Architecture Design Fashion

British Council

Show menu Follow us on Instagram

Design Connections: Meet Courtney Johnston

Courtney Johnston Billie Brooke

Billie Brooke

Courtney Johnston
The Dowse Art Museum Mark Tantrum

Mark Tantrum

The Dowse Art Museum
Opening of ‘Legacy: The Art of Rangi Hetet and Erenora Puketapu-Hetet’ Mark Tantrum

Mark Tantrum

Opening of ‘Legacy: The Art of Rangi Hetet and Erenora Puketapu-Hetet’
Installation view of Erica van Zon’s ‘Coffee Perhaps’, 2016 John Lake

John Lake

Installation view of Erica van Zon’s ‘Coffee Perhaps’, 2016
Installation view, ‘Wunderrūma: New New Zealand Jewellery’ John Lake

John Lake

Installation view, ‘Wunderrūma: New New Zealand Jewellery’
Installation view, ‘Emma Fitts: From Pressure to Vibration—The Event of a Thread’ John Lake

John Lake

Installation view, ‘Emma Fitts: From Pressure to Vibration—The Event of a Thread’
Installation view, ‘Richard Stratton: Living History’ John Lake

John Lake

Installation view, ‘Richard Stratton: Living History’

13 September 2017
by Courtney Johnston

Courtney Johnston is one of the 18 international delegates joining us in London this month for this year's Design Connections programme. Find out more about her and her thoughts on design in New Zealand.


Please tell us about yourself, your work or organisation

I’ve been the director of The Dowse Art Museum for nearly 5 years now. Founded in 1971, we’re a public art gallery in Lower Hutt, New Zealand – about 15 minutes’ drive from Wellington, our capital city. The Dowse is unusual for having had since its founding an equal focus on both ‘craft’ and ‘fine art’ in collecting, exhibitions and curatorial research.

What are you working on at the moment?

As the director of the museum, ‘what I’m working on at the moment’ stretches from budgeting to public art policy. Unusually for me, I’m working on a big curatorial project – a survey exhibition & accompanying publication on the work of New Zealand photographer Gavin Hipkins. Another area of focus right now is planning for research that will underpin new interpretation and renewed relationships around Nuku Tewhatewha, a historic Māori pātaka (storehouse) which is the chief taonga (treasure) under The Dowse’s guardianship and the only item on permanent display in our museum (which is otherwise devoted to temporary exhibitions).

What are the hot topics in design in your country at the moment? What are the challenges that design or designers are facing in your country at the moment?

I think there’s a nuanced, and growing, conversation around how an indigenous, Māori, design tradition might be framed, and how that could play out in the contemporary landscape; and also a similar conversation about ‘Pacific’ design, and refuting dichotomies between ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’, ‘art’ and ‘craft’. This interview and linked articles by Lana Lopesi gives an introduction to these ideas. 

Tell us about a designer to watch from your country at the moment and why we should know about their work?

He’s not a new voice on the international scene, but I’m consistently impressed and intrigued by the work of type designer Kris Sowersby of Klim Type Design. A beta version of a new Klim type face is being used in the Gavin Hipkins book we’re producing, designed by Philip Kelly Studio. Sowersby’s design notes on his type faces are my favourite local design writing. 

What excites you about UK design? What are you looking forward to seeing at the London Design Festival?

I’ve never actually been to London before, so I’m entering this with wide-open eyes and a solid pair of walking shoes. As well as the Design Connections programme – which I expect to be intense and productive – I’m looking forward in particular to getting to grips with the display and interpretation of contemporary jewellery and ceramics in London galleries and museums; these are particular areas of strength and focus at The Dowse and this is an invaluable opportunity to study how some of the best institutions in the world work with these art forms. 


Each year during London Design Festival (LDF) we invite key design industry figures from around the world to join us for our Design Connections programme. The delegation will take a unique curated tour of the festival, meeting leading UK designers, curators, design organisations as well as discovering new work and gaining new relationships. Find out more about Design Connections here.