Forty three Aboriginal Art Centres, representing more than one thousand Indigenous artists have united to speak out on the devastating effects that art dealing outside the Art Centres has on Aboriginal communities.The Artists and Art Centres are speaking through their peak industry organisations; Desart and Ananguku Arts.John Oster, Executive Director of Desart said while the media coverage has unearthed significant issues concerning artistic, financial and trade practices; only half the story is being told.
We seem to have forgotten about art buyers in this equation. Consumer awareness and informed buying of Aboriginal art is the critical act that can rebalance the exchange between artist and consumer, Oster said. Importantly, the benefits are for the art buyer as much as for the artist. In buying from an Art Centre, consumers are accessing work of the highest integrity and quality, he said. Oster added that Art Centres offer the necessary protection for Aboriginal art purchasers by truly guaranteeing the provenance of all their works of art.
According to the two Aboriginal art organisations, purchasing Aboriginal art and craft sourced from Aboriginal owned and governed Art Centre enterprises is critical to remote area livelihoods and for the continued growth and health of the market.
Contrary to some reports, Oster said Art Centres are owned and managed by the Aboriginal artists. Let me make this very clear. Art Centres are powerful examples of Aboriginal owned enterprises. The artists are in charge of their own destiny, how their art is sold and where and what they paint, he said. Aboriginal owned and governed Art Centres are incorporated under Federal or State legislation and meet the highest standards of transparency and accountability, Oster added. There has been significant coverage regarding the importance of the provenance of artworks in terms of resale value in the secondary market, he said. Oster adds that Art Centres play a powerful role in the art world because many galleries and major national institutions are now only choosing to show Art Centre produced work. Galleries know that Art Centre works represent quality, integrity, authenticity and strong provenance. They also know the works of art that they display and sell to their clients reflect their own business image and ethics, he said. You need to do more than sell a painting to transform poverty, Oster said. Art Centres have worked for three decades and will carry on doing so in remote communities. They continue to show why, artistically and economically, they are so important and bring considerable benefits to an artist, their family and their wider community, he said. Art Centres employ a whitefella manager to help them negotiate the whitefella world. But the business is owned by the artists and it is they who employ the manager. Decisions are made by the artists themselves, he said. In working with artists everyday I have seen firsthand how profound the benefits of an Aboriginal owned and managed business in remote communities actually is, he said.
According to Liz Tregenza, General Manager of Ananguku Arts, The Anangu Pitjantjatjara Lands are home to Australia’s oldest Aboriginal art centre (Ernabella celebrates its 60th birthday this year) and some of the youngest, she said. In communities on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Lands, Art Centres act as functional community centres providing a range of socio-cultural services in addition to fostering artists’ professional development. In this region Art Centres are usually the only source of external income other than government funding. One of the key characteristics of Art Centres is that they work with artists to identify, support and develop young and emerging artists, Tregenza said.
Other important aspects of community-based Art Centres are: Art Centres are accountable. They are based on best practice systems that are stable, transparent and for the benefit of all artists. Art Centres are artist owned and managed. They support all artists “ emerging and well known. The benefit of an Art Centre stays in their community, reinvested in the Art Centres’ ongoing operations. Youth work alongside older artists “ supporting the transmission of culture. A wide range of cultural and social support is offered in communities of severe disadvantage. They offer realistic remote area livelihoods for Aboriginal people.