The Museum and Art Gallery on the NT (MGNT) declared itself well pleased by the positive attitudes after the first of three proposed forums it’s holding on the future of the National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards – the NATSIAAs or Telstras.

The first event was in Alice Springs during the big Desert Mob weekend; later forums will be in Darwin on 17th Oct and via a southern teleconference at a yet-unnanounced date.

MGNT Director, Apolline Kohen was, perhaps a little surprised that after all the concern in July when a number of desert art centres announced a boycott of this year’s 25th anniversary NATSIAAs, there was little offered by way of practical suggestions as to how MGNT should discriminate against certain types of entries in the future. But she concluded that the forum’s opening presentations about the complexities that already exist to get pre-selection of entries and the final judging as good as possible may have cut the ground from under some of the more aggrieved attenders’ feet.

Another factor may have been the presence of the man against whom the boycott was organised – John Ioannou, Business Adviser to the Irrunytju Art Centre. He was there with senior Pitjanjatjara artist Tommy Watson – pointing out that no other indigenous artist had actually bothered to attend.

Kohen concluded with some pleasure that there was a clear acceptance in the hall that the Award continued to have a serious impact on both artists’ careers and the indigenous art market.

But one area of contention that may be developed at future forums is the issue of a public gallery operating a commercial event. For a variety of historical reasons, MGNT does issue a price list of all works on show in the Award – though the actual selling of the prize artworks is done by artists or their agents. If this was ended, would this drive dealers away from entering their artists’ works; would it put artists off, for no sale could take place until 5 months after an entry; or could it even encourage ethical entries from dealers or art centres that would pay their artists on entry, confident that an association with the NATSIAAs would enhance the likelihood of sale later???