It’s that time of the year! Just as the footy tends to deliver adrenaline-sodden drama throughout September, Indigenous art has somehow chosen August as the month when an inherently uncompetitive, culturally sensitive activity turns polemic. Darwin, Perth, Melbourne and Cairns are all settings for one-upmanship this year.

First cab off the rank is the NATSIAAs, of course. Now in their 30th year, they’re clinging to primacy in this business “ though the NT Government hasn’t made it easy for them with funding cuts that lead to inevitable staff cuts at the Museum & Art Gallery of the NT. But still the artists want to be there, 240 entered and the 77 finalists will be unveiled as the balmy sun sets over the Arafura Sea next Friday night (9 August), compared to just 63 selected to hang last year.

We don’t know who’s on that list, apart from an unnecessary geographical breakdown: NT (25), QLD (19), SA (16), WA (10), NSW (5), ACT (1), VIC (1). Oddly enough, we do know that last year’s winner, Timothy Cook from Tiwi is NOT. For he turns up in the first ever Salon des Refuses “ an effort by the Outstation Gallery to ensure that rejects don’t just go home disheartened. Also in that event at the Old Bank in Darwin are such familiar names as Conrad Tipungwuti and Raelene Kerinauia (has MAGNT something against the Tiwi???), a collaboration by the top women from Tjukurla, Warlimpirrnga Tjapangati and Yukultji Napangati from Papunya, Nyarapayia Giles from Tjarlirli and the doughty Peggy Griffiths from Waringarri.

What will this tell us about the pre-selectors up at MAGNT? And who were they “ MAGNT seems reluctant to say? Were they the same as the final judges “ MAGNT Director Pierre Arpin (a first for the MAGNT Director), Melbourne artist Destiny Deacon and Brisbane curator Bruce McLean? Did new Aboriginal Art curator Alison Thatcher help “ or has she only been appointed just in time?

All will be revealed next week just as the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair isn’t happening! More government pusillanimity in Queensland! But why am I bothering to tell you this? Well it seems to me from the CIAF website that what is happening under the title, CIAF Presents is just about as good as the Fair “ everything except the waterfront location. Returning to the Fair’s roots, perhaps? And a new mob called the Indigenous Art Centres Alliance has emerged to take the fair back to The Tanks with art on sale from its 14 Queensland member communities (including Mornington Island, I note) and a couple of forums over the period 9/21 August.

The local Art Gallery shows Ken Thaiday Snr and Roy McIvor and a bunch of sponsors are presenting UflaUpla, the National Indigenous Textiles Forum, on 15-16 August. Food, fashion and dance get a look-in too. It’ll be interesting to see what lessons are learnt that are applied next year when CIAF returns. For the official line is The Queensland Government will continue to support CIAF with funding of $1.568 million for the transition to a new delivery model.

Don’t you love bureaucratese!

As already reported on AAD, Melbourne pops up next with the Kate Challis RAKA Award announced at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne on August 14th. This interesting Award selects Indigenous writers, performers, film-makers, poets and visual artists on different years. So the last visual artist winner was in 2009 when Gali Gurruwiwi got the nod. Before that it had been Ricky Maynard (2003), Brook Andrew (1998) and Lin Onus (1993). The methodology is to appoint a curator “ this year it’s Suzette Wearne, who selected nine finalists. These are Teresa Baker (WA), Daniel Boyd (Qld/NSW), Hector Burton (WA), Timothy Cook (Tiwi/NT), Mabel Juli (WA), the late Kunmarnanya Mitchell (WA), Alick Tipoti (TSI/Qld), Garawan Wanambi (NT) and Regina Wilson (NT).

Then comes the interesting bit. None of the final judges are the sort of people who might turn up in Darwin at the NATSIAAs or in Perth at the WA Indigenous Art Awards. They’re all Melburninans, mainly academic. It makes for an unpredictable result! I look forward to examining the selection and hearing the judges’ thoughts.

Finally, we’re off to Perth where the WA Indigenous Art Awards are back after their year’s hiatus. Does such a break make for greater excitement “ or lack of continuity? They certainly got it right last time, rewarding the dynamic Gunybi Ganambarr. I wonder how it will look in 2013 “ on 23 August? For, like the RAKAs, each of the 16 selected artists get to show off the range of their recent work. And they are: Churchill Cann WA Gija, Julie Gough TAS Trawlwoolway, Ray Ken SA Pitjantjatjara / Yankunyjatjara, Beaver Lennon SA Antikirinya Mirning, Minyawe Miller WA Warnman, Abe Muriata QLD Girramay, Wintjiya  Napaltjarri NT Pintupi, Lawrence Omeenyo QLD Umpila, Brian Robinson QLD Kala Lagain Ya, Yhonnie Scarce VIC Kokatha / Nukunu, Dulcie Sharpe NT, Luritja, Christian Thompson VIC Bidjara, Conrad Tipungwuti NT Tiwi, Wukun Wanambi NT Yolngu/Miwatj, Nyipi Ward WA Ngaanyatjarra, Nora Wompi WA Manyjilyjarra.

How few names turn up more than once in these August events! Of course, they could all be duplicated in the NATSIAAs. But only Timothy Cook and Conrad Tipungwuti are named twice so far “ once as a reject, once as a selection.

With such an incredible range “ from traditionalists like Ray Ken, Nyipi Ward and Nora Wompi, international hot numbers such as Christian Thompson and Yhonnie Scarce, the unknown (to me) quantity of Minyawe Miller and the cross-over skills of Brian Robinson, I wouldn’t want to be one of the judges “ who are John Barrett-Lennard, a WA curator and academic, Hetti Perkins, ex AGNSW Curator of Indigenous Art and now preparing something called the Corroboree Festival for Sydney, and Clotilde Bullen, WA’s Indigenous Curator since 2005.

But what a wealth of Indigenous art we have on offer “ more than justifying Philip Watkins, the Chief Executive of Desart’s recent comment: High-end galleries specialising in indigenous art may be on their knees, the federal government’s superannuation fund reforms may have torn the heart out of the collecting trade, but the shared dream of a thriving, sustainable Aboriginal art sector has survived.