The National Gallery of Australia today launched a 5-year initiative to boost the number of Indigenous Australians in professional roles in the visual arts.

Ron Radford AM, Director of the National Gallery of Australia, said the Wesfarmers Arts Indigenous Fellowship has been established to develop the next generation of Indigenous Australian leaders in the visual arts sector.

While Indigenous Australians play a prominent role in the creation of visual art, they are not similarly represented in the management of visual arts, he said. The program launched today is intended to remedy that situation.

Indigenous visual art plays a defining role in the cultural life of the nation and contributes an estimated $500 million per annum to the Australian economy.

The National Gallery of Australia is thrilled to be launching this national initiative with Wesfarmers Limited. It represents a major commitment to the long-term development, training and mentoring of Indigenous people for senior roles within the visual arts industry, said Ron Radford.

Wesfarmers Limited has contributed $1.2 million over five years to develop the Fellowship program with the National Gallery of Australia. The program will provide a clear pathway for training and professional development of Indigenous Australians in the visual arts.

Wesfarmers is now one of Australia’s largest employers. We believe we have a significant role to play in closing the unacceptable life expectancy and opportunity gap that exists between Indigenous Australians and the wider community, said Richard Goyder, CEO of Wesfarmers Limited.

Indigenous art is one of this country’s most dynamic sectors and increasing the levels of Indigenous leadership in our museums and galleries is a significant challenge we need to meet.

It is a privilege to be able to work together with the National Gallery of Australia on a national venture that brings together what both of our institutions do in support of the arts, with our responsibilities to Indigenous employment and development.

A crucial step in the development of the initiative was to gain industry feedback on the program and its structure. Aden Ridgeway from Cox Inall Ridgeway was commissioned to undertake an Australia-wide consultation with Indigenous and arts communities.

During the course of this project I have had many opportunities to sit down and listen to people working in Indigenous visual arts as practitioners and managers, from the city to remote areas, and from arts centres and galleries to our bigger cultural institutions, Mr Ridgeway said.

The passion and commitment of these people to the visual arts is commendable, and I thank them for the valuable insights they contributed, which informed this report released today.

I would also like to acknowledge the commitment and leadership Wesfarmers and the National Gallery of Australia have demonstrated in developing this Fellowship program, and I look forward to seeing the bright stars which come through.

The report outlines barriers and issues to participation and makes recommendations on the most appropriate structure for the program.

The result is two parallel programs:

1. The Wesfarmers Arts Indigenous Fellowship: a high-level professional development opportunity for two Indigenous Fellows to work on a project of their choice over a two-year period. The Fellows will work with Gallery staff and be mentored by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art department.

2. The Indigenous Arts Leadership program: an entry-level visual arts leadership program for up to 10 Indigenous Australians, developed and presented in partnership with the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre. This is an annual program based at the National Gallery of Australia incorporating a Certificate 2 in Leadership.

Applications for both programs open today for all Indigenous Australians.

In the coming months, the National Gallery of Australia will open 11 new Indigenous galleries as part of the Stage 1 redevelopment of the building. The Gallery holds the largest collection of Australian Indigenous art in the world and these new purpose-built galleries will provide the most comprehensive display of Indigenous art in Australia.

The Wesfarmers Arts Indigenous Fellows will be able to work on projects connected with the new Indigenous galleries or on the second National Indigenous Art Triennial that opens in April 2011.