Exciting news from the NT regarding its Mparntwe-based National Aboriginal Art Gallery. The Northern Territory Government has today announced the appointment of Arrernte woman Sera Bray to co-lead the development of the NAAG. As Senior Director First Nations, Ms Bray will provide cultural leadership to the NAAG and ensure First Peoples Principles are enshrined in its development and operations. She will work beside Senior Director (non-Indigenous) Tracy Puklowski in collaboration with the National Reference Group to build the NAAG team and advance the project.

Ms Bray brings a wealth of project management experience to the position, and comes with a record of developing strong links between industry, sector and community. She is currently Regional Director at the Territory’s Department of Infrastructure Planning and Logistics, and was a member of the leadership team at the Central Aboriginal Land Council responsible for the renewed economic participation focus, with accountability for more than $36 million of stimulus funds from the Federal Government to inject into local Aboriginal businesses. Previously she was proud to lead the Indigenous participation on the multibillion-dollar INPEX project in Darwin working for Leighton Contractors, where over forty million dollars of contracts awarded to local Aboriginal businesses. Over the past two years, she has held strategic board and committee positions, including the Economic Reconstruction Committee, NT Heritage Council and, more recently, as the incoming Chair at Desert Knowledge Australia.

NT Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Chansey Paech commented: “I am excited to have Sera on board because she has extensive experience working in diverse and strategically complex environments, and leadership knowledge acquired over many years.

Bray herself explained: “My innovation-leadership approach is highly inclusive – with all voices and perspectives getting seats at the table. I look forward to working with the National Aboriginal Art Gallery team, communities, stakeholders, and industry and sector partners as we develop this iconic home for First Nations art.”

And an earlier announcement brought some local Indigenous art experience to the NAAG team. For Aranda curator Marisa Maher “will lend her expertise” to the National Aboriginal Art Gallery project in Mparntwe/Alice Springs.

A strange phrase, suggesting that Maher hasn’t been appointed permanently to the NAAG staff, but will consult. Indeed, the announcement goes on to say she will provide advice about First Nations collections held across the country, as well as informing the early stages of an exhibition strategy. But Marisa will also continue her role as assistant manager of the Iltja Ntjarra Many Hands Art Centre – the home of the Namatjira Family art legacy in Alice.

It’s always been apparent that this National Aboriginal Art Gallery had one fundamental problem; it has no significant collection of First Nations art of its own, and will be forced to rely on borrowing from established collections in public institutions and private collections to justify its existence. Maher – who’s already on secondment to NAAG from Iltja Ntjarra – will need a silver tongue to develop working relationships with the keepers of the great art.

However, she has already been around the traps as a former recipient of the Wesfarmers National Gallery of Australia’s Indigenous Arts Leadership Program in Canberra.  She co-curated the recent Desert Mob Exhibition in Alice, and played a key role in curating the Desart Photography Prize. At the 2021 Tarnanthi Festival of contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art in Adelaide Marisa curated the section, ‘Kuprilya Living Water’ celebrating the water-pipe from Kuprilya that saved the Hermannsberg Mission from dying of thirst in the 1930s. In the catalogue she reveals her descent from the Pareroultja family of artists and recalls the delights of Kuprilya Day on October 1st each year.

Marisa Maher’s response to the loan of her expertise: “It is a privilege to be able to offer some initial advice and expertise to guide the delivery of this major art gallery for national First Nations works. I am passionate about curating artworks for exhibitions and enjoy the process of selecting works to ensure cultural responsibility for display.”

Once again, Minister Chansey Paech has commented: “It’s exciting to see the project start to take shape.  Marisa’s curating skills are held in high regard nationally and internationally.  She will be an outstanding addition to the team”.