GLASS LIVES INTERVIEW:
Canberra Glassworks

Canberra Glassworks CEO, Julie Skate in conversation with North Lands Creative Director Karen Phillips.

network organisation  

1. Please tell us about your organisation and what is your main focus?

As a leading Australian cultural institution and the national centre for glass we recognise the role we have to play for artists, communities living and working in the ACT and visitors to our nation’s capital. We acknowledge the benefits of participation in the arts, the positive impact this has on health and wellbeing, connectivity and inclusiveness and its role as a conduit to freedom of expression and the building of bridges between cultures. But above all our aim is to provide support and encouragement to our makers to assist them to develop sustainable business models to achieve their ambitions as glassmakers, artists and designers because they at the heart of everything we do.

2. Canberra Glassworks was founded in 2007.  How has the organisation and Australian glass changed over that period?

Canberra Glassworks opened in 2007 as a special initiative of artsACT following significant consultation, feasibility and business planning with the ACT arts community to position Canberra as the pre-eminent glass art producer in Australia. It provides industry infrastructure for artists as well as being a significant cultural tourism attraction. Thirteen years later it continues as the only arts institution of its type in Australia dedicated to contemporary glass art making and is one of few such institutions internationally.

The past three years has seen Canberra Glassworks gain recognition in the broader art scene. This has been through working with significant non-glass artists and paring them with highly experienced glass makers. Results have been extraordinary, and while the process has not been without its challenges, all artists involved have been inspired and invigorated in their practice.

Alexandra Chambers at flameworking station

3. How important is it to you to be working internationally and with European artists and curators?

Keeping an international profile is not only important to the organisation but the artists who use our facility, many of whom teach and exhibit overseas. We regularly bring in artists from the US and Europe to deliver masterclasses and provide opportunities such as residencies and fellowships.

4. The contemporary glass world is built on mobility: artists and their projects are not subjected to national borders, they travel and work in different countries, and their works are exhibited globally. How do you think the international glass scene will change after this crisis?

Hopefully, there will still be actual exhibitions, not just virtual one, but perhaps the day of the blockbuster is over. Obviously, the art world has been hit like all businesses worldwide. I would like to think that we are just in a holding pattern, on idle waiting to see what happens next. A solid and informative online presence will be critical during this phase. On broader note, artists have always responded to traumatic events, WW I – dada and surrealism, WW2 – existentialism and gestural abstraction so whatever is coming will be interesting!

5. Do you think projects such as ISGNE make a difference to European and International glass? And if so, why?

For me, the key word in ISGNE is sustainable, both in terms of keeping the craft alive, ensuring that artists have a viable practice and accessibility for those who are not familiar with glass. With the breadth of cohorts involved such a project can create a strategic collaboration of organisations with complementary goals.

6. Would you agree that lockdowns have shown us the wider importance of culture: networks, communities and projects help people survive this hard period? What will the new normal look like for your gallery and studio?

Absolutely, but these collaborations are often project oriented and finite. What we need are long term strategic collaborations that are focused on mutual goals. This, of course, requires a significant investment in resources of time and money. Our new normal is a stronger focus on commissions, a reduced number of exhibitions and an increase in our community engagement programs.

Sand casting process image Mitch Mahoney (BoonWurrung/Barkindji)

Moving the work into the annealer,  Mitch Mahoney (BoonWurrung/Barkindji )

7. In your opinion, what are the positive differences of the glass sector in Australia from Europe? Can we use this to an advantage to foster growth across the international community?

Well, there is a completely different aesthetic! The tyranny of distance works in our favour, through in this ultra-connected world we do have access to the works of so many extraordinary artists. I don’t really see it as an advantage, rather it is a point of difference that can foster growth.

8. How has Covid-19 affected glass makers and artists in Australia?

Pretty much the same way as it has everywhere else. Though in our case we did not close to artists, myself, our tech manager and an admin person were here each day to ensure that the artists could continue to work and earn a living.

9. What’s been keeping Canberra Glassworks busy during lockdown?

Nothing has changed except during the first month when we had to close the Hot Shop, gallery and retail space, otherwise it was business as usual.

10. Where can people find out more information on Canberra Glasswork’s work and opportunities?

Check our website and when we do have opportunities for residencies and fellowships we advertise in relevant websites, newsletters and of course, on our website. We also have catalogues of each exhibition on our website. And of course, the online shop.

Process image, Tony Albert (Girramay/ Yidinji /Kuku-Yalanji )

Process image, Kirstie Rea

A Installation image, Ancestral memory 2, 1019, Maree Clarke (Mutti Mutti, Yorta Yorta, BoonWurrung/Wemba Wemba)

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