Design Canberra, the city’s fastest growing festival, launched this week and it’s all about ‘Transformation’, on multiple levels. Transforming how we look at ordinary objects. Transforming how we understand our city. Transforming buildings, artworks, places and people.
Spooling out from the festival hub in Civic Square, the festival runs until 20 November and includes more than 200 exhibitions, symposiums, and interactive events from open studios to the inaugural Robert Foster F!NK national metal prize.
Opening the festival this week, arts minister Tara Cheyne said the festival “shines a unique light on the ACT through this theme of transformation that’s absolutely fitting, especially after a period in which we were all transformed.”
Minister Cheyne urged all Canberrans to consider how design changes the city, particularly in light of the Government’s intention to become Australia’s arts capital.
“The festival absolutely advances that conversation for us as a whole. I think it does an incredible job of focusing people’s attention on one thing that is achieved in so many different ways,” she said. “There is something for everyone and it’s no surprise that before the pandemic it was attracting around 100,000 visitors and more sponsors than ever.”
Architect and writer Elizabeth Farrelly, who will give the keynote address at a seminar on ‘Transforming Canberra’ on Saturday, says this is one of the world’s few deliberately designed cities. Along with Brasilia and Washington, it therefore plays a special role in understanding how cities work, how they transform themselves and the role of good design at every level of the city’s life.
“The Griffin plan was sweet and soft and almost villagey but before it had a chance to be an embryo, it was blown apart by traffic engineer thinking of the mid-century,” she said, describing much post-war planning as carried out by “blokes back from the war whose mindset was modernist, speed focussed and predicated on control and efficiency”.
It was a classic case of progress getting in the way of good design: Parkes Way, for example, blocks the city from the water. Large roads were designed to funnel workers out of the city and back to the suburbs efficiently, but in Farrelly’s opinion probably added to congestion by making it necessary to drive everywhere.
“I think the city’s current job is to climb back from that and work towards reinstating something of the original softness and civic-mindedness,” she said.
She likes the changes in recent years as village precincts have grown up around the Kingston Foreshore and Braddon, creating finely grained streets where walking lifestyles are possible. And although she finds the light rail somewhat curious with its single route, Farrelly said the design and implementation was “cleaner and more dignified” than similar projects in Sydney and elsewhere.
A huge diversity of events will celebrate design in Canberra across the next three weeks. Acclaimed embroideress Sharon Peoples will run a workshop on stitching and meditation. Alternatively you could learn spoon carving, zine making or how to weave a bush animal. There are architecture tours and a public art trail to follow.
Much loved local artists including printmaker Annie Trevillian, ceramicist Bev Hogg, painter Julie Bradley, fashion designers Alice van Meurs and Karen Lee and jeweller Phoebe Porter will open their studios. Blanche Tilden’s 25-year survey, Ripple Effect, opens at CMAG and artist Sonia van de Haar’s installation joins Civic Square to Lyric Lane with colour and geometry.
Across the city there will be food, music, light and laughter. After all the darkness of the past few years, it’s a design-led transformation.
You can find out more about Design Canberra here.
Elizabeth Farrelly will be the keynote speaker at a symposium on transforming Canberra with Jonathon Efkarpidis from the Molonglo group, the City Renewal Authority’s Malcolm Snow, Virginia Rigney from Canberra Museum and Gallery and Salon Canberra’s Catherine Carter on Saturday. More information can be found here.