It’s been a trying 3 months for us all “ perhaps none more so than the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, CIAF.

In January we learnt: Following last year’s watershed 10th-anniversary celebration, CIAF will return in July 2020 with a contemporary, First Peoples’ focus that looks to the environment and its preservation.

The 11th annual iteration of CIAF will be held over five days from Wednesday 8 to Sunday 12 July 2020, delivering visitors and community with a multi-dimensional program of mainly free and ticketed events spanning art exhibitions and markets, music, dance, fashion, food, crafts, theatre, workshops and more.

CIAF’s Artistic Director Janina Harding explained that this year’s art fair theme, Climate Change, was poignant from a regional perspective and signifies the valuable role art has in making social change and challenging the political dichotomy. There are a multitude of changes to the environment that we have witnessed on our homelands in Queensland and the Torres Strait that we know are related to climate change.

With global warming being a very real issue to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples we are predicting a strong collective response from artists that will be insightful as our land and waters are key to our very existence, Ms Harding said.

Then, still optimistic, in February we were told: The Board of CIAF has announced the appointment of Mr Darrell Harris to the position of General Manager. Mr Harris, an experienced and respected practitioner committed to lifting the profile of Queensland’s Indigenous arts and culture, will lead CIAF into a new decade when he commences with the organisation this week.

Mr Harris, a Mitakoodi man, has lived in North Queensland all his life and worked in the Arts industry for the past 12 years in roles that included Executive Officer of UMI Arts and, more recently Manager of Yarrabah Arts and Cultural Precinct. His ironic comment on his appointment: Even more importantly, my role will be to ensure we boost visitation to CIAF.

Oh, dear! For, just a month later, CIAF had to admit, under the wonderful heading, CIAF goes digital to proceed as planned, that the Fair was not going to be able to boost visitation to Cairns after all.

It is our intention to present CIAF 2020 through an online platform enabling our communities, friends and supporters to experience the vibrant and unique Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and culture of this region. This could include webinar presentations, online conversations and commentary, Chair of the CIAF Board, Tom Mosby said.

Queensland’s Minister for the Arts, Leeanne Enoch welcomed the move and congratulated CIAF on an imaginative and exciting solution to continue Australia’s premier celebration of First Nations’ art and culture.

CIAF’s Artistic Director, Janina Harding added that CIAF will do all it can to partner with communities, curators and artists while acknowledging the remoteness of many communities and the enforced period of isolation that will be experienced. We will provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities with help, guidance and the means required to offer an intimate digital insight into Country and culture”.

And a final flash of optimism in the powers of the digital world forced upon them: An online presence will make for a much bigger global stage and audience providing long term benefits to Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and the CIAF brand beyond what we are currently experiencing, Ms Harding touted.

Meanwhile, the Telstra NATSIAAs due in Darwin in August has revealed there were 238 entries from every state and territory submitted this year and the calibre of artworks was outstanding which made selection a very difficult task. This is the first NATSIAA for the newly appointed Selection Panel which is made up of three arts professionals with expertise in Indigenous art – Tina Baum from the National Gallery, freelance curator and artist, Glenn Iseger-Pilkington and Luke Scholes, Curator of Aboriginal Art & Material Culture at the Museum & Art Gallery of the NT.

“The dates for this year’s exhibition are from 8 August until 31 January 2021 (an extended showing, reflective of MAGNT’s current financial uncertainty), however, these may be subject to change in response to changing circumstances arising from the COVID-19 pandemic”. But, whether the exhibition takes place in situ or not, The development of COVID-19 has necessitated the cancellation of the Award Ceremony that customarily takes place on the front lawn of MAGNT.

An odd decision.