Unveiling the World of Craft and Design: In Conversation with Artisan’s Cassandra Lehman & Mel Simmonds

In the heart of Brisbane’s creative precinct lies this treasure trove of artistic endeavours, a sanctuary for craft and design enthusiasts, and a platform for emerging artisans.

Enjoy the following article, produced from a scintillating interview with Cassandra Lehman, the visionary Co-Director and Creative Director, and Retail Manager Mel Simmonds as they present the captivating tale of Artisan’s evolution and unwavering commitment to crafting a meaningful connection with the world.

Artisan’s Remarkable Journey

Artisan’s history intertwines with Australia’s vibrant tapestry of craft and design. Founded more than 50 years ago by a group of passionate craft makers and practitioners, Artisan stands as Queensland’s flagship institution representing craft and design. Cassandra Lehman, who spearheads the artistic direction, emphasizes their role as part of a broader network, connecting with institutions such as the Australian Design Center, Craft in Victoria, and the JamFactory in Adelaide.

With three galleries, workshops, and a retail space, Artisan is a hub of discovery, a nexus where artistry meets community. The retail space, unique in its approach, isn’t a conventional shop. Instead, it’s a testament to Artisan’s commitment as a not-for-profit organization. The displayed items are offered on consignment, rather than generating the retail standard 100% markup, offering the opportunity to spotlight the community of makers who lend their unique voices to the space. These artists’ biographies are woven into the fabric of Artisan’s ethos, with each piece a testament to the process, the human touch, and the story behind the creation.

Crafting an Artistic Identity

When selecting the artists and works they represent, Cassandra strives to shatter preconceived notions of craft. Artisan looks for pieces that evoke excitement and wonder, challenging visitors to perceive craft in fresh, unexpected ways.

One artist, Hannah Quinlivan, stands out as a weaver who considers herself a performance and drawing artist, bridging the gap between traditional craft and contemporary art. Her work, resembling a dance, marries rhythm and 3D materials in a way that transcends conventional boundaries. Cassandra’s approach is expansive, avoiding restrictive parameters and encouraging artists to explore the craft’s relationship with humanity, its evolution, and its intersection with new technologies.

A Curatorial Quest

Discovering new talents is a passion for Cassandra, and she actively seeks out artists to bring under Artisan’s umbrella. Through a community call-out and continuous scouting, she keeps her finger on the pulse of the craft and design scene. This proactive approach often leads to unconventional partnerships and opportunities for emerging artists to shine.

Mel Simmonds, who manages the retail space, plays a vital role in this process. Artists often approach Cassandra, and she, in turn, introduces them to Mel to evaluate their work and discuss its suitability for the gallery or retail space. Their synergy creates a seamless flow, ensuring visitors experience a harmonious blend of artistry and craftsmanship.

The Artisan Experience: Beyond Art and Retail

Artisan’s move to King Street in Bowen Hills coincided with the area’s transformation into a vibrant creative precinct. Their presence has been instrumental in fostering this transformation, attracting partners and collaborators who share their vision. With its restaurants, activities, bars, and proximity to cultural venues like the Tivoli and the RNA Showgrounds, King Street has become a vital hub for art and design aficionados.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought challenges but also ignited a renewed energy within Artisan. By adapting to the situation and showcasing exhibitions online, they managed to maintain their connection with the community. Their innovative approach, including window exhibitions, kept the art world alive and accessible when it was needed most.

A Gateway to Craftsmanship

Artisan’s impact reaches far beyond their gallery walls. Their commitment to preserving traditional practices is evident in programs like “UFOs” (Unfinished Objects), where they encouraged people to rediscover their crafty side. By facilitating hands-on experiences and sharing knowledge, they ignite a passion for craft, connecting individuals with the art of making.

First Nations practices are also central to Artisan’s ethos. They recognize the importance of Indigenous design and the ancestral connections imbued in every piece. Artisan’s exhibitions showcase the depth and significance of these practices, raising awareness of their cultural and historical importance.

A Quest for Partnerships and Support

To further their mission, Artisan actively seeks partners and sponsors. They offer various partnership opportunities, from supporting individual artists to collaborating on exhibitions and contributing to staff expansion and facility improvements. These partnerships help Artisan continue to nurture talent, foster creativity, and grow their reach.

Artisan’s commitment to sustainability extends to the Art Money finance option, which has made art more accessible and supports the practice of sustainable craftsmanship. They encourage people to invest in timeless pieces that eschew disposability, echoing the enduring nature of the art they represent.

A Journey of Connection and Growth

In our conversation with Cassandra Lehman and Mel Simmonds, we discovered that Artisan is more than just a gallery or a retail space. It’s a sanctuary for artisans, a curator of craft, and a gateway to creativity. Through their dedicated efforts, Artisan fosters connections, nurtures talent, and inspires appreciation for the art of making.

Artisan’s story is one of growth, preservation, and storytelling. It’s a celebration of the act of making, a journey that spans generations and cultures. It’s an invitation to explore the world of craft and design with fresh eyes, to connect with artisans, and to cherish the stories behind every creation.

As they continue to push boundaries, seek partnerships, and champion craftsmanship, Artisan stands as a beacon of creativity in Brisbane’s creative precinct—a place where artistry knows no bounds and the art of making thrives.

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