10 DESIGN Canberra festival highlights you won’t want to miss

10 DESIGN Canberra festival highlights you won’t want to miss

Design is in the air this November when the capital embraces and celebrates all facets of design at the seventh annual DESIGN Canberra festival.

More than 200 events, exhibitions, talks, tours, activations, collaborations, artist studios and open homes will be showcased at the festival which runs from 9 to 29 November with the topical theme of ‘care’. CEO of Craft ACT and the DESIGN Canberra’s Artistic Director, Rachael Coghlan, provides her picks for your November visit to Canberra, a city of design.

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    Festival Hub

    Some of the greatest design embraces collaboration between creatives. DESIGN Canberra has dedicated its popular CBD programs in the heart of the city to the beautiful collaboration at Monaro Mall by architects Whitehead and Payne (1963) with artist Frank Hinder's Star Ceiling (1963). Hinder's beautiful glass mosaic is visible only to people who take time to look up from their busy lives, to appreciate a remarkable blend of form, tone and colour.

    Throughout each working week, the festival hub will come alive including a pop-up design bar with signature cocktails every Friday evening, yoga and meditation, performances, hands-on workshops, exhibitions and talks.

    Caption: Monaro Mall. Photo: Darren Bradley

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    New artist installations

    The 2020 festival program has more artist commissions than ever before.

    Hannah Quinlivan’s installation Desiderium has multiple layers. From a large-scale, suspended work made of acrylic, steel, LED lights and wire, to drawing directly onto the surrounding glass, and working with acclaimed classical vocalists for a special ticketed performance.

    The DESIGN Canberra graphic interventions invite designers to develop site specific works to transform the ground plane of public spaces and show them in a new light. Artist Hannah Gason has re-imagined the Hinder glass mosaic at Monaro Mall; Chelsea Lemon represents the Namadgi National Park bushfires at Gungahlin Place Park and Kayannie Denigan’s design will transform the Lake Burley Griffin foreshore.

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    Mid-century architecture

    Visitors to Canberra are often surprised to learn that Canberra is a mecca of mid-century design, public art and architecture. If you know where to look (or you can get onto one of DESIGN Canberra’s fabulous tours), Canberra is a goldmine of mid-century gems from iconic buildings such as Roy Ground’s Shine Dome (1959) to experimental co-housing projects such as Wybalena Grove by Michael Dysart (1974), and fantastic public artworks like Ethos by Tom Bass (1961).

    Join a DESIGN Canberra small group tour of iconic mid-century architecture, grab a ticket to hear from architect Michael Dysart, or join the Designed In Italy, Made In Australia exhibition, talk or tour to explore acclaimed architect Harry Seidler’s collaboration with Pier Luigi Nervi, one of Italy's most influential modern architect-engineers.

    Caption: Shine Dome. Photo: Martin Ollman

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    Internationally celebrated glass maker Kirstie Rea is the 2020 DESIGN Canberra Designer in Residence. You can see Kirstie, and her work, throughout the festival.

    Rea’s newest work, With care, uses coloured folded glass blankets ‘as a generic symbol for comfort and care’. It’s the centrepiece of the beautiful c/o Craft ACT: an exhibition of contemporary craft and design featuring the work of 68 artists.

    Kirstie will deliver a talk at Canberra Museum and Gallery, a workshop, a pop-up display at Midnight Hotel and small works. Her iconic glass sheds are available for sale at the Craft ACT shop. Kirstie’s open studio is a must-see: a truly creative environment with one-off collection items and smaller pieces available for sale.

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    Meet the makers

    Many people don’t realise that in this beautiful city of design, acclaimed makers, artists and designers who could live anywhere in the world choose to live, work and make here in Canberra.

    Each November, DESIGN Canberra’s popular Open Studios program gives the public an opportunity to meet the makers and buy direct. It’s such a privilege to visit beautiful artist studios to see these truly creative environments and learn more about the amazing artists who work in our suburbs, and make Canberra such a wonderful place to live.

    With 43 studios sharing the work of 56 artists across all mediums and throughout Canberra, visit the DESIGN Canberra Open Studio program to schedule your personal studio itinerary each weekend.

    Caption: Kirstie Rea open studio. Photo: 5 Foot Photography

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    Making by hand

    Making by hand is deeply satisfying, so sign up for a hands-on workshop.

    Feed your mind and nourish your soul at ceramic workshops: Calm Clay, Ceramic Salon or a join quirky emerging ceramic artist Daniel Leone for an immersive clay workshop in hand-forming techniques.

    Printing makes a star appearance. Join PhotoAccess to create striking cyanotype prints, or discover the world of Risograph printing in fun eco-friendly workshops.

    Textile lovers should join Canberra Spinners and Weavers for a lunchtime weaving workshop – or if flowers make you smile, create a bold floral display with Bold Botanics.

    Or simply sit back, relax and watch others make with their hands when you grab your ticket to the Real to Reel short film festival.

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    DESIGN Canberra exhibitions feature over 100 artists showcasing leading contemporary craft and design from Australia and the world.

    Highlights include: HOME:MADE new furniture, homewares and jewellery by early-career designers and makers from across Australia; c/o Craft ACT current trends in contemporary craft and design.

    Other 2020 exhibition highlights include photographer Davey Barber’s This Is Suburbia exploring what suburbia in Canberra means, and From An Untouched Landscape by multi-disciplinary contemporary visual artist James Tylor that sheds light on the contemporary absence of Aboriginal culture within the Australian landscape.

    The Top 100 entries in DESIGN Canberra’s popular annual photography competition explore details of Canberra's distinctive suburban experience.

    The festival presents more than 50 exhibitions and most are free.

    Caption: Peta Berghofer, Bring a Plate, 2020. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

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    Ideas and inspiration

    Be inspired by DESIGN Canberra. The new series Two Minutes to Midnight invites thought-leaders to debate the spaces and values we need in a post-pandemic world. One of Australia's leading social commentators, Bernard Salt, will deliver a keynote talk about a post-pandemic suburban dream.

    Join DESIGN Canberra’s tours of award-winning contemporary homes. Or hear from the creative team behind For Our Country, the award-winning pavilion commemorating military experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The ARCH-HUB by the Institute of Architects will present inspiring talks, films, models, exhibitions and walking tours.

    BMW Twilight Drives let you test drive BMW models while touring iconic design destinations. The cars feature the winning designs of the DESIGN Canberra/BMW car wrap competition.

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    After a tough 2020, it feels right to do something which celebrates and supports wellbeing and creativity, local and community. It’s time to care.

    Look after yourself at one of DESIGN Canberra’s wellness programs. From yoga and meditation in the city, to twilight social running groups in Canberra’s big and beautiful open spaces, to guided stitch meditation where textiles artist Sharon Peoples promises to ‘weed out the choked inner garden, prepare the soil and plant some new seeds’. Busy hands, she says, helps to clear the mind.

    Support artists and keep Canberra creative! Buy direct from artists at open studios, or bid at the online auction for your opportunity to buy experimental, small scale or one-off pieces from Australian designers.

    Caption: Yoga in Civic Square. Photo: 5 Foot Photography

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    The final festival highlight? Spending time together.

    After spending much of the year trying to stay apart from other people following the bushfires and then pandemic restrictions, it feels wonderful that we can now be together again, in line with social distancing.

    The festival is a welcome opportunity to connect with each other in this city of design. Book early to attend an event (operating under COVID-safe conditions) but also take some time to appreciate the natural and built beauty that is all around us.

    To celebrate Canberra as a global city of design, and to connect with audiences who can’t physically make it to Canberra in November, DESIGN Canberra will launch a new DESIGN, Anytime program of self-guided tours of iconic architecture, online exhibitions and articles.


DESIGN Canberra

DESIGN Canberra celebrates and promotes Canberra as a global city of design every November. From 9-29 November 2020, over 200 events, exhibitions, talks, tours, artist studios and open homes will be showcased as DESIGN Canberra. The festival is for all interests and ages and most events are free. Presented by Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre.