For over 15 years, Lisa Havilah has been one of the most forward-thinking names in the Australian arts. After beginning her career at the Casula Powerhouse and then Campbelltown Arts Centre, in 2011 she stepped up for the role of director at Carriageworks. It became an eight-year tenure she used to transform the venue into one of the most-visited arts precincts in the country.
Today, Havilah serves as the chief executive of the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. This spring and summer the Powerhouse will unveil the first annual program under her direction – a series of five major exhibitions that spans photography, ceramics, design and more. Among them is Glitterarti, a collection of more than 300 photographs from renowned fashion and social pages photographer Robert Rosen, and Eucalyptusdom, which presents more than 400 objects that examine Australia’s political and cultural relationship to the gumtree.
Havilah’s path into the arts began at home with her mum, who was a ceramicist. Here, she tells us about the item of her mother’s she still cherishes, as well as the story of two other important personal belongings – both of them artistic mementos.
What I’d save from my house in a fire
We’ve got a whole lot of art and letters at home and it’s very difficult to think about what I would save. But I have a watercolour picture of a horse that I had while I was growing up that really stands out to me.
I grew up on a farm in Berry. We always had horses around but I had one particular horse that was “mine” for most of my youth. And when I turned 30, my family commissioned a painting of that horse by Noel McKenna, who is a Sydney-based artist that I really love, to give to me. It’s quite special.
My most useful object
A cup I have. My mum was a ceramicist and she made domestic items like cups, plates and saucers. I have many pieces of hers but I have one that I use all the time, which is a very beautiful, celadon-glazed cup. It’s useful in terms of it has daily use – I drink tea and water out of it – but it’s also calming and it connects me with her.
I have quite a lot of my mum’s ceramics. Because she was a production potter, she made thousands of objects in her lifetime. [My family and I] also find different things of hers at secondhand stores – full sets of canisters and stuff that she’s made – so we’re trying to actively collect them as well.
Growing up with her as an artist and as a maker is definitely one of the reasons why I’m in the arts. She introduced me to making, and having a life that is creative. So she has been a huge inspiration.
The item I most regret losing
My husband is [also] a ceramicist. I can’t get away from the clay!
But about six months ago he took a silversmithing course where he learned how to work with metal and make jewellery. And he made this very simple singular silver ring – as soon as I saw it I thought, “I’m going to wear that.” Then a couple of weeks ago, I lost it. I have no idea where it is. I realised that I had been touching it all the time, but now it’s not there. I’m just touching my finger where the ring used to be.
I really regret losing it, because he only made that one piece of jewellery. He hasn’t noticed I’m not wearing it yet – he’s not going to be very happy when he finds out I’ve lost it! It was quite big, so he’s obviously not spending much time looking at my hands.