"Art centres are important community places. They are innovative and vibrant spaces where culture is kept strong, passed on between old and young, and places where Aboriginal people can share arts and culture with the world."
-DESART, the peak industry body for over forty Central Australian Aboriginal art centres.
Australian Aboriginal art centres are Aboriginal owned and operated not-for-profit corporations. Whilst not every art centre is the same, they do have similarities.
At Art Centres, artworks made by Aboriginal people are made and sold. Art Centres sell directly to visitors at the centre and they also freight artworks to galleries and buyers all over the world. Some art centres have a gallery space for visitors to buy art directly, most have a studio space for artists to make artworks and all have some sort of office space for the administration side of the business.
Their general purpose is to build and promote artistic endeavour, support cultural practices and work toward the economic advancement of Aboriginal people through the production, preservation, promotion and sale of their artworks.
Art Centres are staffed by both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.
Art Centres usually have a general 'style' or aesthetic that differentiates them from other art centres. For example, the Warmun Art Centre in the east Kimberley is well known for their use of natural ochre on canvas. Warlayirti Artists in Balgo is known for its bright acrylic works on canvas and linen.
What they do
Provide the space and materials for Aboriginal people from the region to make art.
Market the artists and their artworks nationally and internationally to the art market in order to build their reputation and make sales.
Develop and promote the artist's oeuvre by entering them in prizes, organising and curating exhibitions, writing about the artists and working with galleries in larger cities.
How they operate
All sales assist the organisations running (money goes toward materials and development opportunities) and also go to the artist directly.
Generally speaking, sales are divided into a 60/40 split to the artists.
Art centres can receive funding from federal and state governments through grant applications. Some are entirely independent financially.
Whilst art centres are most commonly known for their role in facilitating artistic careers, they also play other roles, such as educating the public about Aboriginal regional and cultural history, recording and preserving artworks, facilitating Indigenous knowledge sharing between generations, employing Aboriginal people, teaching and training Aboriginal people about commercial businesses and governance, arts administration, computer skills such as image editing, database management and art preparation. They encourage community development, youth leadership, participation and interaction, and Indigenous governance through innovative arts practice.
They also are a social space for people to get together, make art, drink cups of tea and socialise with their family and friends. They provide the physical space for cultural practices, such as ceremonies and corroborrees, and they support people in doing these activities, with staff, materials, computers, telephones and other resources.
“The art means to carry on our stories, to know it belongs to my family and it belongs to my father and grandfather, so that everyone can know about us, so we can carry on, so our kids can carry on forever, even when we’re gone. So non-Indigenous people can know about us in the future, how we fought to keep our culture strong for the sake of our children’s future. The art is about who you belong to, about what country you belong to, it’s about the only way you can know and others will know too. Our art has got to be protected because it belongs to individual people and their families. It is their belonging , it belongs to their group so it must be treated right way. The art movement should be really strong the way it’s going now and we should be keeping it stronger. We got a lot of strong people in our communities. Those artists are strong about their art.”
- Valerie Napaljarri Martin.
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