The gallery drama: Will there be a happy ending?


2562 Mona OK

The Museum of Old and New Art (Mona, above) outside Hobart and the Guggenheim Museum (below) in Bilbao, Spain, are art galleries that have made a big difference to their cities, and are pictured in the report of the Initial Steering Scoping Committee for the gallery planned in Alice Springs.

The curtain is about to rise on Act Two of the farce called the National Aboriginal Art Gallery Consultation, starring Lauren Moss, Dale Wakefield and Michael Gunner.
Enter the nine members of the Town Council. Is there going to be a happy ending? Will they allow themselves to be bullied into submission by the impertinent missive from Moss to get a wriggle on, because next month she will make a decision – like it or not?
Will the council be thinking think small (or tiny) as usual, happy to be playing a bit part on the grand Central Australian stage, or will they be taking charge of the script with vigour and courage in a plot about the make or break of their town?
While the people of Alice Springs have the right to decide this matter, none of us can claim to be expert on such art centres.
Aboriginal people should be instrumental in choosing what is shown and where the gallery is located – north or south of The Gap, for example – provided we can get an answer that reflects the majority of Aboriginal people. The current fractious nature of the Aboriginal community in Alice Springs makes that doubtful.
Beyond that, dealing with the economic aspects of spending taxpayers’ money on such a scale and for such a highly specialised purpose needs to be in the hands of experts.
The people we clearly need to consult are the nation’s and world’s top experts in projects of this type. Here are some questions to begin with:–
• What is the global demand for such a facility?
• What does it need to provide?
• How?
• What is the likely income from this?
• Based on that, what is a reasonable spend?
We need to be prepared to accept the answer which may well be: This is not a good idea. Don’t waste your time.
It is astonishing the Government hadn’t included these fundamental questions of cost and benefit in the terms of reference for its Initial Steering Scoping Committee headed up by Hetti Perkins and Philip Watkins.
2562 Guggenheim OKThe terms are: “Purpose and functions; principles guiding its Collection Acquisition Policy; governance and management structure; funding, including for its building and ongoing operations; staffing; physical location/s and design including the appointment of the project’s architect/s possibly through an international competition.”
The committee produced a comprehensive report on the issues it was tasked to deal with, given the time pressure which is one of the hallmarks of this hapless undertaking.
But should it be a $100m project? Or a $400m project? These questions were not included in the brief and – unsurprisingly – the answers are not in the report.
It returns several times to one of the key questions, the location, recommending the Desert Park, which was knocked on the head by the government without explanation except that the Anzac Hill precinct is the “preferred location” and none other will be contemplated.
So our fate, as it stands, lies with Top End politicians, supported by Dale Wakefield (Labor, Braitling).
The other local pollies have gone off the government’s script.
Scott McConnell (Labor, MLA for Stuart but only till the end of the current term)  has said all possible locations need to be considered, in clear contradiction to his government.
Chansey Paech (Labor, Namatjira) is formulating a position on privately owned land south of The Gap, clearly not prepared to accept his government’s Anzac Oval or nothing stance.
Robyn Lambley (Independent, Araluen) wants the gallery to be built on the former Melanka site.
To do a meaningful job in its consultation process, the council will need to go back to base and seek basic information – if it has the bottle to do so. That will take time which means council’s answer to Ms Moss right now needs to be: “In your dreams.”
In the process the question will arise: Would the town not be better off to spend the $50m on the table for the gallery, plus the estimated $30m for new rugby fields, on something that will work? Public infrastructure for a string of privately built wilderness lodges along the East and West MacDonnells comes to mind.
Or else, of course, we can listen to some of the local movers and shakers, incapable of turning the magnificent assets of The Centre into commercial opportunities, with their own financial investment and business skills. Those, sadly, extend to little more than holding out their hand for public money.
The “consultation” will then consist of issues such as these: How can we bump up the sale of short blacks in coffee shops down the Mall? We’ve got the government’s $50m on the table. Let’s blow it. The tradies are hanging out for that cash.
And that would turn the farce into a tragedy, with the councillors slinking off stage in ashen clothes.
There would be no curtain calls.


  1. It is important that an indigenous gallery / cultural centre have the support of Indigenous people but as to its location one would think that that decision should be mainly directed by apmereke-artweye and kwetungurle.
    Under cultural protocols they are the ones with authority to speak for country. It is very well documented who they are. There seems to be little or no respect for, or consultation with them at present.

  2. There is something profoundly sad about taking the idea of a National Indigenous Art Gallery and using it to increase the sale of trashy, probably China-sourced tourist baubles (and short-blacks).
    There is emerging an impression that this whole issue has degenerated into an exercise in political clickbait. Not real pretty at all!

  3. Let’s all stay focused on the most important thing here: We need to get this right.
    This was never a $50m project. Indeed, only the small-minded would cap the potential of this project at $400m.
    This is an investment in the Northern Territory’s next century and will come to be a nation-defining statement about the future of our great island home.
    The Northern Territory Government is to be commended for kicking things off with a [$50m starting] commitment to an art gallery in Alice Springs. And it is important to keep in mind there is a further $20m committed to an Alice Springs-based cultural centre.
    That’s $70m to work with! Without mentioning the CBD revitalisation project (was it $10m?).
    Oh, and then there is theoretically another $25m+ available in order to ensure Rugby League are content with a potential move.
    So that’s now $95m in the mix that the NT Government has committed to the future of Alice Springs!
    Again, let’s all stay focused on the most important thing here: We need to get this right!

  4. My feeling is the Alice Springs Town Council will make up a tiny part of the chorus line, or some members could be understudies to the main actors in this dramatic production.
    Following my first comment and recommendations on November 3, 2017 there has been considerable comment on this subject, constructive or negative, and now the RSL site has been sold.
    So my original comment will become less of a grand sweeping build with a northeasterly aspect.
    You are right in implying that this project deserves to be done on a GRAND scale to reflect the importance of indigenous art and culture on Alice Springs, Central Australia and Australia as a whole.
    Personally I do not have a preferred site (other than Alice Springs), but obviously the appropriate Indigenous people or bodies need to be involved and not just on a chorus line.

  5. It is worth pointing out that the successful galleries you cite (Mona and Guggenheim) were both private sector initiatives.
    It may be that government processes get in the way of success when it comes to delivering clarity of vision and purpose.


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