“It seems everyone is going crazy” Karen grins as we step through the elevator doors at the Academy of Design (AOD). People rush around laughing and talking, walking through the wrong doors, doubling back and displaying signs of hype-infection in general. Everyone from the cleaning lady to herself, Principal Karen MacLeod is knee-deep in preparations for the third consecutive leg of the Sri Lanka Design Festival.
Small rectangular glasses with thick black rims accent Karen’s face, framed with brown plaited hair held together by a funky bright-blue hair-tie. Although she’s Principal, she’s keenly aware of everything going on at the school and is highly involved. She even knows most of the students by name, probably how she keeps track of all that’s going on. “I arrived here last September in the middle of design festival preparations and was a bit “wow!”” she laughs, “and I’ve found the only thing to do is just try and not go crazy!”
Up on the third floor, students in the fashion department are busy working on pieces they will submit for review and approval for the festival runway. The hangers along the walls of the workspace are neatly arranged with pieces already finished, but the tables are piled high with tonnes of colourful material of various textures and uses and students sit and stand around stitching, pinning, chatting laughing and some quite worried. Dilki, 2nd year fashion student has just been “blasted” and is painstakingly attaching hundreds of satin flowers to a bridal dress she has already finished. It’s the third day she’s doing this with the help of her friends, but she’s patient, because AOD requires “very very high quality” as Karen puts it. None of this is easy.
Anuradha and Lonali, who are part of a team of five students who’ve volunteered to work with local artisans on handloom craft projects, know this all too well. They’ve been spending 14-hour work-days in Gampaha working with nearly 70 artisans, coordinating teams as they take fresh takes in terms of colour and quality on the familiar local art. Some of the exhibits this work will produce include household items made from recycled thread and even denim-inspired handloom sarees! “Craft is no more about little old ladies sitting home and doing things because they have nothing better to do” Karen says, explaining how they’re aiming to contemporize national arts to give it a foothold and future in bigger markets.
And it’s not just handloom, they’ve got artisans from each and every province on the design festival agenda this year! They’ve also got elite international designers, advertising gurus, photographers and opinion leaders lined up to take part at the gala exhibitions and workshops that will take place at AOD and Mt. Lavinia Hotel. “We’re bringing everyone together on this to envision what Sri Lankan design can and will be in the next few years” Karen enthuses. It’s tonnes of work and everyone is so completely absorbed in it, gearing to give guests a blast of an experience, probably better than we’ve seen in the last two years..
“Who?” one girl questions when I ask her which floor the lobby is on – there is obviously only one thing on her mind. That same thing should most definitely be in your agenda for next week – especially since entrance is free!