Gallery: What we need to know before we spend a cent


2575 Aboriginal art NAG OK
PHOTOS (from above): Art from Central Australia in the National Gallery of Australia • Peter Fannin collection of Papunya paintings in the NGA • Desert Park, the location for the gallery recommended by the NT Government appointed preliminary steering committee. (Photos: Alice Springs News Online, Desert Park.)
This opinion piece comes from a consultant who is not against the concept of the National Aboriginal Art Gallery but feels there are outstanding questions to be answered ahead of preparing a business case, in addition to those the government has answered to date.
The consultant, speaking to us on the condition of not being named, is an arts industry professional, has held a leadership position in a developing national institution, and has extensive experience in Aboriginal arts.
The consultant writes:-
What research supports the idea that people will travel to Alice Springs to see the Gallery?
Consider this in light of the outstanding public collections of Aboriginal art in Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney and Canberra that Alice could not hope to rival, and with airfares being so  high.
What research supports the idea that the gallery could be self-sufficient?
Entry fees are not charged at other major arts and cultural institutions across Australia.  There are insufficient people in Central Australia to form a strong membership base. Cafes, book and gift shops barely break even, and if the new gallery has a selling component it will be competing directly with the art businesses in the town.
2575 Peter Fannin galleryWhat research supports the idea that private philanthropists or public corporations will support this Gallery?
Especially to the tune of $300m at least?  There are few wealthy businesses or individuals that could see benefits flowing from supporting such a project in Central Australia.  Reading between the lines, do they think Centrecorp is going to come to the party? I doubt it.
What research supports the idea that the current (or any) NT Government could possibly resource on-going operations?
They are proposing a major arts organisation when over the years Araluen has been starved of funds, staff, infrastructure improvements and so on.  Operational costs in Alice are inevitably higher than in any capital city.
What research supports the idea that the current (or any) NT Government has the capacity or expertise to deliver such a large and complex project?
One can think of many previous fiascos.
What research supports the idea that this gallery could, in any way, re-vitalise the CBD?
I have travelled extensively in regional NSW recently: almost all CBDs are in trouble, empty shops, concentrations within malls, small retail businesses dying almost everywhere (due to cultural changes in retail and demographics) except in a few cases where there is strong, intelligent leadership and clever ideas implemented.
Why on earth would the current NT Government polarise the entire community of Alice Springs by insisting on the Anzac oval site, thus ensuring half or more of the population will be angry about the project before it has even begun?
Why would a leading national or international architecture practice be interested in a designing a landmark building on such an uninteresting and limited site?
A site adjacent to Desert Park could be a spectacular place for a world-class building.
How does the NT Government think it can manage the competing Aboriginal interests around this Gallery?
It’s not just local Aboriginal people who have vested interests in the site. There are also the complex protocols about display of artworks, gaining of permissions, any royalty payments from licenses etc etc.  If it is a national organisation these complexities will come into play with various competing interest groups.
Our tourist industry is restrained by climate and expensive airfares.  Yes, people want an Indigenous experience and many small and large organisations are providing this already.  The NT Government should be continuing to support these enterprises
Where the money will come from is the most critical issue around this project.
2575 Desert Park OK


  1. This is one of the most articulate and well thought out responses I have read on the subject yet.
    The more logical, and less emotional thought that is put into it leads me to believe that after the hype has died down, our best investment maybe not to have it at all.
    Develop transport hubs, release land, subsidize investment, create tax relief, get people here to invest and fix crime and itinerants.
    That will drive growth, and then big projects can be created and supported.
    It may not be the big ticket item someone wants to have their name on, but it may be a much better investment for the future.
    Prove that future planning is boundless and that an exciting future is possible.

  2. To whomever is the un-named consultant who gives us a cool-headed analysis of the BIG project: well said.
    After all these considerations, why don’t we make it a SMALL project rather than a BIG one.
    Why shouldn’t we develop a modest, personalised Centralian Aboriginal Art Gallery instead of a national one?

  3. @ Maya. All of my many comments relating to this proposed gallery, going back eighteen months have been in sync with what you have written.
    I am tired of it all, but if you look at the size and stature of tourist-related galleries and museums in Alice, the current proposal is way out of proportion.
    The Aviation Museum, Araluen, Road Transport Hall of Fame, the way in which the old gaol celebrates the achievement of women, the Telegraph Station, Desert Park, AZRI, Pitchi Ritchi, Adelaide House, the Residency and even Hermannsburg with its renovations, all are low profile.
    Building on and nurturing the essence of Alice, its history and community, would be more sympathetic to a desert town surrounded by an immense landscape than the grandiosity of what smells like a proscenium arch proposal in line with the new courthouse.
    Check out the newly constructed dinosaur building at Muttaburra for appropriate desert architecture.

  4. @ Maya: Posted August 31, 2018 at 11:41 am.
    With a nod to Russell Guy, and now the Melanka site comes into play. That is, if we’re talking about an art gallery, and not a Cultural Centre.
    This could be what we’ve been looking for.

  5. @ Hal Duell. Posted 31st August, 2018 @ 11:41.
    The Old Timers Museum should be added to my list of local, low profile art gallery / museums as below. It’s an historical repository of detail and reconstruction with an emphasis on the pioneering times of early Alice Springs, including Arrernte history and brief explanation, allowing visitors to join the dots.
    In fact, joining the dots with the other museums / galleries would tell a fascinating story about Alice Springs.
    I’ve heard it said that Grey Nomad tourism is forecast to grow at around 17% p.a. and the kind of museum / galleries that already exist as described are the kind that they are interested in, so it would make sense to promote these as jewels of an outback town.
    Fostering an industry dependent on expensive air fares should not overshadow domestic tourism and the required infrastructure, especially in suitable accommodation, catering to caravans and backpackers who, admittedly, are low-budget visitors, but significant none the less.
    In respect of the Melanka site, it may make more sense to consider an Arrernte Cultural Centre – as has been written about almost ad nauseum in these pages, including pre-contact history – that is more of a commercial cafe/sales visitation, as opposed to the more scholarly Strehlow Centre, rather than an art gallery per se.
    Tim Jennings had a great museum upstairs at the Mbantua Centre before the slump in Aboriginal contemporary art and the Emily Kngwarreye million dollar painting that could have been bid for if there was some foresight in the government’s proposed art gallery venture is water under the bridge.
    The commercial viability of existing art galleries has to be considered, notwithstanding the Araluen exhibitions.
    Such a proposal for the Melanka site, with imaginative architecture and a purpose-driven vision, including live performance space for music, theatre and art is more in keeping with modern tourist expectations of the sort described by Minister Moss elsewhere.
    It has an incredible story to tell, but how it would be funded and staffed is another story.
    The $50m the government has put on the table seems eminently suited to this concept and site, rather than creating a new sports complex and covering Anzac Oval with concrete.
    History would, I believe, not look favourably on the Gunner Government’s proposal and the concept of tourism, a tourist culture as Minister Moss conceives it, should be town / regionally specific.
    “The past is not dead, in fact, it is not even past” is specifically applicable to Central Australia.
    The bones of a re-imagined tourist industry are already lying about the place.
    All they need is to be brought to life and added to in sympathy with the history of a town struggling to find its way.


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