It’s reported by the ABC that the Injalak Art Centre at Gunbalanya in western Arnhemland has been placed in administration and that its ‘Mentor Manager’, Felicity Wright “ a long-term art centre manager “ has resigned. Only 3 years ago she was reporting a turnover of a million dollars a year at the art centre.

Since then, several large-scale projects have been taken on. In Gunbalanya (also known as Oenpelli) a print workshop and cafe were planned and funds received. The cafe has never eventuated. In Darwin last year, Injalak took over the old Framed Art Gallery on the city’s outskirts to establish Provenance Arts to provide an ethical outlet for Aboriginal community art centre product “ more artefact and printed materials than fine art. Twenty-nine art centres are said to have signed up to supply work. But as they admit on the Provenance website, This project has been undertaken with scant finances, a lot of work and a big mob of faith in the universe. If you’d like to become a co-creator and supporter we need you!!.

Cost over-runs for the restructuring of the gallery didn’t help. And the non-CBD setting probably didn’t assist their business model “ which they describe this way:

Consistent with our guiding principle of ˜sharing and teaching our culture’, the business model is to create an ethical and inclusive space that provides excellent information about Indigenous cultural products and services, including tourism, and also markets and promotes artists and art centres. The model needs to be sustainable so it will generate income for the artists and art centres represented and can also pay operational costs. However, it takes a lot of financial and human resources to set up such a model initially and it requires subsidy in the short term. One challenge is that the tourism component is untried and will initially be offered without charge to customers. The beneficiaries will be tourists, attractions throughout the NT and tourism operators.

In Gunbalanya, the art centre itself was also breaking new ground. In early 2013, according to its website, Injalak trialled a new management structure. The original model, in place for 23 years, had a single director/manager as responsible for management of the art centre. The new model recognised that key Association members were on-site daily and had corporate memory, experience and a deep level of understanding and engagement with the community that were critical in sustainable and culturally appropriate management of the centre.

The management team is comprised of three senior staff: the Mentor Manager and two Co-Managers. Former Manager (1991-95) Felicity Wright, took up the role of Mentor Manager with Kunwinjku men, Gabriel Maralngurra and Isaiah Nagurrgurrba appointed by the Executive Committee as Co-Managers. Both men were co-founders of Injalak in the late 1980s and are acclaimed artists and elders. Since the men have taken on the management roles, they have signalled to other members and community residents that there is a potential management career pathway at Injalak. And in the last year, other members have also stepped up to take on more senior roles such as the Print Workshop Managers Reuben Manakgu and Virgil Nalorlman.

Injalak employs more than 20 Indigenous staff in a range of positions including: Culture Officer, Print Workshop Manager, Tour Manager, Maintenance Officer, Hill Tour Guides, Printers, Art Centre Guides, Retail staff, Art/Craft Demonstrators and Cleaners.

All this pioneering work has been assisted by a 4-year partnership with Rise Ventures, chaired by Indigenous businessman, Warren Mundine. Their website assures readers that, Injalak Arts is an outstanding example of a community organisation that is 100% Aboriginal owned and delivers positive social, economic and cultural outcomes for its members.

Injalak Arts has around 200 active members “ artists and weavers from Gunbalanya and surrounding outstations. Any Kunwinjku speaking person over the age of 18 is eligible for membership. Although the Arts Centre is located in Gunbalanya, it also services those members who choose to live at their outstations (homelands) thereby generating livelihoods for many individuals and families. The outstations regularly visited are Manmoyi, Mamadawerre and Kabulwarnamyo “ once home to the legendary Lofty Bardayal Nadjamerrek, whose daughter, Donna Nadjamerrek is currently Chair of Injalak’s management committee.

All of this is now under threat.