What impact will the new code have?

The intensely negotiated draft code for the Aboriginal art market was unveiled yesterday by federal Arts Minister Peter Garrett, a year and a half after a Senate report into unethical practices in the indigenous art trade was handed down.

Coming on the heels of a new national art resale royalty scheme to help Aboriginal artists, Mr Garrett’s code of practice blueprint sets out high-minded precepts for artists, dealers and galleries, and establishes a supervisory committee to oversee the murk of indigenous art’s coalface.

Workshopped and masterminded by experts in codes of conduct from other industries, the document sets out minimum standards for the working conditions of artists, and aims to

ensure fair payment and guaranteed ways for buyers to ensure authenticity.

The draft code’s goal is to “improve the transparency of transactions across the indigenous visual arts sector”, and so increase consumer awareness of the nature of the market, and the relationships between artists and sellers.

The Senate inquiry report strongly recommended the creation of a code. The Cultural Ministers Council meeting held in Alice Springs in October agreed that putting a code in place was essential for the indigenous arts industry, and many in the industry believe the new code should become mandatory.

The draft contains vague passages, certain to be refined by a further nationwide consultation to be carried out by the Australia Council. The most striking are a call for art industry practitioners to seek to identify and adhere to “applicable indigenous cultural practice”, and a requirement for representatives of indigenous artists to provide artists with information about what has happened to their work in the marketplace.

According to insiders, the code is unlikely to affect private dealers, whose activities in Alice Springs and the Kimberley led to reports in The Australian that sparked the Senate inquiry.