There’s the faint scent of natural huon timber as you enter the galleries of Design Tasmania. It’s a subtle, unintended, yet entirely appropriate welcome for visitors to the contemporary exhibition centre in Launceston, which is becoming increasingly popular as a conference and corporate venue hire space.

With five individually configured gallery spaces, Design Tasmania CEO Karina Clarke says the venue can be utilised to host “two to 200” people at events such as corporate or cocktail functions, long table dinners, colloquiums, seminars, music or dance performances, board meetings and community gatherings.

Design Tasmania is beautifully located inside ‘City Park’ in central Launceston. Set amongst historic gardens and old oak trees, it provides a complete escape from the office.  Inside, guests mix and mingle surrounded by the latest exhibition shows.

Clarke says “…because our exhibitions are continually changing, our galleries are suitable for repeat or annual events – there’s always something different to see. Holding an event around an exhibition can also act as a great ice-breaker between guests as they observe and talk about the art, sculpture or designs that they’re viewing.”

Melbourne-born, Clarke has been in the role for almost three years, after a career in Europe, Melbourne and Sydney in furniture and home-wear design.

“There are so many artisans under every little rock in Tasmania. The level of talent is incredibly diverse and sophisticated.”

“In the late 1980s/1990s there was strong investment in design and art in Tasmania and this has attributed to Tasmania having a reputation for having high-end artisans and designers,” she said.

Design Tasmania has a retail space which supports 80 different local designers and artisans, and many of the products can be packaged into personal corporate gift packs.

The recent addition of a large, practical and modern kitchen allows ease of access for external caterers, which can both be recommended and organised by Design Tasmania or hirers can arrange their own.

Outside, cocktail guests can spill into the Claudio Alcorso Courtyard, which provides a private and sheltered entertaining space. For something more casual or intimate, there’s also an outside barbecue – which is a piece of art in itself!

Locals often spend Sunday afternoons at Design Tasmania, enjoying a glass of wine or locally brewed beer at the MOFO Sunday Sessions – a music programme introduced by Mona founder, David Walsh to unearth local talent.

“The venue has great acoustics. It can be incredibly moving to hear a beautiful soloist, orchestra or even a taiko drumming performance in the gallery,” Clarke adds.

“The venue is licensed and we can recommend performing artists to assist conference organisers with entertainment.”

The original building, est. 1896, was once a theatre and in 2001 was extended to incorporate the Gary Cleveland galleries (Cleveland is the founder of the retail design centre). The expansion was also needed as the centre’s Tasmanian Wood Collection, which began more than 20 years ago, had outgrown the space. The Collection today incorporates 72 pieces from Tasmania’s many talented and skilled timber makers.

This connection with makers led Clarke to introduce edu-tourism experiences where guests are taken to the source of the product.

“We’ve taken guests to the middle of the bush to see where the timber is sourced, then they’ve met the maker, so they have a true appreciation of the quality of the product, its origin and design.”

Clarke, who spent 17 years as an academic, offers creative and design thinking training suitable for conferences.

“Businesses are realising that the thinking process is increasingly valuable and skills like agility and creativity are necessary so learning has changed and what used to be offered at conferences in terms of training has also changed.”

Undoubtedly, conference goers will leave Design Tasmania with an unforgettable and intimate experience of everything ‘Tasmania’ – contemporary creativity, rich history, and quality art and design.

Image – Emily Dimozantos, 2018