By Melissa Keogh
Art and politics are rarely two sectors that go hand in hand, but creative entrepreneur Elizabeth Donaldson has thrived in both.
The former diplomat is the founder of South Australia’s first creative multifunctional venue, Brick+Mortar Creative, which in its two years has provided a launch pad for many of the state’s most promising artists.
Despite having a 10-year background working with Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra and Japan, and then as a diplomat with Cabinet Office in Adelaide, Elizabeth has always had a creative itch.
“I had always wanted to do something entrepreneurial but it took me a while to find the right project,” she says.
“In the end, I chose to focus on elements that I had consistently been drawn to outside my work life (design, art and interesting spaces) but had never felt qualified to be involved with in a professional sense.”
Elizabeth launched Brick+Mortar in 2015, a multifaceted space in Norwood that provides a retail space for artists including painters, ceramicists, jewellery makers and sewers.
The space also comprises a café, a ‘meet the maker’ space for creatives to interact with clients and private co-working studios for graphic designers, architects and photographers.
Currently Brick+Mortar represents 60 artists (55 of them South Australian).
To date it has hosted 161 workshops involving 68 artists and attracting 3000 participants.
Elizabeth says she was inspired to establish a practice that “improved the odds” for artists and designers by taking care of the common obstacles met when launching a small start-up or retail space.
“I felt many start-up problems could be addressed through a multifunctional space that provided an umbrella of marketing and business support, and managed the risk and overheads of a retail venue,” she says.
“Including a café, co-working space and workshops would draw a customer base and co-locating artists would build a foundation community quickly.”
Elizabeth says Adelaide’s strong creative scene, festival offerings and its small, connected population made it the perfect place to launch the hybrid space.
“Set up costs are lower compared to larger cities,” she says.
“Rent, transport, rates, publicity and parking are all generally lower for locations with equivalent traffic and exposure.”
A number of success stories have been born from Brick+Mortar, including local milliner SyIvy Earl who went on to feature in Vogue Australia and some of the country’s top stores.
Elizabeth is also proud of her ‘developed from scratch’ approach to the self-sustainable and commercially viable creative hub, which receives no government funding.
In her opinion, South Australia’s craft industry is growing in its impact on the economy and its influence on people’s buying habits.
“People are more and more willing to directly support their local economy by buying local,” she says.
“They are increasingly interested in the sustainability aspect of consumption, preferring to buy quality goods that are expertly built to last.”
Despite being surrounded by creative juices everyday, Elizabeth confesses she’s “not remotely talented in actually creating any kind of art”.
However, she hopes it might one day “rub off on me through osmosis!”