Debates Day 2 - Wednesday 14 February 2007
Parliamentary Record 12
Debates for 10th Assembly 2005 - 2008; 10th Assembly 2005 - 2008; Parliamentary Record; ParliamentNT
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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory
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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory
DEBATES Wednesday 14 February 2007 3878 Art centres are the most successful and long lived Aboriginal economic enterprises. The core work of the Territorys Aboriginal visual arts and craft industry is that performed by the Aboriginal-owned and controlled art centres. The great majority of these centres are located in remote parts of the Territory. To quote from our Senate submission: A central thread of the history of the indigenous visual arts and craft industry is the story of the Aboriginal arts and crafts centres themselves. When a comprehensive narrative of Aboriginal economic enterprise in the Northern Territory is written, these centres will be seen as the earliest and most successful exponents of economic independence. A similarly thorough treatise on Aboriginal cultural history will afford them similar status as custodians of tradition and ongoing cultural development. It has not been an easy history: much of it has been, and continues to be, a hand-to-mouth existence highly dependent on the energies and commitment of the artists and the people they have employed. Indeed, so successful has the art centre model been over the years, and despite the many trials and tribulations they have been through, it has been exported to other states in Australia. This is not something governments can take credit for, but is a tribute to the many dedicated art advisors who have served the centres over many years as well as the strength and commitment shown to the centres by the artists themselves. In the Territory alone, there are now over 35 bush-based art centres and a further dozen or so based in Alice Springs and Darwin. The member for MacDonnell has more than a dozen art centres in her seat alone. It is hard to image how she keeps up with them. This is an important thing to understand about the role of the centres: the commitment of the artists to their centres. That commitment manifests itself in two important ways. First, the commitment of artists to their art centres has been a sustained one. A number of art centres throughout the Territory have been operating successfully for over 30 years, many for over 20 years. This is unprecedented anywhere in the nation for Aboriginal commercial enterprises. In my seat of Arafura, for example, both Tiwi Designs and Maningrida Arts and Culture have been going since the 1970s. Injalak, Munupi and Jilamara got going in the 1980s. They are all businesses with solid artistic, cultural and commercial track records. It is not uncommon, almost routine, for the grandchildren of the founding members of these organisations to be working for their art centres as artists and administrators. In a market economy such as Australia, the idea of the family business has always been lauded. Our art centres must be up there as some of the best examples of family business in the nation. That leads to the second vital aspect of artists support to their art centres. Over the same period, and for lesser periods in many more art centres, artists have contributed many millions of dollars in re-investing their surplus from sales, their profits, into keeping the art centres up and running. Again, if I may quote from our submission to the Senate: The notion that support to the industry is a subsidy and not an investment is erroneous. This is no better summed up than by the actions of Aboriginal artists themselves and the Aboriginal art centres they support. These artists, over many years, have re-invested many more millions than have been received as so-called subsidies. The artists have invested in their future, not subsidised it, and we should all learn from this. This is the key to an understanding of the importance of the historical and contemporary role of art centres and their place in the future. Since the 1960s, there have been attempts to establish economic enterprises in remote Aboriginal towns and communities in the Northern Territory and other parts of the country. There have been any number of reasons advanced as to the failure of the vast majority of these projects and enterprises, but little analysis, if any, of why the art centres over and above any others have survived and, indeed, prospered. At a rough guess, I will advance two reasons. First, as scant as it has been, governments, and other institutions including religious missions, have supported a reasonably consistent flow of capital and recurrent support to art centres that have been able to augment artist-generated profits. One reason that has been advanced for the failure of other Aboriginal enterprises has been the lack of consistent, long-term external support. For a variety of reasons, often intangible, there has been a favourable climate to supporting Aboriginal art enterprises over long periods. These steady investments have been repaid. By and large, the art centres have managed their capital and recurrent support well; far better than the many other failed attempts at creating remote enterprises. Again, by and large, the economic benefit now spread amongst some 5000 artists and crafts people is arguably the most efficient form of investment in income support of any ever advanced in remote Aboriginal communities.
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