Two significant developments have taken place in Darwin which will hopefully begin the process of re-establishing the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (the NATSIAAs) as the pre-eminent art event in Indigenous Australia.

Probably the most important is the freeing of the Museum and Art Gallery of the NT (MAGNT) from the dead hand of departmental bureaucracy through new legislation which establishes it as a statutory authority. The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory Act passed in February and will come into force on July 1st, and should allow MAGNT to attract more philanthropic donations and corporate sponsorship that will further enhance its exhibitions and programs through the acquisition of major art works or scientific material and items of significance to the Territory’s cultural heritage, according to Arts Minister Matt Conlan.

Under the legislation, the MAGNT collection – which is unique in Australia in including not only art works but specimens such as stuffed crocodiles, a whole building full of boats, equipment, data and publications – will continue to be owned by the Territory. But questions are naturally being asked as to whether funding will be restored to allow MAGNT to recruit the staff who’ve been laid off since the current Country Liberal government came to power “ conservators, photographers and curators?

Certainly, there is more money for NATSIAAs. Principal sponsors Telstra haver just upped the prize pool for artists from $60,000 to $75,000 “ which includes a $10,000 bonus for the Big Telstra winner and a new prize for youth. This challenges WA as the richest Indigenous art prizes in the country.

The introduction of the Telstra Youth Award – which will attract a $5,000 prize – marks an exciting new chapter in the NATSIAA story as we welcome the participation of young artists between the ages of 18 and 25, said Brian O’Keefe, NT Manager for Telstra.

This is the first time in the Awards 31 year history we’ve had a specific youth category, Minister Conlan said. The new Award will significantly boost the Awards’ overall entry numbers and provides a fantastic opportunity for young Indigenous artists to pursue a career in the arts. Entrants in this category may choose to use new media or other forms of art “ it’s up to them. We have also extended the entry period from about 3 weeks to more than six weeks to allow artists more time to submit their entries.

But you’d better hurry – entries close on 21 March 2014.