Art Centres form a crucial part of many Indigenous communities. They provide remote communities with viable economic prospects and opportunities to showcase their unique artistic talents. There are over 90 Art Centres spread all across Australia, they act as social hubs, art schools, cultural strongholds, and as a central place for people to gather and create. They connect artists with galleries, dealers and potential buyers nationally and internationally. They are the lifeblood of these communities.
Ernabella Arts Centre. Image by Alice Brennan, sourced from ABC News.
It was in the early 1970’s that Indigenous Art Centres began to emerge. The introduction of modern artistic techniques began in Papunya settlement. A young school teacher Geoffrey Bardon travelled to the settlement and began to encourage the young children to draw and paint stories of their culture. This soon drew the interest of the elders and Bardon provided them with acrylics to paint with. Although Geoffrey Bardon only stayed for 18 months he made a significant contribution to the people of Papunya and the development of their artistic practice. This was the beginning of the Papunya Tula art movement and many new Indigenous artistic styles that were soon being recognized nationally (Owen, 2020). However the first Art Centre, Ernabella Arts was in fact established in 1948. It is located in Pukatja Community in far north west South Australia residing on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands (APY Lands). Ernabella remains one of the most highly regarded art communities, the artists are best known for their incredible batik textiles (Ernabella Arts, 2020). You can read more about how Ernabella began producing textiles here.
Inside of Ernabella Arts. Image sourced from Ernabella Arts.
Indigenous Art Centres operate as non-for-profit Associations or Corporations. They are genuinely grassroots organisations that are run by a board of directors elected by the members. They are 100% Indigenous owned and are committed to ensuring fair practice and payments for their artists. Art Centres are the primary location for art production and distribution within communities. Mostly they will employ non-Indigenous managers as the centres need a manager with skills and connections to galleries and art dealers, so that income can be brought in for the local artists. The role of the manager is a crucial one and requires a high level of communications skills to navigate the cultural complexities within communities (Flying Fox Fabrics, 2020).
As mentioned earlier Art Centres act as important hubs and meeting places for remote communities. They nurture artists development through training programs. Art centre alliances such as Arnhem, Northern and Kimberley Artists (ANKA), Indigenous Art Centre Alliance (IACA) provide programs and services supporting Art Centres within their regions. These alliances help centres gain recognition and raise their profiles through consultation, advocacy, networking, marketing and promotion. Art centres are an essential form of income for communities. When the art market peaked in 2007, Indigenous art was estimated to generate $400-500 million a year, supporting 110 art centres and approximately 5,000 artists. Additionally art centres provide meaningful employment opportunities for Indigenous women who make up 70 percent of the artists (Jones, 2019). Centres often also provide services that are not directly connected to the arts including assistance with health and medical requirements, aged care services, family business, education, legal, transport and financial management issues. They are a safe and supportive environment for artists and their families.
Erub Arts, CIAF 2019. Image by Kerry Trapnell, sourced from CIAF.
For Art Centres located in Northern Queensland and the Northern Territory the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF) and Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) provide incredible opportunities for Art Centres to showcase their talent and sell their wares. Through these fairs artists can connect with industry buyers, art and art and design lovers. When browsing the stall the distinctive artistic styles of each Art Centre and region become particularly visible, with each region having their own artistic styles and unique colour palettes. Take a look at our “Colours of Country” blog post for more information about how groups of artists develop artistic styles and colour palettes. In recent times many Art Centres have branched into textiles and fashion, such as Hopevale Arts and Cultural Centre. Their beautiful designs created in collaboration with QUT students featured as a part of the 2020 CIAF fashion showcase “Water is Sacred”. You can read more about this incredible piece of fashion and performance arts here.
DAAF 2018. Image by Murray Hilton, sourced from NT News
Art Centres are an integral part of the Indigenous art scene. They link remote communities with the rest of the world and most importantly they ensure Indigenous art is dealt in an ethical way that best benefits the artists. Purchasing artwork directly from Art Centres is the best way to guarantee you are purchasing authentic Indigenous artwork in an ethical way, you can learn more about ethical purchasing here. May these wonderful creative centres continue to grow and thrive, if you are ever taking a remote trip they are all well worth a visit!