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‘Piltati Tjukurpa’ (2006) by the late Kunmanara Stevens, chosen as the backdrop for the Federal Ministers’ announcement today

Jeremy Eccles | 02.09.20

Author: Jeremy Eccles
News Source: Press release

The Arts and Indigenous Australians ministers jointly announced this morning that they will develop an Indigenous Visual Art Action Plan to support Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander artists, as well as their cultural and economic interests.

Even more consultation, you might be thinking, as it became the name of the game after the government’s continued failure to bridge the gap – although, unfortunately, part of the crowd immediately said the wrong people had been consulted! And then there’s the tired old reiteration of suggestions like a trademark certification system – which consumed millions of people a long time ago and got nowhere. And, speaking of money, more for the helpless Native Art Code that has called for the imposition of a mandatory statute for years, but has been denied.

But in a world where imaginary figures such as $ 200 million a year for the industry have been rumored too often, some interesting statistics are confidently offered to justify this course of action. And their accuracy is confirmed by a Desart report on the post-COVID situation for art centers based on the five-year-old SAM operational database.

And you are all encouraged to contribute to the consultation. See below.

Here’s the gist of the ministers’ announcement – which may (or may not) have happened at the National Gallery in the presence of a painting by Kunmanara Stevens so vibrant and confident in his brushstrokes that it single-handedly justifies the fullest recognition of the primacy of our First Nations artists:

“The Australian government recognizes that indigenous art is important to Australia and Australians. It supports and strengthens indigenous communities, is an essential part of Australian identity and provides employment, skills development and income opportunities. Indigenous art also makes a great contribution to the economy.

In 2018-2019, organizations supported by the Australian Government’s $ 21 million Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support Program (IVAIS) participated in more than 900 exhibitions and events, achieving $ 26.5 million in primary art sales. It is estimated that each year these activities contribute approximately $ 70 million to the Australian economy. In addition, in 2018-2019, the four Indigenous art fairs supported by the IVAIS program welcomed 96,402 visitors, generated $ 4.3 million in art sales and presented the works of 2,715 artists. Australian Indigenous tourism is estimated to be worth $ 5.8 billion annually, welcoming 910,000 international visitors and 688,000 domestic overnight trips in 2016.

Of course, the visits came to a halt under COVID for very valid health reasons, and the online alternative has not taken over. The Desart report, ‘Art centers and COVID-19, July 2020‘, using data collected between March and June 30 from 84 community art centers, shows a depressing 46% drop in artwork sold compared to 2019 and a 60% drop in artwork produced by 31% fewer artists, although sales revenues fell only 30%. This reduced the art centers’ revenue from $ 10.5 million to $ 7.3 million during the lockdown. Interestingly, Queensland suffered far less than the NT – the extremes of the survey – losing just 10% of artists and less than 50% of works of art produced. WA was slightly better at stakes in artwork – suggesting that ending their blockages was a beneficial factor. By way of comparison, the NT lost 67% of its works and more than 50% of its sales.

Until the onset of COVID-19, art center sales had been growing for nearly a decade. Between 2011-2012 and 2018-2019, the average sales of art centers increased by 53.4%. This is still 11.7 percent lower than the market peak in 2007-08, before the global financial crisis, which led to lower sales of works by Indigenous artists. But today, art centers are more financially independent, and the proportion of income from grants has fallen to its lowest level in over a decade – to (only) around 40 percent of total average income.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists reinvest the money earned through art in their communities. Artists and art centers are now essential contributors to important social and health initiatives in the country, strengthening community outcomes and investing in the future of their communities.

One of the priorities of the Australian government is to support the growth of the indigenous arts industry, to provide economic opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and to promote ethical trade.

The IVAIS program provides approximately $ 21 million per year to approximately 80 indigenous-owned art centers, as well as a number of art fairs, regional centers and industry service organizations. This provides opportunities for approximately 8,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and over 500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art workers. The COVID crisis resulted in an additional $ 40,000 in artistic funding per art center, except on the Torres Strait where, mysteriously, only $ 25,000 was provided.

In addition, the Indigenous Languages ​​and Arts (ILA) program invests approximately $ 20 million per year to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples express, preserve and maintain their cultures through language and artistic activities in Australia. . The ILA program includes operational financial support to 21 Indigenous Language Centers across the country that work to capture, preserve and maintain over 150 Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander languages.

Even before the consultation, the government is now making the following commitments, which will be incorporated into the Aboriginal visual arts action plan:

• That the Productivity Commission commission a study on the nature and structure of the Aboriginal market and policies to address market failures.
• Additional funding for the Indigenous Art Code from 2019 to 2020 by the federal government and the states and territories, to support the ongoing work of the Code
• Targeted support opportunities for art centers will be explored as part of the National Indigenous Australians Agency’s Indigenous Business Sector Strategy.
• Tourism Australia will disseminate information to international tourists and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will update consumer education and undertake compliance initiatives with wholesalers and retailers
• IP Australia will continue to work with indigenous communities to examine the viability of a certification mark (CTM) for genuine products.
• A digital label trial for authentic indigenous products was funded by the Australian government. Desart is conducting the trial in consultation with three remote art centers, and,
• An assessment of the scope and feasibility of new stand-alone legislation protecting indigenous cultural intellectual property will be undertaken, including consultation with indigenous communities.

What do you think?
1. What practical actions do you think will help rebuild the market in a sustainable way?
2. What do you like or dislike about the way the market works today?
3. What questions would you like to answer in the Productivity Commission study?
4. Different words have different meanings to different people. Should we use “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples” or “First Nations peoples” in the action plan?
5. What do you mean by “authentic Aboriginal art”? What type of artwork should be included in this definition?
6. What skills do you think are important in the industry? In what ways do you develop these skills? What would help you develop these skills?
7. Are you getting the support and materials you need from your art center?
8. Can more be done to encourage the development of Aboriginal owned and operated businesses in the industry?
9. What can be done to help artists better connect to the art market?
10. How can digital technologies overcome the challenges of remote locations?
11. How important has selling artwork online been to your art center through COVID-19? How could you improve the way your art center sells online?
12. Is there more to do to engage with the international arts market as well as with tourists to Australia?
13. If overseas activities were to be supported, would it help to engage in the international market and do you consider that this should be a priority?
14. Is the current framework for the protection of indigenous cultural expressions sufficient?
15. Should there be a mandatory Aboriginal art code? If so, how do you think it should work?
16. Do you like the idea of ​​a brand certification system for genuine products? How do you think it should work?
17. Do you like how the resale royalty system works?
18. Can more be done to increase awareness of moral, cultural and intellectual property rights?
19. How do you think indigenous cultural intellectual property protections might work in practical terms?

Answers before December 18th.
Questions for the authors? Write to:
Visual Arts and Design Section
Arts office
GPO Box 2154


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Ken Wyatt takes up his responsibilities as Minister for Indigenous Australians at the invitation of the Prime Minister

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