Lissa and Andrew Barnum are unique, stylish, and full of energy and insights. Passionate advocates for education, art, music and design, they hold a few unexpected surprises too.
Australia may be a long way from the US where Lissa and Andrew Barnum met and lived, and Mexico where Lissa was born, but it has always felt like home to the artistic duo.
In 1981, Andrew brought Lissa to Australia for the first time – a holiday so she could see his homeland. They both fell easily into Sydney’s relaxed eighties’ vibe. Within three days of experiencing the art, culture and the music scene, Lissa was in tears, not knowing how to break the news to her family that she had found her new home and wasn’t going back.
Andrew describes that period as extraordinary times. A time when university was free, politics were more centred, and our living standard was high; when leaders could be trusted, and the wellbeing of the people was more of a priority.
It was also a time when the Australian music and art scenes were in full tilt. INXS, Men at Work, the Oils – Australian music was in demand and had something unique to offer. “We were young, we were busy,” says Andrew reflecting on life and their younger selves. “The Vitabeats happened, we had a hit song in 1985. We were designers, designing for everyone. We’d made the right decision coming back to Australia when we did.”
It was their time all right and their band, the Vitabeats, with its electro-pop, stylised beat, was right on target. Their two hit songs “Boom Box” and “Audrey” were music, style, story and art for the era.
However, art and music weren’t their only loves. A shared passion for education saw the duo connect with the academic worlds of UTS and Billy Blue’s revolutionary college of art, with Andrew taking on the influential head of school role for eight years.
Around that time, Lissa was teaching design thinking, a problem-solving, design-based framework capable of solving some impossible problems in the world such as poverty, homelessness, social housing and the elderly. Her ideas became focused on incorporating business into the design concept, to solve community issues, business issues, and to empower people to pursue the things that matter to them.
An extended trip home to care for her sick elderly parents in 2014, saw Lissa return ready to make some big changes. They sold up their converted church home in Erskineville, and moved to the country. The South Coast called, stemming both from Andrew’s childhood memories holidaying in Ulladulla, and their more recent shared Culburra escapes.
Academic life allows Lissa and Andrew to maintain a dual lifestyle – spending as much time as possible on their small rural property just south of Berry, squeezing a city teaching load into a shortened week. The Good Shed project, their offering to the area, develops over time.
“Art and design help people identify themselves, talk about themselves, expose themselves, talk about the shit, everything – it’s a really good healthy leveller,” says Lisa, explaining The Good Shed, as a platform for their social justice program. “It’s about finding something that you’re passionate about and learning certain steps to help you achieve that. But you have to be committed, you have to want to do it and you have to be passionate about that something you want to try.”
Their home is full of art, colour, and fascinating things arranged in interesting ways. All three in the family are artists, although Lissa, Andrew and daughter Cayenne each has a style unique and distinct from the other. While Andrew is more graphic, and Lissa influenced by the colourful symbolism of Mexican folk art, Cayenne has a more experimental edge.
Yet it all works, sitting side by side, crossing barriers, complementing and contrasting as art and design should. “With three artists in the family, you tend to accumulate art. We all practise art, so it’s everywhere. Andrew’s currently completing his PhD in music, so that’s everywhere now too. We’re always doing music, always doing art, always doing design.”