By Belinda Willis
Glass artists from South Australia are gaining increasing global recognition as the state’s unique arts institutions help create opportunities on the world stage.
“When it comes to glass, on an international and national scale SA is renowned,” says Emma Fey from SA’s leading creative organisation Guildhouse.
She cites a group visit this month from Canada’s Corning Museum, revealing that Adelaide was specifically chosen for meetings with key glass practitioners over other cities in Australia.
Emma says that SA has “some really unique specialisations” that are a legacy of its strong teaching institutions created from the 1960s onwards.
She lists the likes of SALA Artist of 2018 Clare Belfrage who “has won a bucket load of prizes” and made several overseas visits representing her work this year among particularly prominent names.
Wakefield Press recently published a monograph Clare Belfrage: Rhythms of necessity exploring the significance of her contribution to contemporary international glass art.
Clare has maintained a distinguished practice for more than 25 years with her highly detailed blown glass making her one of the country’s most renowned designer-makers.
Then there’s the “extraordinarily talented” Nick Mount, whose work is represented in major private and public collections including state galleries and the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.
And Tom Moore, well-known for his maximalist style and is one of Australia’s most respected glass artists.
Emma from Guildhouse believes the rich relationships between institutions like Adelaide’s JamFactory “where Clare still blows hot glass in the studio a couple of times a week” build a strong arts community.
“It’s feedback we often get from larger cities, especially on the east coast of Australia,” she says. “In SA we’re small enough that the ecosystem is dynamic and there’s lots of collaboration.”
The former development manager at the Art Gallery of South Australia took over the reins of Guildhouse about 18 months ago.
Established in 1966, Guildhouse was originally known as the Craft Association of South Australia, and is a member-based organisation promoting and supporting the careers of living SA artists, art students, curators, installers and arts workers.
Emma has overseen the peak body reaching record membership numbers, growing 15% to 830 members during her time in the role.
The organisation also moved to the Lion Arts Centre among other contemporary arts institutions in the West End of the city during December last year with support from Arts SA – which also has led to a “huge increase in the number of people popping in”.
Emma says it’s all about “connecting artists with the outside world and letting the magic happen”.
She refers to the organisation’s Well Made website – created to showcase high quality and bespoke creative work in SA and to give buyers looking for unique work the opportunity to connect directly.
There’s been a particular focus on strengthening the platform with Guildhouse last year winning a Google Adwords grant worth US$120,000 to spend US$10,000 per month on Google Adwords. The move has doubled Well Made website views, reaching up to 300 visitors a day.
It’s also seen an increase in enquiries resulting in commissions from the likes of Twentieth Century Fox to the City of Charles Sturt and The Gallery restaurant and bar on Waymouth Street in Adelaide. Emma says more than 50 artists now use the curated site.
“There are quite a few commissions coming through the website and we really want to grow that,” she says.
“We have a really diverse sector of artists working across all forms of visual arts practice – from the more traditional to new and experimental art.
“Some of the emerging artists are jaw-droppingly amazing. Likewise, we have an enviable cohort of accomplished mid-career and established artists that have chosen SA as their home and place of business – we are incredibly fortunate.”
Emma believes there’s been a gradual change among artists who look toward creating sustainable businesses, with Guildhouse supporting them through their website, workshops and funding opportunities.
“For a number of artists the language around marketing and understanding what they bring to the market place is something new, but it feels like that is changing,” she says.
“Still, the key thing I would say is that when it comes to succeeding, your work has to be excellent – the important thing is to have great work and from there anything is possible.”
Header image is of glass artist Clare Belfrage. Photo by Grant Hocking.
Industry in focus: Craft industries
Throughout the months of November and December, the state’s craft industries will be celebrated as part of I Choose SA.
South Australian craftspeople make up some of our most creative thinkers and makers of sustainable and innovative goods. Read more craft stories here.
Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.