From Craftsouth to Guildhouse

Brigid Noone

One of South Australia’s key arts organisations, ‘Craftsouth: Centre for Contemporary Craft and Design’ has rebranded its name and identity to ‘Guildhouse’. This exciting development presents a chance to take stock and reflect on the history of an incredible and resilient organisation that was founded as the Crafts Association of South Australia in 1966. The launching of Guildhouse introduces a new name and identity, and provides an opportunity to talk about the services and support that Guildhouse offers a diverse range of arts practitioners within its membership. The repositioning that comes with the new naming of such a crucial South Australian organisation causes me to reflect upon the history of such organisations, and consider what relevance Guildhouse has for the current arts climate and cultural landscape in South Australia, and more broadly Australia.

I am now personally well and truly out of the emerging category, but I have noticed significant changes in the sector since graduating. My own practice has kept expanding to include an independent painting/visual arts practice, curating, project facilitation, teaching and working within the artist run sector: I think this is common for many artists and arts practitioners. At the time when I studied visual arts in the early 90’s it was a very different climate and economic state of affairs. It could be perceived that students and artists had more space and time to investigate and explore art making, compared to the current artist lifestyle. It is a challenging time for those who have chosen the artist vocation, and the current contemporary art environment requires a great deal from us to stay creatively connected, relevant, inspired and able to deal with the practical challenges of surviving and maintaining a professional practice.

This new era has also brought with it the expectation to be a multi-faceted businessperson who can effectively engage with the diverse range of associated professional practitioners working within the arts. It’s a very savvy and competitive time. Artists are expected to write, promote, seek and manage funding, administer and co-ordinate projects. To be so aware of the timeline and projection for your own career, presents ever-changing elements to operating as an arts practitioner. As emerging practices become increasingly professional, so does the pressing need to practice safely and legally; I am sure that the days of carefree, organic underground art happenings may be numbered! The philosophies of grass roots led practice is strong, but must be now backed up by affordable insurance and good advice. Here in South Australia we have Guildhouse to thank for making such crucial requirements affordable and accessible.

While it is a competitive and informed time, interestingly, it is also a time when independent practice is blossoming, and new networks are flourishing. In the last five years Adelaide’s independent arts and entertainment community has seen a burst of ARIs (artist run initiatives), galleries, member based studios, collectives, ephemeral public art projects, independent festivals, forums, creative small business, performance venues and project based events, all making a noticeable impact on the cultural landscape. It could be observed that more of the younger artistic demographic is staying in Adelaide to make things happen, where before we saw talent shift interstate or abroad in greater numbers. This phenomenon could be due to a number of factors; one is that the challenging economy has influenced an increase in independent activity, and secondly, emerging artists are looking to the collective and the strengthening support of working in small communities. The pooling of resources is vital in the current sector.

By building a connected community of members and nurturing a collective of creative practitioners since the 60’s, Guildhouse has established a powerful network, which continues to maintain a multi layered support structure through its range of face-to-face, personable services. This is a valuable human element that seems to get gobbled up in the big service world out there; there aren’t many organisations that know their members by name, as Guildhouse do. This personable history and sheer ability to still exist is evidence of Guildhouse’s ability to evolve with the changing tide. Within the span of this growth is the diversity of its trusting membership.

Due to the consumer saturated world that surrounds us, a well known motive that often accompanies the buzz of rebranding is the strategy to polish up an out of date model to reignite the ‘buyer’. This is not the case with Guildhouse. In the face of so many changes within the arts, its focus is still on the advocacy of its members, perhaps now more than ever. As the range of professional practitioners that Guildhouse supports broadens, so does the breadth of services and programs offered to its members. 

An exciting addition is the announcement of ‘The Collections Project’, a new collaboration between Guildhouse, the Art Gallery of South Australia and the South Australian Museum. This project follows the successful Inside SAM’s Place program, which involved artists working inside the South Australian Museum. Given access to the scientific, research and display methods within the collection, participants were invited to develop new bodies of work using visual arts, craft or design processes that actively shift the status of the museum artifact into new exciting realms.

I spoke to Guildhouse member Sera Waters, who is a previous Inside SAM’s Place recipient, about her project in 2011. She said, ‘Inside SAM’s Place was a very valuable opportunity for me to have permission to get behind the scenes in the ornithology department and spend time examining their very extensive collection. The material I gathered (stories, photos, experiences) continue to inform my practice now.’ I know Sera is among many who will apply for this new collaborative project, as it stands out as one that provides artists the opportunity to work with the collections of two of our major cultural institutions to develop new work for exhibition. In the last few years, this open door attitude between organisations, independent and established, is forging new relationships that not only extended professional opportunities for Adelaide arts practitioners but also enriching the conversation and depth of our cultural landscape.

Brigid Noone is the Director of Fontanelle Gallery and Studios