Extended history

In July 1970, the Canberra Art Club convened a meeting to discuss a proposal to establish a branch of the Craft Association in the ACT and to meet Marea Gazzard who outlined the aims of the federal body and the role of the state branches.  A steering committee was formed, and the first general meeting was held on 30 September 1970, with architect John Scollay elected as president.  The second annual general meeting held in late 1971, confirmed the constitution and registration of the Craft Association of the ACT as a corporate member of the Crafts Council of Australia. 

In 1978 the organisation changed its name to the Crafts Council of the ACT. In 1995 the most recent name change to Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre Inc. With the change of name came a new strategic plan addressing the need to relocate to a more central, accessible and visible location.

John Scollay and other committee members never viewed the Association as a club, operating at a social level – although social events were important fund raising opportunities.  From the beginning they developed a process for assessing members for status as a ‘craftsman’ member.  Four categories of membership were agreed for individuals: craftsman, craft designer, craft maker, and teacher (arts, crafts or related fields of design).  This system remained in place – with some amendments – until 1979 when a review was held and eventually it lapsed in the mid 1980s.  A process of accreditation was reintroduced in 1993.

Other principles established by the first committee included the importance of exhibitions, involvement in education at all levels, and community engagement and these continue today.

The annual exhibition became a regular event, with the first being held at Narek Galleries in Griffith, and subsequent exhibitions held at the Canberra Theatre Gallery.  Once the Association had its own premises and developed a gallery, a strong exhibition program was developed which included work of members, theme exhibitions, historical exhibitions (for example The Crafts of War, with almost all objects coming from the Australian War Memorial) and exchange exhibitions with the Northern Territory.  These provided an important public profile for the crafts in Canberra until the mid 1980s,

In its first year the association started a series of experimental workshops at its meetings, “to get people thinking”.  At a time when there were few formal courses at a tertiary level, raising the standards of work made by members and group members was vital.  In 1974 the committee arranged a ten week design course entitled “Surfaces and Design” primarily for practicing craftsmen, with a second held in 1975.  Members who had attained craftsman status held specialised workshops and ‘craft technique sessions’ to assist other members.  In 1975, a successful workshop was held with Hiroe Swen and, as response was overwhelming, it was repeated.  Slide and film evenings were held to inform and provide inspiration to members.

The Crafts Council of Australia arranged for national tours of leading national and international craftspeople, many visited the ACT giving lecturers and workshops.

Involvement with the formal primary and secondary education systems was very important.  In 1972 a seminar was held on “the teaching of environmental arts in secondary schools” and one aim was to explore the ways in which professional bodies concerned with the arts can assist.  In February 1974 the Teachers Resources Centre – of the (then) new Interim Schools Authority – approached the association to provide teachers, advice and support for teaching a variety of in-service courses. 

The Craftsmen-in-Schools program, started in 1983 ran for four years.  In 1985, for example, seven craftspeople worked in ten schools in weaving, ceramics and papermaking.  An earlier grant enabled two craftspeople to go to Woden School (a school for mildly and moderately mentally and physically disabled students) for ten weeks. 

In 1979, a year after moving to the ACT Craft Centre at Watson, the organisation introduced classes for the community in spinning and weaving and eventually several other craft techniques. 

Many other activities organised by CAACT had an educational element.  Studio tours were first held in 1972 and again in 1974.  A prime “aim is to demonstrate to the people of Canberra not only the craftsman’s work but the craftsman AT work, showing the varied techniques and processes of the crafts; by broadening the knowledge of the public, its appreciation of the crafts becomes possible.” 

The aims of Craft ’85, a two-day craft fair held in Commonwealth Park in November that year, included awareness-raising in the community of craft as a valid, fulltime occupation and to enable the public to see a wide variety of contemporary craft.

The organisation engaged with the community from the beginning.  In April 1974 a community craft day was held in Civic.  The organisation organised the Fly a Flag project for Canberra Week in 1976, and continued to be involved in Canberra Week and then the Canberra Festival for many years.  In 1974, it participated in Sunday in the Park, where for many years crafts activities and markets were regularly held.  

An important early event in which CCACT and the Crafts Council of Australia were involved was Australia ’75, a National Festival of Creative Arts and Sciences, held in Canberra in November 1975.  A national exhibition, Craft ’75, was held in conjunction with this event, showing ceramics, textiles, metalwork and jewellery, as well as some early glasswork, and Aboriginal crafts. A national crafts prize added an item to the collection of the Australian National University; a crafts forum was held; workshops were run with demonstrations and community participation; a craft market was organised; and Peter Travis flew his kites from the lawn of the National Library of Australia.

The projects and activities of the organisation have increased in their sophistication, and arguably have involved professional artists more specifically.  Two projects undertaken in 2006 and 2009 involved members of the Kosciusko Huts Association and the staff of Namadgi National Park.  Memories in Place: art in high country huts, interpreted the role and cultural importance of heritage and the environment, in particular three historic high country huts located in the Namadgi National Park of the ACT. 

In 2009 an artist in residence pilot project provided two residential periods of five weeks each to two artists.  “The manifestations of this residency will emerge within their respective practices initially through a presentation of work immediately following their residencies, shown at the Namadgi National Park Visitors Centre, and in the long term as each artist realises new works that arise out of this experience and which will be shown in new exhibitions in the future.”  A day-long forum was held at the Visitors Centre with approximately 30 stakeholders attending. 

In 1975 the organisation announced that it was negotiating for its own premises.  As there were few exhibition spaces in Canberra apart from the Narek Gallery, it was agreed that an exhibition venue should be an important focus for the organisation.  From past newsletters, false starts for new premises became a feature of searches for an appropriate home.  Premises in Hall were selected in April 1976 and negotiations begun.  The old Horse Era Museum in Watson provided an appropriate space for the new Craft Centre and the organisation moved there in early 1977.

In 1992 a review of planning in north Canberra created a flurry of activity as it was thought the Council, plus tenants Canberra Potters Society and Canberra Gem Society, and the Batik Association may be moved.  In 1993 the retention of the premises for community use was confirmed, and the Management Committee announced its commitment to developing the gallery at Watson.  After three floods in 18 months, the underground drainage was replaced and upgraded by the ACT Government.

In due course, the Committee decided the organisation should have a presence in Civic, and in 1998 the then Chief Minister announced the relocation of Craft ACT to the old Ainslie Public School in Braddon.  In 1999 another announcement advised that the organisation would be relocated to North Building in London Circuit, above Canberra Museum & Gallery creating a “new arts precinct around Civic Square”.  The Watson premises closed on August 20, 2000 and the new premises opened on October 13, the same year.  Crafts for Christmas was to be the first exhibition in the new galleries.  The exhibition program was severely disrupted throughout these periods of indecision.

Craft ACT continues to have a comprehensive exhibition program, showcasing the work of local craftspeople and bringing national and international exhibitions to the Canberra community.

The Craft Association received its first grant in 1973 from the Australia Council.  $2,000 was given to each state towards secretarial and administrative costs.  Margaret Vanduren was appointed the first Executive Secretary in 1974 on a part time basis.  When the organisation moved to Watson, Meredith Hinchliffe became the first full time employee as Executive Secretary.  The position of Executive Director has remained fixed, and other staff numbers have fluctuated, with numerous position titles.  Jane de Stoop, who had been the Project Officer, replaced Meredith in 1986.  She resigned in 1988 and Joy Grove, who had been Executive Officer of the Crafts Council of the Northern Territory, was appointed in July that year.

Jenny Deves was appointed Executive Director in 1994 and in April 2000 she suffered a brain haemorrhage.  Catrina Vignando, who had been appointed Curator in late 1999, became Acting Executive Director and was appointed to the position of Executive Director in April 2001.  She left in 2003 to become the new General Manager of Craft Australia, which had relocated to Canberra. 

Barbara McConchie was appointed to the position and she left in 2009 to take on the role of School Manager at the ANU School of Art and Avi Amesbury was appointed in 2010.

The Presidents have all played an important role in steering the organisation.  Following John Scollay Solvig Baas Becking became President.  Both had played an instrumental role in the formation of the organisation, in the Crafts Council of Australia and Solvig served on the Crafts Board of the Australia Council.  On some occasions it was difficult to find full time craftspeople who were able to give the necessary time to the President’s role and members with other skills were drawn in.  However, professional craftspeople have always given their time and knowledge to ensure a sound base to policies put in place by the organisation.


Executive Director: Avi Amesbury. President: Sharon Peoples

The artistic program of 2012 was planned to coordinate exhibitions with local events and also include collaboration with artists and institutions from around Australia and the world. 

Leading up to the Centenary in 2013, Craft ACT presented Designing a Capital: Crafting a City, an annual program of exhibitions and events that explored the contribution of craft and design to the culture and heritage of the national capital. 

Craft ACT facilitated a collectors program that encouraged national, state and territory collecting institutions and collectors to acquire craft and design.  Independent curator, Mel George invited 26 Australian glass artists to develop a work based on one letter of the alphabet, and the entire exhibition was acquired by the Canberra Museum and Gallery. 

Craft ACT was the only Australian venue for the Spanish Travelling Exhibition Foodjects: Design and the New Cuisine in Spain.  A second international project was with the Tree Museum in Canada.  The project enabled four artists from Canada and two from Australia, Bev Hogg and Trish Roan to travel on a reciprocal exchange program.  The artists experienced the distinct environments of each country and developed a series of work in response.

The organisation was appointed administrator for Centenary of Canberra – a legacy of design project.  Craft ACT managed a competition to design and manufacture the official memorabilia to commemorate the Centenary of Canberra.  The suite of works was launched in 2012 and members Sean Booth, Fiona Hooton, Megan Jackson, Dan Lorrimer and Mitchell Brooks, and Kate Ward forged new partnerships with industry to create their products.

During Floriade, the Capital of Culture bus took visitors on a city-wide tour of Canberra’s arts scene.  Twenty-five galleries, arts associations and arts precincts were shown on an excellent map for visitors designed by member Kate Ward.


Executive Director: Avi Amesbury. President: Sharon Peoples

Craft ACT embraces innovation and research in craft and design.  As Richard Whiteley has said “… creative people are visual and cultural researchers.  Their tools are different, their contextual language is different, and their outcomes are different.  But the principal of new ideas, manifesting in new thinking and objects, is the expression of the same research activity”.

2013 was the celebration of Canberra’s centenary – an important and busy year.  Good design, higher artists’ profiles, new opportunities between design and manufacture, and increasing revenue to artists were all part of the legacy of the Centenary of Canberra.

Selling Yarns 3: Weaving the nation’s story, the premier national forum for Indigenous textile artists in the country was planned with presenting partner the National Museum of Australia.  It provided an opportunity to promote cultural, technical and intellectual exchange between indigenous and non-indigenous stakeholders, as well as between generations of artists.  The ANU partnered with Craft ACT and presented a conference, market day, workshops, an exhibition and associated events. 

Exhibitions remained central to the identity of the organisation.  The presentation of the exhibition program and public programs was successful in raising awareness of Craft ACT, its members and the sector more broadly, giving it the confidence to deliver the inaugural DESIGN Canberra in 2014.

2013 saw the first international artist in residence : Michael Brennand-Wood, and the first indigenous artist: Ceretha Skinner.  Residencies are important for building significant relationships with national and regional institutions and international audiences. 

The outlet for members’ work, Pod, continued at The Lonsdale Street Traders: many members filled the space, bringing in new and different audiences.

Designing a capital: crafting a nation, was a month-long program of events including a forum, talks, exhibitions, and pop-up events around the city.  Craft ACT partnered with the Molonglo Group and Place Electric Theatre, and received generous support from Bradley Allen Love Lawyers, 2B Advertising and Design, Manteena Pty Ltd and Fender Katsalidis Architects.

Craft ACT won the Creative Partnership Australia SME Award in NSW and ACT.  The award recognises the outstanding relationship between business and the arts across Australia, acknowledging the partnership between Craft ACT and Bradley Allen Love Lawyers.

The organisation developed a partnership with Canberra CBD Limited to undertake the curatorial management of the Centenary Time Capsule and associated exhibition.

International connections were strengthened, and membership retention was 100 per cent. 

Financially, the organisation was successful: there was a 100 per cent increase in money to artists, curators and writers, with  a 316 per cent increase in funds generated by Craft ACT in the past two years.

Four people who have been great supporters of Craft ACT became Patrons: Dr Robert Bell AM, Emeritus Professor David Williams AM, Margaret Williams, and Klaus Moje AO. 


Executive Director: Avi Amesbury.  President: Helen O’Neil.

The organisation was forced to review its plans to incorporate major changes at the Australia Council.  However, it remained focussed on increasing opportunities for artists, developing new audiences and building organisational sustainability.

In March, the Canberra Centenary Column and Time Capsule were launched, and gifted to the people of Canberra.  The artist-in-residence program continued, at Nil Desperandum and a second program, Bogs and Fens was developed.

The inaugural DESIGN Canberra was held for four days in November.  It brought artists, their work and practice to new audiences and created new connections with the design professions, business and government.  There were pop-up exhibitions and installations in shops across the Canberra CBD.  CAPITAL of Culture tours of Canberra were led by knowledgeable designers and architects.  Living artists saw members opening their studios. 

MODERN Market saw boutique, high end craft and design works from 35 stall holders from Canberra and across the nation.  A series of lectures and Fusion: the art of eating, the annual gala fund-raising event, were held during the four days, and Creative Licence, a Craft ACT curated exhibition inviting 15 artists to repurpose the Centenary of Canberra license plates, was mounted.

Flagging our future was another collaborative partnership and repurposing exhibition.   Students from the textile, industrial design and fashion faculties of the ANU, University of Canberra and Canberra Institute of Technology repurposed Centenary of Canberra flags and banners to create new art works and design pieces. The project brought together the three institutions, showcasing the various strengths of students from a range of design disciplines.  The project attracted the Chief Minister’s Prize, awarded to Reuben Bokaba for his design Canberra Autumn Winds.  

The event drew 24,000 visitors to over 100 events in a collaboration between educational and collecting institutions, artists, designers, architects, manufacturing and retail business.  It was an invitation to local, interstate and international attendees to ‘change the way you think’ about Canberra, and about the place of craft and design in everyday life.  DESIGN Canberra 2014 established itself as the most important event in the ACT design calendar and greatly exceeded any expectations of a festival in its inaugural year.

Three artists were hosted in the second artist-in-residence program Bogs and Fens, hosted by the Australian National Botanic Gardens, which offered direct access to scientists, research data, equipment and infrastructure, with field trips to bogs and fens conservation sites in the surrounding national parks and reserves. 

The exhibition - Elements of Place: artists in residence – showed new work in response to the artists’ residencies in the Namadgi National Park in 2013.  Michael Brennand-Wood and Ceretha Skinner presented cultural interpretations between countries and nations, between European and Aboriginal history, between environment, heritage and the arts, and between communities.

CraftACT invited five artists to create works that interpret an aspect of an historical room in the Prime Minister’s suite at Old Parliament House for exhibition in the suite. 


Executive Director: Avi Amesbury until March 2016, Rachel Coghlan from April 2016.  President: Graham Humphries.

Graham Humphries said:  “Avi’s strong vision for Canberra, its craft and design practitioners and the sector more broadly saw Craft ACT emerge as a strong national organisation with a global reputation.  Under her leadership Craft ACT developed from a small organisation into a local flagship with a national and international reach.  Over the past few years with initiatives like DESIGN Canberra, its impact has extended beyond the arts area into creative industries and issues of public space and urban design.  It has become a highly successful arts organisation.  Membership development, supporting early career to established artists, building audiences, and strengthening sustainability have been at the heart of Avi’s focus over the past seven years.”

There was tumultuous change within the broader Australian arts sector, with 25 per cent of funding taken from the Australia Council and placed within the Ministry of the Arts to administer the new Catalyst funding program.  This came at a time when the Australia Council was undertaking a major review of the Australian arts ecology and was in the final stages of inviting arts organisations to apply for six year funding after a lengthy expression of interest process.  Both ceased.  The Australia Council underwent an internal restructure and, with substantially less money available, a four-year funding application process was opened to arts organisations. 

Stepping Up: The Australian Ceramics Triennale, was held in Canberra, incorporating a four day conference with masterclasses and a market day and associated events: exhibitions, schools and public program.  The sell-out conference attracted 400 delegates from across the globe.  It was managed by Craft ACT, in partnership with the ANU, the Canberra Potters Society, Strathnairn Arts and The Australian Ceramics Association.  During the conference Janet DeBoos: A Survey was held at Craft ACT which attracted over 1400 visitors. 

DESIGN Canberra, ran over nine days in November.  The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands supported Ingrid van der Wacht, international project manager for Dutch Design Week and ambassador for Design for Europe to participate in DESIGN Canberra.  Craft ACT facilitated connections between Ingrid and key stakeholders, industry leaders, and craft artists and designers.

The festival brings diverse strands of Canberra’s identity together to enhance the city in an increasingly design-savvy world.  It showcases a strong design network, raising consciousness about the fundamental application of design in all aspects of daily life.

Launched in 2009, the Craft ACT shop was established to support artists in their professional practice and to provide visitors with the opportunity to purchase high quality, locally made objects of craft and design.  The Craft ACT retail outlet was rebranded as AGENCY and relocated to Lonsdale Street, Braddon.  The philosophy behind AGENCY was to sell an experience and a lifestyle.  Everything in the store was for sale – the fittings, the shelving units, the lighting.


CEO and Artistic Director Dr Rachel Coghlan from April 2016.  President: Graham Humphries.

Craft ACT received four-year funding from the Australia Council  and in late 2016 the ACT Government announced that the DESIGN Festival would receive financial support for the next four years, giving certainty to the annual presentation of the Festival.. 

DESIGN Festival in 2016 was the biggest and most ambitious festival to date.  Over a full month, and with more than 170 events, it showcased the best that the ACT has to offer across all design disciplines.  It reached an audience of 69,000 people, partly through a series of off-site exhibitions that extended the reach of Craft ACT and the visibility of work by members into the broader community.  It also provided opportunities for professional development and research. 

An increased commitment was made to forge new and expanded strategic and creative partnerships with businesses and organisations with shared values, to help promote and celebrate excellence and innovation in contemporary craft and  design.  Over 100 sponsors and supporters from the broad Canberra community, including the business, tertiary, cultural and industry sectors partnered with Craft ACT in 2016, and many of these relationships will continue in the years ahead.

We celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre’s annual artist-in-residence program.

The retail outlet returned to Craft ACT to collocate with the gallery, with positive response from customers and members.  The new Craft ACT website and online shop was launched.

Strategic Goals were set for 2017 to 2020:

  1. Artistic excellence: support artists to make excellent work, foster experimentation and grow their profile globally
  2. First peoples: Embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander craft and design practice into Australian arts and culture
  3. Access: Ensure more audiences have access to and engage with Australian craft and design
  4. Sustainability: Increase public and private investment in artists and organisational sustainability

The annual exhibition program remains at the heart of Craft ACT’s core business.  Overall visitation to Craft ACT exhibitions, both on-site and off-site showed a 15 per cent increase on 2015.  Off-site exhibitions held as part of DESIGN Canberra 2016 contributed significantly to the increase in exhibition visitation.  Throughout the year, visitors to Craft ACT experienced the best of contemporary craft and design.  The exhibition program champions local makers and puts their work in conversation with the best national and international practitioners.  

The break-out success of the Festival was the Living Rooms program.  Open homes held each Sunday of the Festival, gave public access to acclaimed architecturally designed houses.  Each home had a pop-up exhibition by a local member artist, designer or collective, curated by an emerging designer.  Several elements of the Festival put designers and artists in touch with the public and other strategic programming partnerships continued to diversify the points of entry to DESIGN Canberra.

The intent of the DESIGN Canberra Festival is as a key opportunity to promote and celebrate Canberra as a global city of design. 

Craft ACT initiated a partnership with Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair and Bula’Bula arts for future exhibition and program collaboration.  The organisation continues to seek new ways to engage new audiences in the appreciation of, and conversation about contemporary craft and design.

Financially, the contributions of engaged and active Craft ACT partners enable the organisation to deliver its program delivery of its strategic goals.  It makes and keeps our work relevant to the needs of the community and places craft and design in the consciousness of a broad cultural and economic conversation.

During this year the craft community around the world mourned the death of Robert Foster and Klaus Moje.  Their legacies will endure.


CEO: Rachel Coghlan.  President Graham Humphries.

Critical engagement, widespread media exposure, high attendances, new audiences, increased revenue for artists, positive reviews and energy surrounding the handmade and the local were successes for Craft ACT to be proud of in 2017. 

Several back-of-house changes were made to help build a sustainable and responsible future for the organisation, introducing staff changes and new equipment.  A Community Manager position was created to assist with increasing members’ benefits and engaging with members, resulting in a record number of members.

DESIGN Canberra, opened by the Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, was highly successful, with over 200 events, audiences reaching 94,455 and the support of over 56 partners and supporters.  The inaugural national design writing conference, “Object Subject”, led by New York Times design critic Alice Rawsthorn was introduced.  It was a critical and commercial success with twice the expected attendees.  Hosted by Jane Caro, it opened with a reception at Vibe Hotel, Canberra Airport, followed by a full day of discussion at the Shine Dome, and then wrapped up with the University of Canberra Research Forum.

The Festival is critical to Craft ACT as it expands the reach and relevance of craft and design practice for members and partners and celebrated Canberra as a global city of design.  A long-term goal for the Festival is for it to support Canberra becoming a UNESCO City of Design

The signature events and exhibitions of the 2017 festival reinforced a benchmark of quality for DESIGN Canberra and embedded partnerships that will serve the festival into the future. DESIGN Canberra saw a new collaboration with Canberra Airport and Lucy Irvine installed her work Surface Strategies in the Airport for the duration of the festival. 

The Living Rooms program was held each Sunday of the Festival, with each home having a pop-up exhibition curated by an emerging designer featuring the work of Craft ACT members.  Open Studios  programs reached new levels of success in 2017, with record attendances.

A program of well-received bus tours was developed including studio, garden and mid-century modern architecture tours.  The Creative Careers event was introduced at Radford College where aspiring  designers listened to the life lessons of seven established design professionals.

The annual exhibition program is core business.  The program is diverse and innovative, supporting experimental and traditional exhibitions as well as hosting regional, national, and international projects.  Group shows represented the best of contemporary craft and design across all mediums.

In History Repeated, with Craft ACT joining forces with the Corning Museum of Glass, New York, inspired by glass history, current makers and its future.  Leading Australian artists were invited to reinterpret and contemporise an object from the Corning Collection, resulting in the sale of Mark Elliot’s work to the Corning Museum.  The international theme continued with Code X: which featured the best work of 40 international bookbinders paired with the best work of Australian bookbinders to demonstrate how traditional craft skills are used to produce vibrant contemporary works.

The 10th anniversary of Craft ACT’s acclaimed artist-in-residence program culminated in an exhibition of new work by artists who have participated in the residency at Gudgenby Ready-Cut Cottage in Namadgi National Park.  Later in the year, the exhibition travelled to the Tidbinbilla Visitor Centre to embed the works close to the environment in which they were conceived and to reach new audiences.

In 2017, membership focused on professional development opportunities for members, resulting in the launch of several new programs, including a hands-on Instagram-focused social media workshop, studio sessions with photographer Brenton McGeachie.  “Ready.Set.Market” supported early career makers and those wanting to develop products.  Rolfe Classic BMW, a DESIGN Canberra platinum sponsor, presented an informative sales masterclass for members at all levels, and staff.

Craft ACT sought Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation across all artistic and public programs, including artistic and public programs and through retail opportunities

Craft ACT has a reputation as a trusted, collaborative and creative partner with sponsors and supporters.  This reputation has been built strategically thoughtfully to deliver mutual benefits through shared networks and resources to expand the organisation’s reach and relevance.

Membership grew by 25 per cent, in part due to the increase in associate membership.  Craft ACT exceeded its target for income growth for artists by 41 percent from 2016 to 2017. 

During the year Jenny Deeves died peacefully.  She was Executive Director of Craft ACT from 1994 to 2000.  She oversaw the relocation of the organisation to its premises in North Building, and brought energy and vision to the organisation, which is still evident.


The four pillars of the Strategic Plan, developed in 2016, shaped the program and enabled the organisation to stay connected to the community it serves.

The theme chosen for the DESIGN Canberra festival was ‘geometry’.  Craft ACT invited Chelsea Lemon, Canberra-based furniture designer and maker to create the look and feel for the Festival.  She was chosen for the quality of her work, the rigour of her practice and the symmetry between her work and the Festival theme. 

The Festival celebrated the work, poetics and personal style and contribution to Canberra of architect Enrico Taglietti.  DESIGN Canberra curated a series of events and exhibitions, and a national symposium  to consolidate research and knowledge and to assess the significance of Taglietti’s work and better understand its value for the future.

The void: reimagining Enrico Taglietti was the signature exhibition of DESIGN Canberra.  A dozen selected artists were invited to respond to, or reimagine , Taglietti’s work to celebrate his work and his legacy and contribute a new perspective on his aesthetics.  Participating artists were selected  for their outstanding practice, association with Taglietti and alignment of design values.  A work by him was also included in the exhibition. 

The keynote address was given by freelance design journalist and independent curator Annalisa Rosso, titled ‘Elsewhere, to find their own voice‘.  This was followed by a conversation between Taglietti and Italian architect Gianmatteo Romegialli.

DESIGN Canberra presented a series of urban renewal forums under the banner of ‘the visible city”, which brought together international, inspirational and sometimes radical perspectives in urban renewal and asked “how can these new perspectives and recent case studies inform Canberra’s ambitious CBD renewal as it transitions form and function”. 

For an international perspective, DESIGN Canberra partnered with Helsinki Design Week to deliver two Design Diplomacy events, one at the New Zealand High Commission, the other at the Embassy of Italy. 

The most ambitious project was the Montreal-based arts collective Daily tous les jours and brought the large-scale interactive outdoor art installation the Museum of Possibilities to Canberra, inviting the Canberra community to share their hopes and dreams.  Inclement weather necessitated an early finish, but a dedicated community of volunteers and supporters assisted to create positive outcomes.

The organisation sought Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in all artistic and public programs, resulting in an increase in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists showing work in the shop and gallery.

A crowdfunding campaign, with Creative Partnerships Australia, was conducted to raise funds to initiate a pilot Contemporary Indigenous Craft + Design Project, partnering with glass artist Jenni Martiniello and the Indigenous Jewellery Project to help create opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and raise the profile of contemporary Indigenous art.  A program of workshops fostering contemporary indigenous jewellery production was supported by the gold and silver workshop facilities at the ANU School of Art and Design and local artists.

More than 50 % of funding for the festival came from sponsors and self-generated revenue.

Our Patron Dr Robert Bell AM died.  Over many years, Robert supported the Crafts Councils in Australia.  He was a member and later president of the (then) Crafts Council of WA and was the President of the Crafts Council of Australia.


CEO:  Dr Rachel Coghlan, President:

Craft ACT is one of the longest continuously running visual arts membership organisations in Australia.  Its vision is to embed contemporary craft, making and design at the centre of everyday life in Australia’s capital.

Craft ACT has three tiers of membership:

  • Accredited Professional Membership (APM). APMs are professional craft practitioners and designers whose outstanding contributions demonstrate a high standard of artistic merit and technical skill and who have local, national and international experience and standing.  Membership is attained by submitting an application for accreditation by a  panel of peers and demonstrating a practice of artistic excellence.
  • Associate Membership of Craft ACT is by application. It is suitable for emerging and established professional craft practitioners and designers who have strong local experience and engagement.
  • General membership of Craft ACT is ideal for practising craft and design practitioners to keep informed and help grow their profession, and for friends and supporters who want to engage with local craft and design communities.

An important dimension of Craft ACT’s artistic program is the respected peer review process in which accredited professional members across crafts mediums assess exhibition and residency applications, ensuring a high-quality exhibition program. 

Through the annual exhibition program Craft ACT supports and showcases artistic excellence.  The program showcases high quality in group and solo shows, illustrating diverse approaches to contemporary craft and design and representing early career and established practitioners.

Research over the Craft ACT 2019 program included the 2019 artists-in-residence Sean Booth, Michelle Hallinan, Rohan Nicol, Sabine Pagan and Megan Watson who collaborated with research partner ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1969 moon landing. 

The primary outreach program of Craft ACT is DESIGN Canberra.  The 2019 theme was “utopia”, a tool to imagine a perfect place, to think about what is important to us and how creativity can help us to achieve it.  Throughout November, 200 plus events, exhibitions, talks, tours, markets, collaborations, artist studios and open homes were showcased as part of the Festival, transforming Canberra into a platform for the best in design.

DESIGN Canberra 2019 saw another record attendance.  Phoebe Porter was a natural choice as the DESIGN Canberra 2019 designer-in-residence.  Her signature artwork “Elements of balance” captured the spirit of the theme, and through the collaboration with festival partner Icelab and graphic designer Mat Colley (Foundry) informed the look and feel of the festival.  The festival focussed on architect John Andrews’ ‘aggressively utopian’ designs, placing him in a unique category of architectural prominence.  Andrews’ bold group of buildings in Canberra – including Cameron Offices and Callam Offices in Belconnen – are key in the context of his internationally renowned practice and were celebrated in a public conversation with Tim Ross, bus tours, exhibitions and a photography competition.

Object Subject, the national design conference, called on the sector to take seriously their social, environmental and ethical responsibilities.  Papers were presented by International and national speakers.

The Dark Crafts Pavilion formed the centrepiece of the festival hub in Civic Square.  The  pavilion explored digital knowledge combined with traditional making practices.

Craft ACT was pleased to share the DESIGN Canberra platform with like-minded organisations and the artists they represent.   Fourteen local arts organisations joined the festival  as supporters, hosting  workshops, exhibitions, talks, tours, and open studios. 

In 2019 Craft ACT, with the assistance of an artsACT Community Outreach grant, partnered with Accessible Arts, the NSW peak arts and disability organisation to develop a Disability Inclusion Action Plan for 2019-2025.  A group of artists with a disability conducted a ‘Walk and Talk’ tour, visiting several venues used for events at the DESIGN Canberra Festival.  Accessible Arts undertook a workshop on access and inclusion with staff and board members, and learnings were rolled out during the induction with volunteers for DESIGN Canberra. 

Craft ACT continued to support Indigenous craft and design across all artistic and public programs, including exhibitions, the artist-in-residence program, DESIGN Canberra and retail opportunities.

The ACT Government extended the annual grant of $100,000 for the Design Festival for another two years, leading to increased optimism, expanded capacity and a field of new partnerships.  Sponsorships and self-generated revenue represent around 60 per cent of the festival budget. 

The longstanding collaboration with the ACT Parks and Conservation Service on the artist-in-residence program continued, which in 2019 aligned with its research partner, the ANU Research School of Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Expanded support from the international community in 2019 included the Embassy of Italy in Australia, which has supported Craft ACT in many ways over the past few years.  Other support came from the Goethe Institut; the Delegation of the European Union to Australia; and the team at the Canberra Airport Group.  Together they supported a visit of the acclaimed installations of Berlin-based design team Plastique Fantastique soon after their successful appearance at the Venice Biennale.

The organisation is committed to supporting artists to make a living from their practice.  Total income generated directly by artist and designers as a result of Craft ACT and DESIGN Canberra 2019 was $322,719.

The Canberra Critics Circle recognised three accredited professional members for their outstanding exhibitions.  A Craft ACT exhibition Glass Utopia, curated for DESIGN Canberra, was invited to Milan Design Week.  The National Museum of Australia acquired a collection  of glass slides and cyanotypes from Julie Ryder’s exhibition.


CEO: Dr Rachel Coghlan, President:

This was the year of the coronavirus pandemic, and it changed the ways we do everything.  Nevertheless, the organisation and its members had many successes during the year.

Craft ACT, as a relatively small organisation, used to operating in uncertain environments, was able to capitalise on its strengths.  A detailed business continuity plan help shepherd the organisation through different stages of restrictions and responsible health management.

The commitment and stability of the team was amongst the greatest strength of the organisation.  We built a new website and online shop, growing online sales and helping to meet the demand for quality online content from people in lockdown.  Staff created a campaign promoting ‘hand-made, hand-wrapped, hand delivered’ to generate sales when the gallery and shop were closed. 

Most important was confirmation that the organisation will receive four-year funding (2021-24) from the Australia Council, ensuring a stable financial base for the future.

The organisation surveyed its community asking whether it should go ahead with programs and was unanimously encouraged to proceed.  Virtual tours, hybrid digital/in-person events have been successful and will continue.  The online content will become a valuable resource for the future.  Despite limited numbers due to COVID 19, nearly 40 per cent of audiences attended four or more events with overwhelmingly positive feedback.

The artistic program was reimagined and expanded its reach.  Throughout the year the exhibition program was delivered, both in the gallery and online. 

DESIGN Canberra 2020 was held in a time of social upheaval and was a time for critical reflection.  DESIGN Canberra celebrated the architecture of Michael Dysart and collaborated with Tim Ross to produce a short documentary film especially for the project.  Following the film’s premier, Michael Dysart delivered a presentation of his cooperative approaches to medium-density housing development.

The festival was well received by audiences, designers, media and stakeholders.  Communication channels, both traditional and digital, developed over many years, proved to be invaluable tools.  A new DESIGN, Anytime program of self-guided tours, online exhibitions, and articles was launched. 

Throughout November more than 200 events, exhibitions, talks, tours, collaborations, and artists’ studios showcased the best in design.

The first week of DESIGN Canberra coincided with the first week of NAIDOC week, whose theme was ‘Always Was, Always Will Be’ to recognise that First Nations people have occupied and cared for this continent for over 65,500 years.  ‘Care’ was the 2020 DESIGN Canberra festival theme, creating a close fit.  A record number of Indigenous artists participated in the 2020 DESIGN Canberra Festival. 

DESIGN Canberra’s international debut, the Italian tour of Glass utopia, premiered at Venice Glass Week, September 2020.  The original plan to premier at Milan Design Week was stopped by COVID 19 but will hopefully be presented at the 2021 Milan Design Week.

Internationally renowned glass artist Kirstie Rea was selected as the 2020 DESIGN Festival designer-in-residence.  Her signature artwork With care was a centrepiece of the annual members exhibition as well as featuring throughout the festival’s visual communication.

Open studios were expanded over three weekends and drew record numbers of visitors and generated increased income for participating artists.  In 2020 Craft ACT continued to build on its relationships with the broader creative community, collaborating with more than 40 local arts organisations.

Craft ACT became more sustainable in 2020 by growing and diversifying all sources of revenue enabling the organisation to pay appropriate artists’ fees and salaries and was one of a few galleries to have presented a continuous exhibition throughout 2020 and the large-scale event, DESIGN Canberra.

The artist-in-residence program was delayed.  Thanks to the experience of the two selected artists Jenni Martiniello and Sharon Peoples, and the determined team at ACT Parks, the residency went ahead before the end of the year; they collaborated with research partner, the National Museum of Australia’s National Historical Collection.  The exhibition of work by the 2019 artists was displayed online during lockdown and will be displayed at the Tidbinbilla Visitor Centre later in 2021.

Online and social media took on a new level of importance for promoting Craft ACT and DESIGN Canberra in 2020, to create new ways of engaging with audiences in the digital space, by creating virtual tours of exhibitions, expanding online content and embracing hybrid/online in-person event models.

Craft ACT is generously supported by a community of collaborators, sponsors, donors and more than 400 members.

The ACT Government’s commitment to DESIGN Canberra continued in 2020 and has one year to go.  The City Renewal Authority supported the festival’s CBD program.  Sponsorship and self-generated income accounts for 70 per cent of the festival budget.

©  Meredith Hinchliffe

May 25, 2021

Image: Helen Bodycomb, Transitions (2018). Photo: 5 Foot Photography.