The recent release of the 65 names that will be adjudged next month for the six National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art awards “ the NATSIAAs “ conceal some remarkable developments in Darwin. It seems unlikely that they originated with the new Director at the Museum & Art Gallery of the NT – Marcus Schutenko, formerly the CEO of the Museum of Chinese Australian History in Melbourne “ since he was only appointed in May.

So perhaps we have his unlucky predecessor, Pierre Arpin to thank for these innovations.

For a start, there’s an Aboriginal artist judging the Awards! That hasn’t happened since they began 32 years ago, though it’s been a proposal of mine for a long time. It’s so refreshing to see Bidyadanga dynamo Daniel Walbidi (last year’s Telstra Painting winner) up there as one of the three judges “ though the others once again represent the southern establishment: Tony Elwood Director of the NGV and Cara Pinchbeck, Indigenous curator at the AGNSW.

And then there’s definite suggestions that the debate which MAGNT Chair, Allan Myers QC raised at last years Awards is heading for resolution. He wondered just how feasible it is to judge the Western-trained artists of the South against the traditionally-inspired artists of remote Australia. Well, as far as I can tell, without changing any of the rules, just three southern artists have made the cut “ the least for many a year. Did the heroes of Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney not enter? Or were the judges responding to Myers’ line of questioning?

So it’ll be intriguing to see how Anna Dowling, former Telstra winner Julie’s cousin from Adelaide, Damien Shen, the Chinese/Aboriginal nephew of Ngarrindjeri leader, Major Sumner, who was inspired by Vernon Ah Kee’s work, and Josh Muir, the Ballarat boy for whom his graffiti-based art was part of his way away from drugs, fare on August 7th. After all the WA Indigenous Art Award went this year to Melbourne’s Megan Cope for a video work which must have been almost impossible to compare with the Tjala Collaborative of Pitjanjatjara Elders or Nonggirnga Marawili’s barks from Arnhemland.

Finally, the NATSIAAs seem to have responded to my plaint about the absence of a sense of ceremony at the actual prize-giving “ that wonderful event which takes place as the sun sets over the waveless Arafura Sea. Can’t guarantee the theatricality this year “ though new man Marcus Schutenko does have a theatrical background “ but Christine Anu has been hired to provide both glamour and songs that should nicely link her Torresian islander origins to this seaside setting.

So here are the 2015 contestants for the $50,000 Big Telstra and the five $5000 artform prizes:
Anna Dowling – Adelaide
Anyupa Stevens – Nyapari, South Australia
Barayuwa Mununggurr – Yirrkala, Northern Territory
Barbara Mbitjana Moore – Amata, South Australia
Betty Conway – Alice Springs, Northern Territory
Betty Kuntiwa Pumani – Mimili, South Australia
Bob Gibson – Tjukurla, Western Australia
Bobby West Tjupurrula – Kirwirrkura, Western Australia
Brian Robinson – Cairns, Queensland
Carol Golding – Wanarn, Western Australia
Clarise Tunkin – Kunpi, South Australia
Claudia Moodoonuthi – Brisbane, Queensland
Damien Shen – Adelaide
Daniel O’Shane – Cairns, Queensland
Esther Giles – Tjukurla, Western Australia
Evelyn Omeenyo – Lockhart River, Queensland
Florence Gutchen – Darnley Island, Torres Strait, Queensland
Garawan Wanambi – Yirrkala, Northern Territory
Gladdy Kemarre – Utopia, Northern Territory
Glen Mackie – Cairns, Queensland
Gordon Ingkatji – Pukatja (Ernabella), South Australia
Graham Badari – Gunbalanya, Northern Territory
Guykuda Mununggurr – Yirrkala, Northern Territory
Heather Koowootha – Cairns, Queensland
Hector Burton – Amata, South Australia
Hubert Pareroultja – Alice Springs, Northern Territory
Jakayu Biljabu – Fitzroy Crossing, Western Australia
Janine McAullay Bott – Perth, Western Australia
Josh Muir – Ballarat, Victoria
Jukuja Dolly Snell – Fitzroy Crossing, Western Australia
Keith and Tjampana Stevens – Nyapari, South Australia
Kieren Karritpul – Nauiyu, Daly River, Northern Territory
Laurie Ngallametta – Arakun, Queensland
Laurie Nona – Badu Island, Torres Strait, Queensland
Mabel Juli – Warmun, Western Australia 
Margaret Boko – Alice Springs, Northern Territory
Maria Josette Orsto – Nguiu, Northern Territory
Marrnyula Mununggurr – Yirrkala, Northern Territory
Mick Wilkilyiri – Amata, South Australia
Mulkun Wirrpanda – Dhuruputjpi, Northern Territory
Munmalih Sisters – Manaburduma, Northern Territory
Murdie Nampijinpa Morris – Nyirripi, Northern Territory
Naomi Hobson – Coen, Cape York, Queensland
Napuwarri Marawili – Yirrkala, Northern Territory
Ngupulya Pumani – Mimili, South Australia
Nonggirrnga Marawili – Yirrkala, Northern Territory
Nyapanyapa Yunupingu – Birritjimi, Northern Territory
Nyarapayi Giles – Tjukurla, Western Australia
Nyunmiti Burton – Amata, Northern Territory
Phyllis Thomas – Rugan, Western Australia
Rammey Ramsey – Bow River, Western Australia
Rerrkirrwanga Mununggurr – Wandawuy, Northern Territory
Rhonda Sharpe – Alice Springs, Northern Territory
Robert Fielding – Mimili, South Australia
Rusty Peters – Warmun, Western Australia
Shirley Macnamara – Mt Guide Station, Queensland
Sid Bruce Short Joe – Pormpuraaw, Cape York, Queensland
Spinifex Women’s Collaborative – Tjuntjuntjara, Western Australia
Tiger Yaltangki – Indulkana, South Australia
Tjungkara Ken – Rocket Bore, South Australia
Venita Woods – Kanpi, Northern Territory
Wukun Wanambi – Yirrkala, Northern Territory
Yinarupa Nangala – Kiwirrkurra, Western Australia
Yukultji Napangati – Kiwirrkurra, Western Australia
Yurpiya Lionel – Pukatja (Ernabella), South Australia