The findings of a three-month consultation program by the NT Government with the local Alice Springs community have been released with 88 per cent of the Alice Springs community consulted saying they want the project to progress and were either supportive of the Anzac Hill Precinct site or were site-neutral.

Actually, broken down, 63% of the Alice Springs community consulted were supportive of the project and the preferred site, 25% were supportive of the project and site neutral, and 12% were either not supportive of the site or not supportive of the project.

During the engagement period, the total number of people involved face-to-face was 755. This was achieved through 114 public meetings and 11 face-to-face pop-up information stalls.

Initial community feedback on the NT Government’s preferred site “ chosen over the advice of an expert advisory committee to go for a site at the Desert Park outside the CBD – indicated that Alice Springs residents wanted more comprehensive engagement in relation to the project. In response, Government began a targeted three-month community engagement program with the local community.

To ensure engagement was comprehensive and reflective of the whole Alice Springs community, a local engagement team liaised with a range of community stakeholder groups including:
¢ Aboriginal individuals and organisations
¢ Impacted user groups (including rugby codes, users of the site and adjacent facilities)
¢ Arts and cultural organisations and representatives
¢ History and heritage interest groups
¢ Business, especially the Tourism industry
¢ Alice Springs Town Council and technical authorities

However, at the Alice Springs Town Council meeting on Monday 10 September, it may have passed a motion in support of the Gallery, but was faced with its own community survey’s equivocation on the NT Government’s chosen site. In a mostly online survey, 2029 responses were received, rather more than the NTG’s 755 engagements. And of them, 1179 or 58% were opposed to the former Anzac Hill School site. Only 850, or 42% were in favour.

Interestingly, a letter to the Council from Minister Lauren Moss, leading the project, was tabled attempting to raise doubts about the possibility of duplicate online voting in the Council survey, making it difficult for the community to have confidence in the integrity of the survey results. This led the Council officer responsible to assert: Whilst there were duplications, these were easily identified from the back end and were isolated. Therefore, the above figures DO NOT include any duplications. Interestingly, views about the project are so strong that the Council estimated 20% of their survey responses had been duplications!

More than 140 Aboriginal stakeholders – including Aboriginal Elders, Native Title Holders, Traditional Owners, and people from different Aboriginal groups and town camps – were consulted on the National Aboriginal Art Gallery. Key feedback from Aboriginal stakeholders include:
¢ The Art Gallery will be an opportunity for young people to learn more deeply about their art and culture, and the art of other Aboriginal people from around Australia
¢ The Art Gallery will attract more people from around the country to Mparntwe where we can share our art and culture with visitors who can respectfully learn from them
¢ Many Aboriginal Traditional Owners, elders, leaders and people welcome the prospect of more jobs and business opportunities for Arrernte people and other local people in Central Australia through this project.

Generally, the NT Government survey concluded that the Gallery must be an iconic building that draws the world to Alice Springs and reflects both the Central Australian context and the nature of Aboriginal art, culture and knowledge. Also, the Gallery needs to maximise and leverage business opportunity and private sector investment and must be a major factor in CBD revitalisation. Indeed, the Government’s listed priorities are “developing a National Aboriginal Art Gallery that will deliver significant economic, social and cultural benefits to the people of Alice Springs”.

The government team met with more than 40 representatives from the arts sector in Alice Springs who had initial concerns about the project that were alleviated once it was made clear that the purpose of the Art Gallery was to establish Alice Springs as a must-visit destination in the eyes of the art world. On top of the engagement with the local arts community, 30 meetings have taken place with national and state galleries and museums. The meetings were held to discuss and explore a range of partnership options that include artwork loans, development of exhibitions, and sector development which includes building workforce capacity for Indigenous art workers.

It will clearly be necessary to obtain art for a gallery which will not have a collection of its own when it opens.

Meanwhile, the lively Alice Springs News Online asked a consultant – speaking on the condition of not being named – who they said is an arts industry professional, has held a leadership position in developing a national institution and has extensive experience in Aboriginal arts, Why would a leading national or international architecture practice be interested in a designing a landmark building on such an uninteresting and limited site? His answer: A site adjacent to Desert Park could be a spectacular place for a world-class building.