Transcript of a radio interview 13 – 19 February 2012 (Newslines Radio)

PRESENTER: Hi, I’m Nathan Ramsay and you’re listening to Newslines Radio, a weekly program produced by the Australian Government on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues.

Today we’re taking a look at Indigenous art centres and the role they play in many communities.

More than a hundred communities around Australia, many of them in remote locations, have community art centres.

These centres are meeting places and community hubs of employment, culture and learning and they foster creative and social spirit.

ANDERSON: Well art centre is Aboriginal home. We feel that it belongs to Aboriginal people. They know that’s the place you can go to. It’s like a second home.

PRESENTER: That’s Sharon Anderson from the Warlpiri community of Lajamanu in the Northern Territory. She works at their art centre, Warnayaka Arts.

The art centres are business centres for the creation and sale of the artworks, providing safe and comfortable places for artists to work in, and giving artists and buyers guidance and support.

In fact Franchesca Cubillo, senior curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art at the National Gallery of Australia, says that art centres are crucial players in keeping the Indigenous arts industry strong.

She opened the 2011 Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, an event that brought together art centres, artists and buyers from around the country, with a powerful speech.

CUBILLO: What has sustained this amazing culture is the artists, the ancestors, the dreaming, and the stories that they have depicted. These collections are rich resources. Not of a culture that has died, but as a culture that lives and survives in the very hearts and spirits of Indigenous peoples of this nation.

The artwork is so dynamic, it’s so rich, and it’s so prolific. Those stories are still strong. Those ancestors are still teaching. Those leaders are still guiding.

And all of the wonderful art centres are the facilities that have made this appreciation possible. They are the intermediaries. They are the ones who say to the art sector, Stand back a bit. Let our people do what they need to do. They are the ones who say, No, you should be paying more for that, because that’s a good painting, and that’s a strong dreaming. They are the ones who help the artists fill out those government forms. They are the ones who provide that safe place to create and do what they do best, and that is: teach their art and culture to the wider world.

PRESENTER: Warnayaka Arts in Lajamanu, almost 600 kilometres south-west of Katherine in the Northern Territory, is a great example of how important an art centre can be to a community.

Warnayaka’s Sharon Anderson, whose mother and daughter paint at the centre, told Newslines, Danika Nayna the centre is a place where important culture is taught and learnt.

ANDERSON: It’s been going on for quite a while now, for seven, eight years. We just reopened it recently. We wanted old people to paint again because it’s really important to keep our culture alive.

NAYNA: The ladies that are here today are all elders in your community. Do you have a lot of young people at the art centre too?

ANDERSON: Yeah we have a lot of young artists in the art centre. They come in and paint whenever they like.

NAYNA: You don’t have to be an established artist to go to your art centre.

ANDERSON: That art centre, it’s for anyone, you know.

NAYNA: What’s the best thing about having an art centre in your community?

ANDERSON: Best thing is that old ladies get together and they do paintings and they’re really strong in a way to keep that culture going.

PRESENTER: While the remote art centres have made a big impact nationally and internationally, urban and regional art centres are just as influential in their communities.

On Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, for example, artists are celebrating the first year of operation of their newly formed Aboriginal arts organisation “ Baluk Arts.

The centre and its artists have been making a name for themselves with unique collaborative street art projects which mix urban style with traditional stencilling in ochres.

Nola Lauch is an artist there. She says Baluk has allowed urban artists to work together and to reconnect with their culture.

LAUCH: We’ve not long got our art centre, so for all of us that are a part of Baluk Art it’s like a blessing in disguise. We now have somewhere where we can all sort-of meet together and do our artwork and sell our artwork there from our shopfront, which is really, really good.

A lot of the people down here, we’re every day learning about our culture ourselves. And what we learn we give out. And being together, you get other ideas off each other and how each other feel and what we’ve all been through and what we’ve lost along the way. And what we can gain from being a group and feeling whole again is really important.

It gives us a chance to show ourselves. We come from down on the Mornington Peninsula. We don’t live out in the bush or anything like that now.

Having an art centre for all regions in a metropolitan area for everyone to come and enjoy. To me it’s unreal and for all of us, whoever wants to get into the artwork and express ourselves through our art.

It’s a part of a healing process in my situation. My mother was part of Stolen Generation and I lost a lot growing up from not being with her so to me it’s given me light so I can express my feelings and emotions amongst the people that I gather with and especially through my artwork.

PRESENTER: You’re listening to Newslines Radio. Today we’re looking at the important role Indigenous art centres are playing in communities and nationally.

As we’ve heard, the art centres are cultural hubs but they are also creating jobs and making a real economic difference in many communities.

In 2007, for example, the Indigenous visual arts industry was estimated to be worth up to 500 million dollars, and sales from many Indigenous art centres continue to grow today, despite the global economic downturn.

Christopher Durkin has worked in art centres in the Northern Territory for 10 years. He’s now the Resource and Development Officer for the Association of Northern Kimberley and Arnhem Aboriginal Artists, or ANKAAA.

DURKIN: There are a few indicators such as continuity, good governance and clever management, as well as a strong cultural practice within the community that enable certain art centres to ride out downturns in the market.

Indigenous artists, generally, are very happy to cross over those communication lines and share their culture. And it’s a point of pride, and it’s also a point of necessity for remote Indigenous people to be able to express the value that their culture holds within their community.

I would suggest that the art centre is, in most cases, the most important community resource.

We know hospitals and schools are, but we’re talking about something that’s controlled culturally and respects culture first. And I think that that is an extremely valuable resource for remote communities who quite often aren’t given enough control over their own destinies by other community institutions.

PRESENTER: The art centres are also having a big impact on the skilling-up of art centre staff, board members and artists.

Vivian Kerinauia works at the art centre on Bathurst Island called Tiwi Design.

He has been training to better understand the commercial art world so that he can promote the appreciation and sale of Tiwi art around the nation and the world.

KERINAUIA: Since then I’ve been doing a lot of travelling and meeting a lot of people and also interviewing, public speaking as well. It’s really given me confidence in myself. I would like to teach that to more young people coming up who are so shy.

NAYNA: And you just finished a course as well?

KERINAUIA: Yeah, that’s like eight of us from different areas. It’s ANKAAA. It’s called Art Workers Extension Program. The course was about getting more skills for the art industry and for the retailing section, also talking [about] cataloguing, putting the picture, taking photos and putting it in the computer with AMS training, all of that.

Putting it on a certificate if people buy the painting. And copyrights too, we learn about that. Yeah, all the business side of the art world and how people shouldn’t do things, people should.

The art community, it supports us and it supports the community in a big way so it’s really good to get it out there. The art centre there, it’s been open since 1969 and most of them are family, all of them are family, and to see their works that they did and for us to keep it carrying on, it’s a big thing for us.

PRESENTER: Art centres and the people who work in them really are the backbone of the Indigenous art community, aren’t they?

The Australian Government’s Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support program is assisting many of our arts centres, so for more information on it and the other arts and culture programs which are building a stronger arts industry, visit our website

You can follow us on Facebook and Twitter and read our magazine there too.

We’re going to leave you now with a final message to all our Indigenous artists from the national gallery’s Franchesca Cubillo.

I’m Nathan Ramsay. Thanks for listening to Newslines Radio.

CUBILLO: Keep painting those beautiful works. Keep telling all of those stories “ those stories about our history and those stories about our artists, and those stories about political change in our country. Tell all those stories because they’re all good stories and they all need to be heard. So thank you very much.


Artist: Franchesca Cubillo, National Gallery of Australia, Sharon Anderson, Warnayaka Art, Nola Lauch, Baluk Arts, Vivian Kerinauia, Christopher Durkin

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Tags: Baluk Arts , Christopher Durkin , Franchesca Cubillo , national gallery of australia , Nola Lauch , Sharon Anderson , Vivian Kerinauia , Warnayaka Art ,