Rumours have been swirling during the past fortnight that a private dealer, Chris Simon, has been attracting support from local artists for him to take over Papunya Tula Artists, based in Alice Springs. The institution, with its airconditioned headquarters in Todd Mall, is regarded as the model for indigenous art centres in remote Australia.

Owned by Aborigines from the western desert, the company has many admirers across the indigenous art sector. It represents about 120 artists and has 49 shareholders, including leading artists such as Makinti Napanangka, Michael Nelson Tjakamarra, Ronnie Tjampitjinpa and Eileen Napaltjarri.

Simon would not comment on the speculation but did say his primary focus was on the “wellbeing of the western desert people”.

“If I did [have a desire to run Papunya Tula], that would be my private desire and not for public knowledge,” he says.

The manager of Papunya Tula, Paul Sweeney, tells The Australian he is confident he has the support of Papunya Tula artists, including the company’s chairman, Bobby West Tjupurrula, to continue in the role. To illustrate, he points out that he had been invited to a Papunya Tula board meeting at the weekend in the remote West Australian community of Kiwirrkurra at which the board resolved that it had confidence in him as a manager.

“From the many conversations I’ve had with artists, shareholders, the board of directors, including the chairman, nobody has anything untoward to say about the way the company is being run and nobody has any desire to see anything change here in terms of management,” Sweeney says. Last night he released a statement saying rumours of an immediate change of management were untrue, adding: “It is believed that a source outside Papunya Tula Artists is conducting an organised campaign attempting to destabilise the company by way of circulating false information.”