The relatively new Northern Territory Labor Government’s $50 million election commitment to build an Iconic National Indigenous Art Gallery is a major step closer with the announcement of two prominent Aboriginal Central Australians as Co-Chairs for the project’s Steering Committee.

Curator and consultant Hetti Perkins and Philip Watkins, Chief Executive of Desart, the peak industry body for Central Australian Aboriginal art centres, will lead a Committee of experts to undertake the initial consultation work for the National Indigenous Art Gallery, including considering where it should be located within Alice Springs.

Minister for Tourism and Culture Lauren Moss said the National Indigenous Art Gallery would be a major national and international tourism drawcard: The Territory Labor Government is listening to the community and getting to work, this is a very exciting time for Alice Springs, Ms Moss said. We are investing $50 million towards this major project which will deliver jobs and economic growth through tourism and construction and provide better facilities for artists to showcase their art.

The Steering Committee will run for six months, creating a solid base on which the Gallery’s foundations can be built.

Assistant Minister for the National Indigenous Art Gallery, Chansey Paech welcomed the appointment of the Co-Chairs. Hetti Perkins and Philip Watkins will be perfect in this role because they are widely known and respected across the country for their professionalism and their skill at bringing people together from different social, geographic and political backgrounds, Mr Paech said. I look forward to working with them to drive the initial stage of the government’s vision for this significant investment in Alice Springs.

Perkins, formerly responsible for building up the large collection of Indigenous art at the Art Gallery of NSW, said the National Indigenous Art Gallery would be an opportunity to showcase Indigenous art nationally and internationally. Our culture makes us unique in the world and a dedicated National Indigenous Art Gallery will become an international cultural landmark.

This is a contentious argument. The seven State and Territory institutions of Australia from Perth to Brisbane all have major collections of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art built up since the 1980s. The Museum and Art Gallery of the NT in Darwin has even earlier work “ the iconic Papunya boards that go on display there this year; though Darwin may well lose them to become the core of an Alice Springs gallery collection. Buying other art from the past will prove expensive; and an Iconic National Indigenous Art Gallery that relies only on future product will surely fail as an international cultural landmark.

This announcement makes no mention, sadly, of the NT Government’s matching election commitment for a National Indigenous Cultural Centre in Alice Springs, to which it committed $20 million. It would seem to make much more sense to progress a project to acclaim and explicate the nature of Australia’s ancient culture in the absence of any competing institution in the country. Admittedly, both Barangaroo in Sydney and the State government in WA have teased us with such a project; but I believe the NT is the first to commit funds to it. Indeed, as part of the NT’s 2016 Budget, $1 million was allocated in 2016-17 to undertake consultation and scoping of cultural centres in Alice Springs and Darwin.

I look forward to an announcement on this.