A fragile industry of pure beauty
The Canberra Glassworks is truly a local institution visited by thousands upon thousands of locals and visitors every year. Although with a great reliance on government funding, it is a fragile business of beauty.
We chat to the Glassworks’ very own Marketing Coordinator, Wendy Dawes, to discuss the local arts scene and the business side of Canberra’s beloved Glassworks institution.
Tell me a bit about the Canberra Glassworks and its history?
The Glass Workshop at the Canberra School of Art & Design was a major influence in establishing Canberra’s international reputation as a home of high-quality glass art and artists. The workshop itself was established in 1983 by the internationally acclaimed artist, Klaus Moje AO (1936-2016), and set the standard of quality and diversity which has been the hallmark of all workshop graduates since.
But, while Canberra had developed a strong culture of professional training and skills in this sector, it lacked the infrastructure required to support a thriving glass art industry in the future. As a result, many graduates moved to establish themselves interstate or overseas where they could access specialist facilities and equipment essential for glass making, particularly in large-scale kiln forming and glass blowing.
In response to this, the ACT Government decided to provide capital funding of $11m and recurrent funding of $1.6m over four years to establish the Canberra Glassworks in May 2007 in the historic Kingston Power House.
What are the different functions of the space?
Today we offer access to equipment for all areas of studio glass. The ‘hotshop’ is the glass blowing studio, with four ‘gloryholes’ (reheating furnaces) and a number of annealing kilns.
In the old Engine Room, we have a number of kilns for casting, slumping and fusing glass, as well as an extensive selection of cold working facilities. There is also the flame working studio in the Engine Room (think glass blowing on a smaller scale – using small torches.)
Downstairs is a secondary cold working shop which includes sand casting equipment and the mould room, for glass casting.
We also have a number of studios available to artists to rent – and we’re nearly at capacity at the moment.
How many artists in residence do you have?
We offer a number of different residencies throughout the year, covering a range of areas. We do call-outs for the residents each year and artists are asked to submit their proposals depending on what the residency is offering, as well as their CV and a selection of images of their works.
Currently, we have Zoe Woods, an artist from South Australia, who is in the last week of her residency where she has been investigating biological patterns in conjunction with the optical qualities of glass, using reflection and refraction to, ‘create a sense of wonder’.
How would you describe the art scene in Canberra?
Vibrant, thriving, amazing! I don’t think a lot of people realise the level of talent we have in Canberra in glass! We’re home to critically acclaimed and internationally renowned artists like Tom Rowney and Kirstie Rea, just to name a few, and as well as the draw card of the Glass Workshop at ANU, we are host to many amazing visiting artists.
We’ve also had lots of artists visit, and then decide to stay to develop their practice here, because of the community and the facilities available.
What are some of the major challenges that Canberra Glassworks faces in business?
I guess the biggest challenge for the business is we are a not-for-profit arts organisation and our aim is to provide artists with affordable hiring rates, so we need to subsidise those rates through the funding we receive from both federal and the ACT Government, and a lot of fundraising.
This includes our retail shop, education program, line of production work and the various commissions we receive, as well as with programs like the Winter Glass Market and our Collectors Raffle, and of course, the very generous support of our sponsors and donors.
What does the future look like for the Canberra Glassworks?
Bright! We’re looking forward what the future brings with the Kingston Arts Precinct and can’t wait for some more neighbours like the amazing Megalo Print Studio & Gallery.
This year we’ve begun to really focus on developing strong relationships with our corporate sponsors, to help with projects like better internal interpretive signage, a new website and an online booking system.
We’ve also just found out that we’ve received federal funding to tour the Hindmarsh Prize to Toyama Glass Museum in Japan in 2018, which will be a fantastic way to get international recognition for our artists.