How many iconic art galleries can one State or Territory need? While the rest of us “ especially the online “ were exciting almost hourly over the chances that municipal and Aboriginal figures in Alice Springs just might find a way of agreeing with the NT Government about where to site the loudly proclaimed Iconic National Aboriginal Art Gallery in that tiny town, that same Government in Darwin was announcing a $200m joint venture with the Feds to tizz up Darwin, including building a new Art Gallery in that city’s State Square.

And when I enquired of the Director of the existing Museum & Art Gallery of the NT (MAGNT) in Darwin, what this meant, Marcus Schutenko told me that this new iconic art gallery (another one) was a $90m venture which would generate a net economic benefit to the Greater Darwin region of $212 million over the first ten years of operation. Schutenko went on to say: Darwin is seen as the world’s leading city for engaging with Aboriginal art. Coupled with our proximity to South East Asia, we are uniquely placed to tell some amazing stories through art.

Mr Schutenko doesn’t seem to have been reading the Territory’s Arts Minister’s views on her preference for Alice Springs as the heart of Australia, (where) the National Aboriginal Art Gallery (for which only $50m has so far been allocated) will become a globally significant institution that celebrates Aboriginal art and culture and create (sic) jobs and economic opportunities.

And I thought only Adelaide was competing with Alice for that gig!

But, down in Alice, two and half months after it was announced, Minister for Tourism and Culture, Lauren Moss is today opening the inaugural meeting of the National Aboriginal Art Gallery – National Reference Group. Based on a two-year term, 13 members were appointed from across Australia to the National Reference Group to provide advice and advocacy for the delivery of the National Aboriginal Art Gallery. They were greeted last night by local Arrernte traditional owner Mr Benedict Kngwarraye Stevens, (Apmereke artweye for Mparntwe, Alice Springs) with a traditional Welcome to Country and smoking ceremony, says the press release.

Benedict Stevens involvement could be positive though “ suggesting that the Government’s failure ab initio to understand that the Arrernte people needed to be given an opportunity to invite the Gallery to find a home anywhere in Alice north of The Gap may have been overcome. Mind you, tradition dictates that a kwertengerle, whose role is to check that an apmereke-artweye is looking after an estate according to the dictates of the Arrernte law needs to back up Mr Stevens.

The Reference Group’s agenda today is to discuss the vision, design considerations, funding, and Aboriginal workforce and enterprise development matters relating to the National Aboriginal Art Gallery project. It would seem that location “ in which the Government insists on taking over Anzac Hill from a town Council that has clearly said no way – is not on the agenda. But Ernst and Young, who were rather belatedly commissioned to develop a comprehensive business case for the Gallery, will present on their role in further articulating the benefits this project will bring to Alice Springs. The business case will build on the initial scoping work completed to date and will include an analysis of economic and social impact as well as comprehensive feasibility requirements, according to the press release.

In case you’ve forgotten, that Reference Group consists of two groups “ national and local:
Dr Gerard Vaughan, AM – past Director, National Gallery of Australia; now co-chair
Ms Margo Neale, Senior Indigenous Curator and Indigenous Advisor to the Director, National Museum of Australia
Ms Rhoda Roberts, AO – Head of First Nations Programming, Sydney Opera House
Ms Helen Martin – Chair of the Northern Territory Aboriginal Tourism Advisory Council, originally from Irlpme, an environ of Alice Springs
Mr Frank Howarth – past National President of Museums Galleries Australia and former director of the Australian Museum
Mr John Mawurndjul, AM – Kuninjku bark painter and sculptor and a leading Aboriginal artist from Maningrida Arts and Culture Centre
Mr Malcolm Jagmarra Maloney – Warlpiri elder and Aboriginal artist from Central Australia
Ms Freja Carmichael – Quandamooka woman, descendant of the Ngugi people belonging to Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island) and Moorgumpin (Moreton Island) and is based in Brisbane, QLD; and currently visiting curator at the Institute of Modern Art there
A representative from the National Gallery of Australia “ Indigenous Curator, Franchesca Cubillo, now co-chair
A representative from the Torres Strait Regional Authority “ who may or may not have been appointed since September
Local (Alice Springs):
Mr Benedict Kngwarraye Stevens – Apmereke artweye (Traditional owner) for Mparntwe
Mr Phillip Watkins – CEO Desart, the co-Chair of Initial Scoping Steering Committee
Mr Robert Campbell – CEO, Lhere Artepe Aboriginal Corporation
Mr Luke Scholes – Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, MAGNT
Ms Elliat Rich – Local Alice Springs based designer.

That’s a pretty high-power group of museum managers “ though I don’t actually spot any museum developers on that list, which might be useful at this stage. Michael Lynch – who redeveloped the Festival Hall in London and got the massive West Kowloon Cultural District underway, seems to have deserted Alice for Adelaide’s alternative Indigenous project; which has a design but not yet a settled identity.