, this is a summary of all 133 articles up until mid July 2017, broken down into categories for easy access. They range from the national cultural landscape to popular culture, from artists and arts organisations to cultural institutions, cultural policy and arts funding, creative industries, First Nations culture, cultural diversity, cities and regions, Australia society, government, Canberra and international issues – the whole range of contemporary Australian arts and culture’, See also – indefinite articles in a definite world.

Crossing boundaries – the unlimited landscape of creativity
‘When I was visiting Paris last year, there was one thing I wanted to do before I returned home – visit the renowned French bakery that had trained a Melbourne woman who had abandoned the high stakes of Formula One racing to become a top croissant maker. She had decided that being an engineer in the world of elite car racing was not for her, but rather that her future lay in the malleable universe of pastry. Crossing boundaries of many kinds and traversing the borders of differing countries and cultures, she built a radically different future to the one she first envisaged’, Crossing boundaries – the unlimited landscape of creativity.

Creating the future for Australia's arts and culture

‘Australia’s arts and culture is at a critical stage. One of the issues confronting it is lack of any kind of shared sense of what the role of government is in encouraging our arts and culture. The whole set of interlinked problems with the relationship between government and Australia’s arts and culture can be reduced to a lack of strategic vision and a long-term plan for the future. This deficiency is most apparent in the lack of any guiding policy, like trying to navigate a dark and dangerous tunnel without a torch or flying at night without lights or a map’, Creating the future for Australia's arts and culture.

Arts and culture part of everyday life and on the main agenda
‘There’s an election in the air and I was thinking about what would be a good list of positive improvements that would benefit Australia’s arts and culture, so I jotted down some ideas. They are about recognising arts and culture as a central part of everyday life and an essential component of the big agenda for Australia. They are about where the knowledge economy, creative industries and arts and culture fit, how arts and culture explain what it means to be Australian and how they are a valuable means of addressing pressing social challenges’, Arts and culture part of everyday life and on the main agenda.

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