Friday, June 21, 2024

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HomeIssue 1Work started on national Indigenous art gallery for Alice

Work started on national Indigenous art gallery for Alice

p2405 Chansey PaechBy KIERAN FINNANE 
An audit of government-owned land in Alice Springs will soon be underway to find a location for an iconic national Indigenous art gallery.
Chansey Paech (left), MLA for Namatjira and Assistant Minister on this project to Lauren Moss (Minister for Tourism and Culture), says he hopes to have a short-list of sites for community consultation before the end of the financial year: “Some very good sites have been flagged.”
The Territory Government has committed $50m to deliver the gallery, although a conversation will be had with the Commonwealth for further funding support.
Already underway is a process of appointments to a steering committee to drive the project, made up of national and local representatives, in particular of people with arts and cultural expertise, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Its membership will be announced soon.
The concept of this gallery is distinct from the national Indigenous cultural centre, which is being promoted by a group outside of government, Nganampa Anwernekenhe (chaired by Harold Furber). The government is supporting that work with a $20m commitment and is open to the possible co-location of the centre with the art gallery, says Mr Paech.
He says the vision for the gallery is to have it as Australia’s “premier destination” for experiencing Indigenous art. As such, the project will be a “major economic and tourism driver” for Alice Springs and requires a standout building. The government intends to hold an international competition for its design.
p2405 National Museum of the American Indian 450Mr Paech, Indigenous himself, spoke with brimming enthusiasm about his own hopes for it:
• it needs to be in a magnificent location, as “we live in one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country”;
• it needs to blend in with the landscape;
• it should be surrounded by gardens featuring Central Australian bush tucker plants;
• it should have a cafe, run by Indigenous staff and featuring Indigenous flavours; and
• it should have a space for the performing arts.
Above: The National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC, one of Mr Paech’s “benchmarks” for the Alice gallery. Interior view below left
Is the Araluen Arts Centre not in danger of being eclipsed? Mr Paech says he is committed to working with Araluen and the Museum and Art Gallery of the NT to complement what is on offer, rather than undermine or take away from it. For example, Alice Springs does not have an outdoor performance space, apart from the amphitheatre at the Desert Park. So perhaps an amphitheatre could be part of what the national gallery offers.
The steering committee will oversee the appointment of a curator, whose work will start this year.
This raises the central question of what the gallery will show. What story will it tell, what collections will it draw on?
Mr Paech says preliminary conversations have begun with major galleries housing Indigenous collections interstate and that they are open to the idea of a national institution in The Centre because of its spiritual significance for Australian Indigenous peoples.
“They recognise that major Indigenous song and story lines come through here,” says Mr Paech.
“It’s the opportunity to explore and tell a very important narrative”, reaching back to pre-settlement and early contact years, through to the present. It could act as a “hub, the start of an important roadmap” to Indigenous Australia, stimulating visitors to further explore what its various peoples have to offer on their country.
Exhibitions will not be limited to paintings hanging on walls, but will encompass sculpture, installations, digital media, performance, delivered with a dynamic and diverse curatorial approach, not unlike, he suggests, that of MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) in Tasmania. A point of difference he hopes for is the presence on site of contemporary Indigenous artists creating and interpreting their work.
He also says there is scope for the gallery to host exhibitions from Indigenous peoples around the globe: “That would tap into a whole other market.”
p2405 Nat Mus American Indian interior 450His benchmarks are the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC and again MONA. Both have signature buildings, are major destinations within their cities, have ambitious curatorial programs.
Before his election to the Legislative Assembly he visited the museum in DC as well as a number of reservations and says he was impressed by American Indian nations’ deep sense of ownership of the museum as “their premier place”.
Since the election and appointment to his current role, he has spoken to the museum at length about their process, “what worked, what could have been better, how they engaged with their communities”.
Mr Paech says he wants to see “total buy-in from the whole community” for this project and is committed to deep and thorough consultation at every stage to ensure that.
To the suggestion by some that local Aboriginal people will never come to agreement, for instance on the site of the gallery, he says previous governments have been “playing my mob off against one another”, going to one group at the exclusion of others to get sign-off on what the government wanted.  He intends to bring everyone into the picture, through organisations and outside them, through family groups, so everyone hears about the proposals  “first hand”.
“We need to get this right, for Indigenous people and everyone in Alice Springs.
“I don’t want it to be another courthouse,” he says, referring to the new five-storey Supreme Court building which asserts itself like “a prong” in the middle of the previously low-rise town.
“I have still to find someone in Alice Springs who is supportive of that building.”
He says the gallery will offer important opportunities to employ and train Indigenous people.
“We’re very good at telling our stories through art but we are not often involved in the processes that come after, such as curation and conservation.
“University degrees take four years. We should be looking at young Indigenous people leaving school right now, talking to them about this great opportunity.”


  1. In November 2016 the Gunner Government pushed back the planned expenditure for the “National Indigenous Art Gallery in Alice Springs” ($50m) and the “National Indigenous Cultural Centre in Alice Springs”($20m) to 2020/21.
    These were amongst the many infrastructure projects “reprioritised” by the new Government. In this process they also cut $27m of infrastructure projects from Central Australia.
    In short, there is currently no money allocated for the planning, design or building of the National Indigenous Art Gallery and Cultural Centre for another four years.
    There is only so much you can do without funding.
    Robyn Lambley MLA

  2. If Robyn did her homework work she would know the National Indigenous Art Gallery was always due to begin construction in 2020.
    So no cuts at all.
    I’m surprised a former Minister and Treasurer doesn’t know that a lot of work is done before the first sod is turned on the infrastructure, which is exactly what is happening now.
    In fact, the Gunner Labor Government has brought forward the funding committed to the associated National Iconic Arts Trail, which will be a big boost for tourism and economic development in the regions.
    I’m happy to arrange a briefing for you on the project at your convenience, Robyn. As an Alice Springs local member this is a project you should be supporting.

  3. This sort of development should be right in the middle of town which would then assist in revitalizing the CBD.
    It would boost visitor numbers to all of the surrounding cafes, restaurants, shops etc which the flow on would then benefit the whole community.
    This is certainly a better idea than building a car park.
    As far as a car park is concerned perhaps a secure multi level car park could be constructed at Anzac Oval for the exclusive use of CBD employees resulting in more spaces throughout town.

  4. Funding may be available to the “National Indigenous Cultural Centre in Alice Springs” ($20m) to 2020/21?
    Any proposal that has funding in five years’ time is not a priority and probably won’t go ahead.
    The NT Government don’t want the negative politics of rejecting it so they delay the funding, perhaps for another government to make the final decision on.
    Far too early to be crowing about this, Chansey, and wasting everyone’s time discussing where it could be located.

  5. This is a good idea. The benefits to Alice would be immense. The cultural recognition would benefit all Australians.
    To the question of where to locate it, the Melanka site springs to mind. Or it could go in the perhaps soon to be vacated Kittle Toyota yard, that is if they decide that unchecked crime and vandalism has reached the point that they pull out of Alice.

  6. This is going to be an amazing project. Tourists will flock in from everywhere to see high end Aboriginal culture in the gallery and then get to experience the wonderfully dysfunctional reality out on the streets.

  7. This article is music to my eyes. I truly hope it plays out as Chansey envisions. Wonderful outdoor as well as indoor space – a place that truly represents the Centre and the creative richness it supports and inspires.

  8. Four years in preparation of a grand scale project is not too much if the millions ear-marked remain ear-marked in four years’ time, with the yearly increment in building cost and wages, as well as the inevitable alterations of design as we saw when Sydney Opera House was built.
    Good to have enthusiasm and to see big. However we are not Washington City (fortunately). Alice Springs is and remains a regional service town in the middle of the desert. We are not Brisbane with GOMA nor Hobart with MONA (which is by the way Privately funded). But we need a National Indigenous Art Gallery (traditional and modern), our NIAG.
    The points stressed by Chansey Paech, MLA, make sense:
    * It needs to be in a magnificent location, as “we live in one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country”. Of course, a location where the view of the ranges is not obstructed by the deplorable new court house building. Somewhere adjacent to the Desert Park so that tourists can visit them both on their itinerary.
    • It needs to blend in with the landscape, surely not like the deplorable new court building.
    • It should be surrounded by gardens featuring Central Australian bush tucker plants. Yes the Desert Park flora and fauna are already there providing the surroundings; just integrate it with this new project.
    • It should have a cafe, run by Indigenous staff and featuring Indigenous flavours. Sure, and a better one that the current Desert Park’s. I just remember that the IAD cafe was open to train Indigenous staff in the art and skill of hospitality. It is dead for no good reason that I know of. So we have four years to train indigenous staff.
    • It should have a space for the performing arts.
    Performing Art are and must remain the privilege of the Araluen Arts Centre which receives NT funding to remain operational and offer its facilities for all performing arts. Do not duplicate.
    We have four years to think about it, talk about it, make sensible decisions about design, plans and location whatever the Government of the day. Arts is beneficial to all, locals and tourists alike.
    The subject is an important one.

  9. Maybe the building design could be a caterpillar. Jabiru has the crocodile hotel. Just a thought. Could be culturally sensitive and cause too much bickering.

  10. The gallery will cost an estimated $50m, so figure $60m with cost overruns.
    The Desert Park loss each year is $3-5m and the gallery will also run at a substantial loss.
    NT revenues are in dire straits and the hard heads in Darwin will be saying that a gallery is unaffordable and will not pay its way by increasing tourist numbers sufficiently.
    Whether the Desert Park has been a success in achieving the increased tourist numbers to justify its cost and operation is debatable.
    A heap of NT money is spent manning every alcohol outlet in Alice Springs and now this?
    The town is awash with galleries of Aboriginal art, just call into Papunya Tula to see a fine representation of Western Desert Art.
    The Cultural Centre is underused, has space and is also losing money.
    No wonder no dollars have been allocated to the gallery.
    In all likelihood it won’t go ahead and if it does it will be at the Cultural Centre.
    Perhaps it is unrealistic to expect more than that.

  11. Alice Springs is a dying town, mainly because no-one else matters but the Aboriginals.
    I am not saying they should be ignored but it should not be the only factor in consideration for the town. Araluen and the science centre are already in existence. There are numerous Aboriginal art shops and places already so why not open the minds to other cultural things as well.
    It seems only Aboriginal art and football are the only things around which makes for very closed minds.
    When they push other cultures out they will end up destroying themselves. It’s OK for visitors who only stay a day or so but people who want to live here want other interests as well.

  12. Reading the other comments I see the closed minds – the fact that they seem to think that Aboriginals only want Aboriginal art must be very soul destroying for those Aboriginals who want other things, like technology, theatre, the sciences.
    The kids coming through school are learning plenty but I note my experience of the schools is that teachers are pushing the Aboriginal kids into Aboriginal arts and crafts only.
    There are unlimited opportunities for other things – Aboriginals who make it to the Olympics, into theatre, into businesses like hairdressing, mechanics, technology, science and manage to go overseas to work.
    I even noted that the schools push Aboriginals into Aboriginal languages instead of other languages – that’s OK but if some want to do other languages and trades they should be encouraged to do so.

  13. It all seems like a lot of duplication of services: How many art centres and galleries are there already in Alice Springs?
    It is also very sad sitting in Araluen to watch a fantastic world class performer but only a handful of people are in the audience no matter how well the event is promoted. Unless there are dramatic changes (cheaper flights, influx of overseas tourists to Australia, Uluru becomes unpopular) I see the whole project as totally unsustainable.
    I agree with Bev’s observations – not all local first Australians will be (or strive to be) successful artists, AFL football players, rangers or tour guides.
    Keep the options open and balanced. A modest sized building, co-collocated with the Desert Park or Desert Knowledge Precinct would be good (but not easily accessible to pedestrians).
    A couple of observations: People forget that the Araluen Centre was once owned by the Alice Springs Town Council but was transferred over to the NT Government to run. Why was this? Cost of running it was too high?
    With the proposed art building, people need to bear in mind that the cost of construction will blow out no matter what the best intentions are.
    It will cost a massive amount of money to keep open (staff, air conditioning, building maintenance, security, electricity). Will the venture ever break even?
    Look at the indoor aquatic centre – numerous defects and the number of people who visit it is embarrassingly small, constantly trying to find qualified people to staff it (we are very lucky to have such a facility – towns three times the size of ours do not have one).
    The indigenous staff at the cafe is an interesting one – at Yulara, how many indigenous staff from Central Australia work there, what is the percentage?
    From what I have heard, many staff who identify as Aboriginal are from other states and territories (Redfern, Sydney was one I heard of).
    Doesn’t the Yaye’s café at Araluen already offer indigenous fusion food?
    Kungas, Red Ochre Grill etc seem to already have saturated the options in this genre.
    I’m guessing they would be more than willing to employ more indigenous staff or trainees, if they aren’t already doing so.

  14. Given our position in the national psyche, it’s important that it’s located here. Symbolically – and for the sake of businesses located nearby – the closer it is to the centre of the CBD, the better.
    Could we flatten the Town Council building and start again?
    Could we solve the empty CBD office space with council employees? Could they also build a solar powered cold store at the Desert Park so that all the precious “currently not displayed” stuff has somewhere to live?

  15. Appreciating that much responsibility lies with the Apmereke-artweye of Mparntwe in any review of potential sites, I hope the ex-Melanka site can be considered.

  16. I have been asked to clarify my statement regarding the location of the proposed Indigenous Cultural Centre.
    My statement (see below) included the following: “Or it could go in the perhaps soon to be vacated Kittle Toyota yard, that is if they decide that unchecked crime and vandalism has reached the point that they pull out of Alice.”
    I made that admittedly tongue-in-cheek suggestion after reading an article in the Centralian Advocate that seemed to suggest such a possible move.
    Is the Kittle Toyota yard really contemplating moving out of Alice? Not being privy to their board room meetings, I have no idea.
    I hope they don’t go, but I would understand if they do. This summer’s petty crime wave in Alice is clearly over the top. Just the other afternoon I surprised one of the little germs checking out the interior of my front room by peering in the front window.
    And the irony there is that he really should be in school. His take off speed was impressive, and his agility in clearing my front fence would make him as asset on any school’s track and field team.

  17. The naysayers have a point.
    Alice Springs as a destination is no longer attractive for tourism because of the highly obvious social issues.
    On the other hand Uluru as a destination does work because it has the dual attributes of natural beauty and a resort quarantined from the community.
    Perhaps somewhere out of Alice in the Western Macs might be a better way to go?

  18. Joking and slant references to Toyota-dreaming aside, a National Indigenous Cultural Centre is too important for all Australians, and for its potential to draw and inspire international visitors, for it to be used to revive the tired economy of a regional hub currently under its annual siege from disaffected youth.
    The only rational and proper place to build such a Centre is Canberra. That’s where we have built our National Museum, National University and National Parliament.
    As noted in the article, one of Mr Paech’s inspirations comes from the The National Museum of the American Indian. This is located in Washington D.C., not in a regional town in, say, South Dakota.

  19. @ Come in Spinner: “A resort quarantined from the community”
    Please explain, as a regular visitor of the resort and of the park I have not yet witnessed this quarantine.
    Where are the local doing their shopping?
    Are the locals playing pool at the Outback Pioneer hotel aware of the quarantine?
    Who is running the following if it is not the locals?
    “During your stay at Ayers Rock Resort you’re invited to experience a wide range of free activities, including guided and self-guided garden walks through the native gardens of Sails in the Desert and Desert Gardens Hotel. Join a bush yarn at the Circle of Sand with a local Aboriginal storyteller and learn about weapons or bush tucker.
    “Pay a visit to Wintjiri Arts + Museum showcasing local Anangu products, watch artists at work and learn more about the regions history, geology, flora and fauna in the museum’s display. Or browse the many art pieces at the Indigenous art markets and support local Mutitjulu artists.”
    I would love to know.

  20. @Evelyne Roullet: I didn’t realise the situation had changed so much at the Ayers Rock Resort and the resident community had become so well integrated. Last time I was there, non-tourists could go to the supermarket, service station and maybe be ripped-off for a 6 pack of beer at the Outback Pioneer. Being allowed to play pool in the bar area is a real sign of a progressive community. Sounds like it has become a veritable Shangri-la.


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