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.
What 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.