Craft ACT’s new director has a colourful vision for Canberra

Genevieve Jacobs15 October 2021
Jodie Cunningham

Jodie Cunningham is the new director of Craft ACT. Photo: Supplied.

Jodie Cunningham has always seen herself as something of a flamingo and the handle fits – tall, elegant, colourful and enquiring, the new director of Craft ACT says she is honoured to lead one of Canberra’s longest-running membership organisations.

An artist her entire life, Jodie loves colour, geometry, symbolism and Canberra, where she was born and bred. She’s also a collaborator and innovator, at the helm of the Lime Flamingo artist collective.

Jodie takes over from Rachel Coghlan, who turned the annual Design Canberra event into the ACT’s fastest-growing festival and Jodie’s aim is to help artists thrive and increase the Canberra community’s awareness of the arts.

“That’s what drew me to the role,” she said. “I have lived and breathed Canberra, I love it – I love the connection between nature and design.

Angela Bakker and Sarah Murphy's open studio

Angela Bakker and Sarah Murphy’s open studio from the 2020 Design Canberra festival. Photo: 5 Foot Photography.

“I’m aiming to grow the organisation and to be as inclusive as possible, represent a diversity of mediums and to upskill the arts community in professional development. The Design Canberra festival in particular, has capacity to draw in and engage large audiences, and provides artists with the opportunity to be part of it.”

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Jodie is a painter by training and trade, but has diversified into digital art drenched in rich colour. And you don’t have to be a collector to see her work – anyone who has walked down Woolley St in Dickson in search of a spicy laksa has probably seen her brilliant street art, created in collaboration with Place Laboratory.

That work sprang from her first major piece of public art, an intervention in Civic Square that scaled up her work, showing her that “we could engage audiences, we could dance together.”

Jodie’s own practise was transformed, leading her to public art commissions like Enlighten, and showing her how the world can open up for artists when they are given opportunities for collaboration. Craft ACT played an important role in the process.

Bev Hogg's open studio

Bev Hogg’s open studio at DESIGN Canberra 2020. Photo: 5 Foot Photography.

Jodie has also been committed to nurturing emerging artists. She taught visual art for many years at CIT, often to people using their work to process trauma. The Lime Flamingo collective emerged from students who wanted to continue a mentoring relationship.

“It can often be quite isolated once you’ve graduated. We started networking and mentoring for emerging artists to meet once a month on weekends and it grew from there.

“We now have a yearly exhibition and it’s been completely delightful – a group of amazing dedicated artists who support each other,” Jodie said.

Their next show will be held at M16 Gallery in March 2022.

Jodie loves pink, and the lime nods to her commitment to a sustainable creative life of making, teaching and creating networks so that artists can thrive. She also holds a Masters degree in art therapy and says her work with Craft ACT will be grounded in giving back to artists.

Rachel Coghlan had worked hard on obtaining a City of Design listing for Canberra, now supported by the new ACT arts ambition released by Minister Cheyne. That work will continue and Jodie is keen to grow the Design Canberra festival into a national event, building on a rapidly growing audience that already includes around 15 per cent of interstate visitors.

“Design Canberra is all about discovering our city, connecting and activating new spaces,” Jodie says.

Regrettably, that won’t include a live event this year as Jodie and her team made the decision to cancel this year’s existing program, Transformation, and move to a smaller, largely online event called Nurture.

The existing program will move to 2022 and Jodie said sponsors have been very supportive. She’s aware that screen fatigue is a risk, and says the intention of the Nurture program is to keep audiences engaged with artists and supporting them by buying their work.

The Nurture program will include art workshops and a focus on making for wellbeing and mindfulness including sensory and repetitive activities like stitching, knitting and clay work that have proven benefits for mental health and wellbeing.

“We’ll grow the program and look forward to 2022,” Jodie said.

You can find out more about this year’s Design Canberra events here.

Original Article published by Genevieve Jacobs on The RiotACT.

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