Despite rumours to the contrary only last month, the South Australian government has shown clear signs that it really intends to go ahead with a project that will take it beyond just art and, unlike its Alice Springs rival, may be structured to satisfy Aboriginal people by actually talking to them before announcing a detailed go-ahead.

Liberal Premier Steven Marshall announced a preference for an Aboriginal art gallery at the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site “ now known as Lot 14 “ over the then-Labor government’s choice of a contemporary art gallery. Marshall opined that the absence of a national Indigenous institution was a significant omission by Australian governments and a fantastic opportunity for South Australia.

But it briefly seemed that Federal funding for a Space Agency on the RAH site had bumped a museum off the plans. Last week, however, Marshall announced a $200,000 scoping study that would inform the visions and key recommendations of the gallery, including its size and connection with Indigenous communities.

The study, to be undertaken by consultancy Price Waterhouse Coopers, will involve the South Australian Museum, the Art Gallery of South Australia, the State Library, Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute and SA’s Aboriginal communities. Marshall said the Government had already begun preliminary discussions with stakeholders, but the scoping study would further refine the size and scope of the proposed $60 million institution “ especially how we as a government can best collaborate with the Indigenous community after the completion of the gallery to ensure its ongoing success, he said.

This gallery will be the first of its kind in Australia and will allow us to properly recognise and celebrate the world’s oldest living culture, which will attract both national and international attention”.

The study is expected to be finalised by the end of July, with the museum’s construction anticipated to begin in 2020-21 and be completed by 2022. Once completed, the SA Government anticipates the gallery would provide employment opportunities for Aboriginal people and would partner with other research and arts institutions to become a teaching hub for Aboriginal culture, language and history.

A $2 million international design competition for a major contemporary art gallery on the site concluded in June 2018. The winner was the American architects, Diller Scofidio & Renfro working with Aussies Woods Bagot, and their proposal featured a dramatic super lobby, floating sky galleries, a suspended rooftop garden and a performance lab. But was this putting the chicken before the egg, now that we have an Indigenous institution rather than a contemporary art gallery?

There have been some indications that the winning design will be incorporated in some way into the design of the Aboriginal art gallery. Last year the local InDaily reported the premier indicating that it might be useful in informing the design of a new institution on North Terrace. And the Art Gallery of South Australia’s deputy director Lisa Slade suggested she was optimistic about the prospects for the old RAH site. It’s not our understanding that the winning design will be discarded, she said.

The masterplan for the site is being produced by Woods Bagot (who might want to find a place for their winning gallery design), Oculus, Right Angle Studio and Macro Plan Dimasi.

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