With a Federal election imminent, there was Liberal consensus in Adelaide as the Federal Government announced it would deliver $129 million for a series of projects designed to boost the cultural economy of Adelaide’s world-renowned arts, food and cultural scene.
Through the Adelaide City Deal, the biggest amount of $85 million goes to the new Aboriginal Art and Cultures Gallery at Lot Fourteen ie the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site earmarked by the previous Labor State government for a contemporary art gallery.
Extraordinarily, the SA Premier, Steven Marshall’s office confirmed that consultations with the Feds for their national Aboriginal Art and Cultures Gallery only began on February 6, just over a month before the $85 million in federal funding was delivered.
Also in the Deal were $30 million towards an International Centre for Food, Hospitality and Tourism on the same site; $9 million towards construction of The Heysens at The Cedars, Hahndorf; $3 million to build a new visitor centre at Carrick Hill; and, $2 million towards development of smart technology walking trails at garden and national park tourism sites.
Premier Steven Marshall explained, The new Aboriginal Art and Cultures Gallery at Lot Fourteen will recognise and celebrate the world’s oldest continuing culture, and will be designed as an international attraction to drive year-round cultural tourism to Adelaide. The role of Indigenous groups in the scoping, design, and operation of the Gallery will be deeply embedded, recognising the importance of ongoing Indigenous stewardship in the success of the Gallery.
Coming into government, Marshall committed $60 million in his first budget to the project. More recently he put $200,000 towards a scoping study for the new Indigenous gallery which 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, involves the South Australian Museum, the Art Gallery of South Australia, the State Library, Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute and SA’s Aboriginal communities. Construction was forecast to commence in 2020-2022.
But could he already be running into some of the same problems as the stalled ‘Iconic National Aboriginal Art Gallery’ in Alice Springs? For, according to the Adelaide local InDaily outlet, Kaurna Nation Cultural Heritage chair, Jeffrey Newchurch reckons the State Government has at no stage consulted with Kaurna people about the gallery. He said that while he had met with consultants from Price Waterhouse Cooper two weeks ago to discuss the gallery, the State Government had not approached Kaurna people directly.
It’s quite rude and in contempt how the conversation around this cultural precinct has been advanced, he said. They want to utilise all Aboriginal peoples’ collections in the museum with no engagement, no ownership and certainly no vision about what that looks like into the future. We’re in for a fight from the Kaurna position. And, just as complaints of cherry-picking were made in Alice Springs, Newchurch said the consultation process had been select and limited to only a few representatives from the state’s Aboriginal communities.
He said he was concerned Kaurna artefacts currently owned by the SA Museum, Art Gallery of SA and State Library would be transferred to the new gallery without adequate consultation with his community. They’ve got no right to touch these artefacts, he said.
Newchurch explained that while he was not opposed to the gallery going ahead, he wanted Kaurna people to be granted a position of ownership over the gallery. It’s not that we don’t want the gallery, we just want a position of ownership with some form of management there and making sure we get our people employed there, he said.
Meanwhile, international arts administrator Michael Lynch “ who’s been involved at different stages with both Adelaide and Alice projects – declared he did not think that the two galleries could co-exist. He told the ABC in Darwin, “I doubt that you could replicate them in both the NT and SA and expect them to work in terms of putting together collections, getting audiences, getting philanthropic and government support.” And he added that he thought the decision to award the Adelaide gallery funding was rushed, lacking in consultation, and appeared as if it were intended to swing votes ahead of the upcoming federal election.
“I think this smells a little more like pork-barrelling from the Feds to Adelaide to try and hold the position in SA rather than a comparison of the merits of either of the proposals.
One small positive I’m happy to seize upon is that the name ‘Aboriginal Art & Cultures Gallery’ suggests that the South Australians are looking beyond canvases and carvings to offering an understanding of the deeper ancient culture that underlies the imagery made today. I’ve been craving that for many years.