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Loving, not leaving: DESIGN Canberra Festival showcases young local designers

HerCanberra Team

There is perhaps nowhere in Australia as full of unrealised potential as Canberra.

Where other cities are overburdened with competition and expectation, Canberra’s only major barrier to successful artistic enterprise lies in individuals’ willingness to seize opportunities.

From Wednesday 19 to Sunday 23 November, the inaugural DESIGN Canberra festival will throw into relief a litany of young local designers bringing Canberra’s spectrum of opportunity to fruition.

Nellie Peoples, a University of Canberra and Australian National University graduate with a small business in gold and silversmithing, is one such designer.

“At the moment Canberra is experiencing a design-led revitalisation, and it is so great to be part of that,” says Nellie, who is co-designing serving ware with Sam Tomkins as part of the DESIGN Canberra’s launch event: ‘Fusion: the art of eating.

Re formed series by Nellie Peoples.jpg

Nellie Peoples, Re Formed Series. Photo: Nellie Peoples

“Because Canberra is a city on the smaller scale, it has a huge amount of opportunities through grants, awards, exhibitions, as well as studio spaces. There is also a thriving community of artists and designers.”

As Nellie highlights, being able to establish and develop a practice is fundamental in creating work worthy of national recognition.

“[Canberra] allows for emerging artists to get a good start,” says Nellie, “which can be then taken into bigger cities to push further and get more exposure.”

Tim Wallace, a graduate of the ANU’s Furniture Workshop and member of self-started design collective MADE3, is one of a clutch of young designers balancing a burgeoning practice with a push for greater recognition.

Remade Stool by Tim Wallace.jpg

Tim Wallace, Remade Stool. Photo: courtesy of the artist

“As a collective, we see a bright future for MADE3 in Canberra,” says Tim. “Canberra’s design scene is very insular, and that’s both its greatest strength and weakness. That community is very supportive of emerging designers, and we’ve been the beneficiaries of that support through Craft ACT and their pod space.

“But crucially, we’re striving to not be limited by that. And so in August of this year we organised an exhibition of Canberra-based designer/makers at He Made She Made in Sydney.

“The success of that exhibition demonstrated that there’s an ever-increasing passion for Australian design and craft in this country. And enormous potential for Canberra-based designers to connect with people across the country.”

Tim and MADE3 will present a curated showcase of contemporary hand tools and implements in their DESIGN Canberra exhibition, Utilitaire: a Survey of Tools and their Meaning.

Says Tim, “It’s the capacity of design to excite users and viewers, be purposeful; and most importantly, I think, inform a greater awareness about the benefits of good design.

“Design that’s both economically and environmentally sustainable, that’s honest and unambiguous, and that challenges complacency and the status quo: that has been the purpose of MADE3 now for nearly a year and a half and will continue with Utilitaire.”

This sentiment is mirrored clearly in the work of Steve Wright, Producer of FASHFEST. “As open as [Canberra] is, there can be some very closed-minded people who use, ‘Well, this is Canberra,’ as an excuse to be lazy or to not take risks,” he says.

“I want to leave Canberra a more enlightened place than I found it, and I want to build a sustainable fashion industry in this city that proudly flexes its muscle on an international stage.

“We have mountains of potential here in Canberra that needs to be focused and directed toward something positive.”

Designer Corr Blimey Photo Fashfest.jpg

Designer: Corr Blimey. Photo: courtesy of Fashfest

Steve, who also teaches at Canberra Institute of Technology and who co-founded fashion design label Corr Blimey with his partner Louisa de Smet, will be helping coordinate a pop-up ‘design hub’ for the duration of the festival, with open studios, designer floor talks and master classes open (and free) to all.

Inherent in his approach to working in Canberra, says Wright, is a dedication to nation-besting work.

“The thread that runs through my teaching, designing and production practice is that Canberra has such a stigma of mediocrity and association with politics nationally that we all have to be at the absolute top of our game.

“It isn’t enough to be an okay designer or to put on a pretty good event. All creatives in Canberra need to be hungry, open and, frankly, the best!

“Canberra is awash with promise, provided you are strong enough and determined enough to make it happen for yourself,” he says. “We aren’t held down by traditions or outdated industry so, if you want to make something happen, this is the place for you.”

Tempering Steve’s competitive aspirations is a streak of unparalleled faith in Canberra. “I love the smart and decisive vibe of Canberra and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

As links are forged between Canberra’s artistic generosity and freedoms and these young, local designers’ place on the national stage, DESIGN Canberra’s significance as a premier design showcase will no doubt be solidified.

With a program of over 60 events created by over 300 participants, the inaugural DESIGN Canberra festival is set to validate, fortify and enhance the future of Canberra design.

Ashley Thomson is a guest writer of HerCanberra. 

The essentials

What: DESIGN Canberra Festival

When: Official launch Wednesday 19; exhibition runs from Thursday 20 to Sunday 23 November

Where: A variety of locations around Canberra. Check the program for more details.

How much: Dependent on the event, activity or exhibition



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