Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Designs on the future – how Australia’s designed city has global plans

In many ways design is a central part of the vocabulary of our time and integrally related to so many powerful social and economic forces – creative industries, popular culture, the digital transformation of society. Design is often misunderstood or overlooked and it's universal vocabulary and pervasive nature is not widely understood, especially by government. The many promises of design come together in the vision for the future that is Design Canberra, a celebration of all things design, with a month long festival this year. The ultimate vision of Craft ACT for Canberra is to see it listed as a UNESCO City of Design and to add another major annual event to Floriade, Enlighten and the Multicultural Festival, filling a gap between them and complementing them all.

In a rapidly changing world, heading inevitably down a path of greater globalisation, there is a constant tussle between the local and the national (not to mention the international), between globalisation and regionalism. It’s apparent across Australia, not least in the regional centre in which I live, Canberra – a town which also happens to be the nation’s capital.

‘There is a constant tussle between the local and the national (not to mention the international), between globalisation and regionalism’

In recent years Canberra has reached a cultural critical mass, attracting more people to live, work and study in the city. This has been reflected in an increased level of positive national and international recognition. The annual Design Canberra festival is one sign of this.

Ceramics by artist Tjimpuna Williams, Ernabella Arts Centre, in a Design Canberra pop up, 2015. Design Canberra is firmly based on local creativity, but as a national festival located in Australia's capital, it has broad links. In a perfect example of cross-cultural and cross-national collaboration, the ceramics were created during a residency in Jingdezhen, China, in early 2015, with long-time Craft ACT member, Janet deBoos as host and mentor.

A vision for the designed city – design comes of age in the city of Burley Griffin
A celebration of all things design, Design Canberra is one of the most exciting initiatives of Craft ACT. Having started in 2014, Design Canberra is now entering its third year, with preparations well underway for a month long festival this year. The ultimate vision of Craft ACT for Canberra is to see it listed as a UNESCO City of Design and to add another major annual event to Floriade, Enlighten and the Multicultural Festival, filling a gap between them and complementing them all.

Design Canberra: clever and clean – the knowledge economy of the future

Main article, 'Designs on the future

This is part of the article, 'Designs on the future – how Australia's designed city has global plans', about the annual Design Canberra festival and the plans for its future. The ultimate vision of Craft ACT for Canberra is to see it listed as a UNESCO City of Design and to add another major annual event to Floriade, Enlighten and the Multicultural Festival, filling a gap between them and complementing them all.

Increasingly the new industries in the knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape are both clever and clean. They are mainly service industries that make up the knowledge economy, based on intellectual enquiry and research and exhibiting both innovative services or products and also new and innovative ways of doing business.

At their heart are the developing creative industries which are based on the power of creativity and are a critical part of Australia’s future, in most cases centred on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally.

Managing meaning
The creative industries are underpinned by the arts and culture sector and the artists and arts and cultural organisations, mainly small, that make it up and create the content which feeds into and inspires other sectors.

Design Canberra: culture in the backyard – the thread of design connects arts, culture and creative industries

Main article, 'Designs on the future

This is part of the article, 'Designs on the future – how Australia's designed city has global plans', about the annual Design Canberra festival and the plans for its future. The ultimate vision of Craft ACT for Canberra is to see it listed as a UNESCO City of Design and to add another major annual event to Floriade, Enlighten and the Multicultural Festival, filling a gap between them and complementing them all.

When I worked in Canberra on national arts and culture programs and policy for over 13 years I had little to do with Canberra itself. My focus was firmly everywhere else in Australia, rather than my own backyard. 

The OZeCulture conference, the national series of conferences for artists and cultural organisations using the web, was the reason I first moved to Canberra in late 2000. I had come from the Powerhouse Museum to join the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts to organise the first of the OZeCulture series and I was closely involved with all the subsequent conferences.

Culture in the backyard
Since leaving the Australian Government Ministry for the Arts in 2014, and moving into a new stage of my career in the arts and cultural sector, I have found myself much more engaged with local arts and culture in Canberra. 

As part of this I have become involved at the heart of developments with Australian design. Since leaving the Australian Government I have been a member of the Board of Craft ACT since late 2014 and, in parallel, an Adjunct with the University of Canberra through the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research in the Faculty of Arts and Design. 

All of these strands come together with my previous involvement in research and policy for creative industries in the vision for the future that is Design Canberra. The promise of Design Canberra was a major reason I was attracted to Craft ACT in the first place.

The thread of design
Looking back, almost 16 years later, it shows how design flows through so much of the arts and culture sector. It is illuminating to see how this thread connects Design Canberra with work I was lucky to be party to over more than a decade, within museums and other cultural institutions, government departments and creative industries.

Main article, 'Designs on the future

See related article:

Designs on the future – how Australia’s designed city has global plans
‘In many ways design is a central part of the vocabulary of our time and integrally related to so many powerful social and economic forces – creative industries, popular culture, the digital transformation of society. Design is often misunderstood or overlooked and it's universal vocabulary and pervasive nature is not widely understood, especially by government. In a rapidly changing world, there is a constant tussle between the local and the national (not to mention the international). This all comes together in the vision for the future that is Design Canberra, a celebration of all things design, with preparations well underway for a month long festival this year. The ultimate vision of Craft ACT for Canberra is to see it listed as a UNESCO City of Design and to add another major annual event to Floriade, Enlighten and the Multicultural Festival, filling a gap between them and complementing them all’, Designs on the future – how Australia’s designed city has global plans.

Design Canberra: a whole world out there – building global connection through the UNESCO Creative Cities Network

Main article, 'Designs on the future

This is part of the article, 'Designs on the future – how Australia's designed city has global plans', about the annual Design Canberra festival and the plans for its future. The ultimate vision of Craft ACT for Canberra is to see it listed as a UNESCO City of Design and to add another major annual event to Floriade, Enlighten and the Multicultural Festival, filling a gap between them and complementing them all.

The UNESCO Creative Cities Network was created in 2004 to promote cooperation between cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development. The 116 cities which currently make up this network work together towards the common objective of placing creativity and cultural industries at the heart of their development plans at the local level and cooperating actively at the international level. The Network covers seven creative fields: Crafts and Folk Arts; Media Arts; Film; Design; Gastronomy; Literature; and Music.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The innovative power of art connects local and global – Craft ACT embracing diversity

As globalism proceeds apace, the counter-balancing world of the local and regional is becoming more important, anchoring us firmly in the places where we reside and create, where culture is made and lived. A set of Canberra exhibitions built around innovation and celebrating the achievements of craft and design connects local creativity and cultural life with the larger international significance of the themes and artists involved.

Like many other Australians who live in smaller towns rather than in our biggest cities, I like to celebrate the power of local culture. The fact that my local town is Canberra merely makes the link between local, regional and national more challenging, complex and perplexing – not to mention fun. Canberra was built as the result of a momentary nation-building frenzy and the power of that vision has never really abated. Still at heart it’s also a bit of a country town, with all that entails.


The result of a cross-disciplinary research project to develop and test a lego-like assembly educational toy to assist Japanese language learning for Australian children. The rectangular pieces are imprinted with images, Japanese words and phonics and click and connect together using colours to help match up the right pieces. The result is a correct construction of a Japanese sentence. Credits: Dr Yuko Kinoshita, Associate Professor
Carlos Montaña-Hoyos and Sam Tomkins. Prototype, 3D print, paper print. 2016. Image credit: Sam Tomkins. 

Dense and diverse works in a small space
A small cluster of exhibitions currently at the Craft ACT Gallery in Civic, Canberra's main city centre, offers a pleasurable and thoughtful mix of viewing. Like most of Craft ACT’s exhibitions, much gets crammed into a relatively small space.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The big picture and the long view – creating a cultural future

The never-ending election campaign that became the never-ending election tally has turned into the unpredictable second term government. What does this new world of fragmented politics mean for Australian arts and culture and the organisations, artists and communities which live it and advance it? There are a series of major factors which are hammering arts and culture organisations. These intersect and mutually reinforce one another to produce a cumulative and compounding long term disastrous impact. All this is happening in a context where there is no strategic cultural policy or overview guiding the Government. It is critical for the future that the arts and culture sector think broadly about arts and culture, build wide-ranging alliances and partnerships, never forget its underlying values and draw on its inherent creativity to help create a society based firmly on arts and culture.

On the eve of Britain's entry into the First World War, British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey remarked, ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time’. They could as well have been uttered about World War 2, as fascism transformed Europe. In our times, as the world heads further and further towards the dead end offered by neo-liberalism and the racism and intolerance unleashed in the reaction against it, those words keep echoing in my head. As the whole world makes big choices, let’s hope we can avoid the slippery slope to a place we won’t like and certainly won't recognise – though our parents and grandparents might.

Arts and culture deals with fundamental values for our society and through its economic impact helps put food on the plate - it even designs the plate. The big picture and long view is crucial for its future.

The never-ending election campaign
The never-ending election campaign that became the never-ending election tally has turned into the unpredictable second term government – for some reason the word 'unrepeatable' springs to mind. If this is a mandate for much at all I’d hate to see what being told to piss off looks like.

Friday, July 8, 2016

The grand design of things – the lost unrealised potential of the Powerhouse Museum

With its extensive collection of design of all kinds, from engineering to fashion to ceramics and jewellery, and with its links to industry, I always had high hopes for the Powerhouse Museum – but it was not to be. Unfortunately the Powerhouse always had a slightly fragmented nature. Was it about social history, design, science and technology or the crossover of all of them? All too often and for far too long it was something for everybody – a strength in itself, but also a great weakness, as it meant it fell between too many stools, well-designed as they might be. In many ways design is a central part of the vocabulary of our time and integrally related to so many powerful social and economic forces – creative industries, popular culture, the digital transformation of society. As a result the Powerhouse should have gone much further and achieved much more. That it failed to realise that potential is a measure of the lack of strategic vision, including from successive narrow governments which have never properly grasped the power of culture in shaping society and the need for the long-term substantial commitment to enable it.

A long time ago in a universe far, far away – well at least Sydney in the second half of the 1990s – I worked at the once mighty Powerhouse Museum. I was the Membership Manager there for five years, a period of great gains when the membership doubled. This was after a skyrocketing increase followed by a distressing plummet straight after it opened – luckily before my time. When I started the Museum had been struggling to recover from those sudden subsequent shocks for several years without much success. It was my introduction to the Museum and confirmed my belief always to look for the long-term and be wary of sudden successes and equally sudden failures. I had promised myself I would stay for five years – what I thought was an inordinate length of time in a job at that stage in my life – and double the membership. Then, having well and truly achieved that goal, as the events of the Sydney Olympics wound down, some in the same precinct as the Museum, I made my own long jump and headed to Canberra for a marathon in the public service.

'Looking down on birds' - view from the Members Lounge down over a Catalina Flying Boat.

I'd made my contribution and that could have been that. But I couldn't forget the Powerhouse and I found myself drawn back there often. Since my time there I have been back many times, sometimes to see exhibitions, sometimes for other reasons. The Powerhouse tended to be a centre of attention that hosted events – roundtables about digitisation, workshops about Indigenous languages that brought together cultural institutions and community languages organisations, and forums about the intersection of communities and information technology.

'The Powerhouse tended to be a centre of attention'

Half of Sydney through its doors
When the Powerhouse first opened it had a huge impact. I remember being told that later visitor research showed half the population of Sydney had visited – once. Similarly the massive leap, then fall, in membership reflected this initial enthusiasm coupled with a popular belief that once you had seen the contents of a museum you had seen everything there was to see, forever.