The 2021 Craft and Design Planner

From design festivals to solo exhibitions, we take a look at what the craft and design sector has planned for 2021

2020 was a curious year for the craft and design sector. For many working in production, sales were good as people were shopping online. And yet on the other hand, makers – like the gig economy – were largely impacted by the loopholes in support from JobKeeper.

We were also witness to dramatic cuts to many of the design and craft based coursed offered at University art schools.

But if the roll out of events in 2021 is anything, it demonstrates that the craft and design sector is resilient and charged with marching forward in supporting its own this year.


Much anticipated, the first Indian Ocean Craft Triennial (IOTA 21) is due to take place in Perth and across Western Australia from mid-September to November.  Curiosity and Rituals of the Everyday is the theme, which will be expanded into areas of votive, adornment, utility and shelter. The premise is under-pinned by global issues around sustainability, industrialisation, and transforming technologies.

The team of six founding curators is working in collaboration with over 25 exhibition venue partners, with John Curtin Gallery and Fremantle Arts Centre to stage the central exhibitions, a conference, workshops, artist talks, and masterclasses.

Melbourne Design Week (VIC) will be held 26 March – 5 April. With the theme, Design the world that you want, the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) has asked the sector to respond to how it will design for tomorrow, taking on board the premise that ‘normal is over’. This is the fifth edition.

Taking place in September, Sydney Design Week (NSW) will return in 2021 to explore all areas of design, architecture, web design, motion graphics, fashion design, illustration, game design, interiors, sound design, and landscaping. The program focuses on the Australian Design industry while also reflecting on international design themes within the context of Australia’s place in the Asia Pacific. It is managed by the Powerhouse Museum.

Sydney Craft Week (NSW) will run from 8 – 17 October, with a call for entries opening in late May 2021. This 10-day city wide festival will embrace the theme Craft Values, celebrating the beauty of the hand-made and exploring what we value about craft. It is the fifth edition and is led by the Australian Design Centre (ADC).

DESIGN Canberra (ACT) returns 9 – 29 November with the theme Transformation, and creating momentum to build a more resilient, connected, creative and responsible way of living. Expressions of Interest are open until 8 March. It is managed by Craft ACT.

Can design foster a vibrant, equitable, sustainable and innovative society?

Rachael Coghlan, CEO and Artistic Director Craft ACT.

‘The eighth edition of the DESIGN Canberra festival asks what should we retain and what can we discard to connect more meaningfully as a community, to nurture wellbeing and health, celebrate creativity and reduce our burden on the environment?’ explained Rachael Coghlan, CEO and Artistic Director Craft ACT.

In 2021, Craft ACT will be celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Craft VIC has announced speakers for its Making It Symposium, to be held online 21-24 February. Inspiring keynotes and conversations will take a dive into to the diversity of professional craft practice today.

Blanche Tilden Grand Palais (necklace) 2014. Glass and Silver. Photo Grant Hancock. Courtesy the artist.



One of the more exciting exhibitions in 2021, is Blanche Tilden – ripple effect: a 25 year survey, curated by Jason Smith. The Melbourne-based jeweller and maker has a unique approach to her materials, in particular glass, which she explores both as a material for jewellery making and a metaphor for the connections between making, industry, the wearable object and the body. Showing at Geelong Gallery 8 May – 1 August, it will then tour to Sydney’s USW Galleries 20 August – 20 November.

It is not the only jewellery show that UNSW Galleries (Sydney) will present in 2021. Kyoko Hashimoto: Bioregional Bodies will take a look at the environmentally sustainable practices of Japanese-born Australian designer. Hashimoto forages coal from decommissioned mines and carves it with diamond tools, contextualising this fossil fuel within the typology of contemporary jewellery. (7 May – 31 July).

Across town also in May, the Australian Design Centre (ADC) will present Made/Worn: Australian Contemporary Jewellery (delayed due to Covid-19), including the work of 22 contemporary jewellery artists. (20 May – 7 July).

Another group exhibition – The Body Layer– draws together 13 leading Australian and International makers working in gold and silversmithing, at the Craft ACT in Canberra. The exhibition coincides with the Jewellers and Metalsmiths Group of Australia conference.

It is paired with the exhibition Small Connections, touring from JamFactory Metal Studio in Adelaide, and is centred around the concept of connectivity and communication that jewellery offers the giver, receiver and wearer. (both 27 May – 17 July).

ADC will also present PROFILE 2021: Contemporary Jewellery and Object Award,  8 October – 17 November.

Kirsten Coelho, Ithaca 2020. Porcelain, satin white glaze. Image courtesy the artist, Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane and Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney. Photo: Grant Hancock.


An all-female group of ceramic artists turn to their inspiration in seasonality and weather in the exhibition SEASONS, at fortyfivedownstairs gallery (Melbourne) (2 – 13 February 2021).

Adelaide-based ceramicist Kirsten Coelho follows a successful 2020 as the SALA feature artist, with a new major survey exhibition curated by Jose de Silva for UNSW Galleries, Kirsten Coelho: The Return. It brings together several new and recent works inspired by Grecian and Roman artefacts and architectural remnants.  (7 May – 31 July).

Industrial designer Caren Elliss and Ceramic artist Alison Smiles come together in an exhibition that explores the collaborative nature of making, born from over 25 years that these two makers have shared, and the contrasting positions on design, contemporary art and craft. Ludere (to play) is presented by Craft ACT, 22 July – 11 September.

Alison Smiles, False Idol, Handbuilt earthenware with gold leaf, Jam Factory Exhibition 2017. Photo Michael Haines. Part of Ludere (to play) at Craft ACT.

Natalie Rosin: Endangered + Extinct, will feature architectural ceramic sculptures depicting lost city buildings that have been demolished or are under threat of demolition. At Australian Design Centre, 20 May – 7 July.

The JamFactory program will include Indigenous ceramicist Pepai Jangala Carroll in 2021 as part of the very successful annual JamFactory Icons exhibitions.

Scott Chaseling, Sanctuary, 2020. The Redemption of Colour installation view Canberra Glassworks. Image courtesy the artist.


In a world that is increasingly grey-washed, Scott Chaseling investigates our complex relationship with colour and what colour symbolises today. His exhibition The Redemption of Colour at Canberra Glassworks is his first major solo exhibition with the leading institution, despite his thirty year career. ‘By using transparent coloured glass in geometric formations, he creates pieces that shift, change and evolve only through physically experiencing them in person,’ explains the gallery. (14 January – 11 April).

In another important solo exhibition, Craft ACT turns to the work of Mark Eliott with the exhibition Essence of Cloud. This exhibition will mainly comprise glass objects but also text, mixed media, watercolour sketches, performance, music, scent and animation. (25 March – 22 May). And then later in the year, it will present the work of Peter Minson spanning his 60-year career as a lampworker. (16 September – 30 October).

Peter Minson, Goblets. Photo: courtesy of the artist.

Opening Sabbia Gallery’s 2021 program is the new exhibition Elements, a solo exhibition by Adelaide glass artist Tim Edwards (10 February – 06 March).

Edwards is also part of the group exhibition Fireflow, which will bring together five contemporary artists exploring the possibilities of glass as a versatile medium. Including the works of Alexandra Hirst (SA), Blanche Tilden (VIC), Jasmine Targett (VIC) Holly Grace (VIC) and Tim Edwards (SA), the Craft VIC show has been curated as part of 2021 Melbourne Design Week. (26 March – 5 April).

Tim Edwards, Outline #20 & #21, 2020, Blown glass wheel cut. Photographer: Grant Hancock. Image courtesy the artist and Sabbia Gallery.

2020 Craft ACT artists-in-residence and Indigenous glass artist Jenni Kemarre Martinello joins Sharon Peoples to present a new body of work inspired by their research at the National Museum of Australia (NMA) and their three-week residency period at Namadgi National Park. (25 March – 22 May).

JamFactory in Adelaide has yet to publish its 2021 program, but we know that – in the off year of the biennial FUSE Art Prize – it will present South Australian artist Alex Valero as the inaugural recipient of the FUSE Glass Artist Residency . It aims to create significant opportunities for mid-career artists working in glass in Australia and New Zealand. Valero will be in residence March through August with an exhibition of the outcome at Carrick Hill, due to open an new, purpose-built exhibition space in November 2020.

Alex Valero, recipient of inaugural FUSE Glass Residency. Image supplied.

And returning annually, the acquisitive Tom Malone Prize at the Art Gallery of Western Australia is set to open in March, reflecting on current or leading trends in the Glass Art Movement.

Textiles, Fibre Art & Fashion

Drawn Thread is the first of 5 iterations of The Hand-made Tale; 50 years of craft and design in Queensland, a series of curatorial offerings celebrating artisan’s 50 years’ of operation. The exhibition is a celebration of, and call to arms for the continuation of a feminist textile platform to highlight the struggle of women in the hierarchy of the art and craft world. Showing until 13 February 2021.

Jill Kinnear, Reinforcement, 2020. Photo: the artist. Shown in Drawn Thread at artisan (QLD).

Also presenting a feminist dialogue, and continuing their reputation for fashion blockbusters, Bendigo Art Gallery will present Mary Quant: Fashion Revolutionary in March – a major retrospective on revolutionary international fashion designer Dame Mary Quant. This exhibition comes direct from a sell-out season at London’s revered Victoria & Albert Museum with over 110 garments and accessories. (20 March – 11 July).

In March, ADC will present Signatures: The Mark as the Embodiment of Identity and Intent, the work of 21 fibre and textile artists from Untethered Fibre Artists Inc. (25 March – 15 May)

The 2020 Tamworth Textile Triennial continues to tour nationally in 2021, with Tension(s) visiting:

  • Tweed Regional Gallery & Margaret Olley Art Centre, NSW 5 March – 2 May 2021
  • ArtSpace MacKay, QLD 28 May – 18 July 2021
  • Artisan, QLD 24 July – 5 September 2021
  • Craft ACT : Craft & Design Centre, ACT 18 September  – 31 October 2021
  • Wangaratta Regional Gallery, VIC 20 November 2021 – 13 February 2021
  • Monington Peninsula Regional Gallery, VIC 11 March– 15 May 2022
  • Ararat Gallery TAMA (Textile Art Museum Australia), VIC 21 May – 26 July 2021
  • Wagga Wagga Art Gallery, NSW  5 August – 23 October 2022

Also in Canberra at the Drill Hall Gallery (ANU), curator Tony Oates takes a look at the 30-year career of Nicole Ellis with the exhibition Fabrications. It surveys her rich and complex involvement with collage, assemblage and found materials. (19 February — 11 April).

While Sally Blake: Place Markers at Craft ACT, is a solo exhibition arising from her research on ACT eucalypts as indicators of place, using the bark and leaf dyes with cloth and threads (22 July – 11 September).

And as part of its strategic plan to include Indigenous representation in the major curated exhibitions, JamFactory in Adelaide is planning a major textile design exhibition in 2021.

Decorative arts & Design

Presenting new collaborative work, metalsmiths Alison Jackson and Dan Lorrimer showcase the development and creativity involved in producing small batch edition tableware objects. Making: A Way of Life is presented by Craft ACT, 27 May – 17 July.

The Art Gallery of South Australia, like the NGV, is a strong support of Australian craft and design. This year it takes a look at sea routes and global trading of objects such as Chinese porcelain, vivid Indian textiles, and elegant Japanese lacquer, with the exhibition, A Vast Emporium: Artistic exchange and innovation in a global age. From 1 May.

NGV International, similarly takes a look at Japanese Design with the exhibition, Neolithic to Now. Spanning over four thousand years, it celebrates the wabi-sabi aesthetic of rustic earthenware ceramics, and encompasses Buddhist sculpture, minimalist medieval furniture, refined motifs of porcelain ware, bamboo weaving to create contemporary sculptural forms. Showing until 21 August.

Warwick Wright, Desk 2020. Photo: Courtesy of the Artists. Showing in Australian Design Centre WORKSHOPPED.

In July, Australian Design Centre partners with WORKSHOPPED for the fourth year to present outstanding prototypes from emerging and established designers in furniture, lighting and objects. (15 July – 18 August).

Studio Woodwork is an exhibition featuring Australia’s finest designer-makers and artists working in wood. Presented in partnership with Studio Woodworkers Association (SWA), catch it also at ADC in Sydney, 8 October – 17 November.

Craft ACT: Craft + Design Centre will present the inaugural CO:LAB  in 2021, and is inviting contemporary craft practitioners to apply. The new development program which includes an exhibition, mentoring, sustainability advice, professional photography and an artist fee, encourages cross-disciplinary collaboration, and gain exposure to commercial environments, with two craft practitioners placed to work with an architect and their clients to develop new work for a residential project in Canberra. Submissions close 8 February.

A curated exhibition in November 2021 will be the culmination of a year-long program of professional development and exchange to forge new directions in the creative industries.

Nikolina Brown, Pleasure Flesh, 2019, Showing in Fresh! install shot, 2020. Photography Michael Pham.

Emerging talent

Presented annually since 1993, Fresh! showcases the energy, skill and innovation of some of the best graduating students from craft, design and fine art disciplines throughout the state of Victoria. At Craft VIC,13 February – 20 March.

Similarly, Emerging Contemporaries is the Craft ACT National Award Exhibition for early-career artists, and plays a pivotal role in supporting and transitioning artists into professional practice and placing Australian artists in view of the national cultural collecting institutions, business and industry, and audience. (4 February – 20 March). 


JamFactory is starting to work towards its 50th anniversary in 2023.

While the NGV has announced the second edition of the landmark, city-wide exhibition, Melbourne NOW, which will be centred at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia will be held also in 2023 – marking the ten-year anniversary of the inaugural 2013 exhibition.

The gallery announced in 2020 that it will dedicate an initial $1.5 million commitment to acquire, commission and present new works by local Victorian artists, designers and architects – now underway.

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina