Former gallery advisor scathing about its planners


25104 Art Gallery billboard 2 OK


What’s all the fuss about the gallery? We already have one! Not. This sign about 40 km south of Alice Springs on the Stuart Highway advertises a business long closed. 86 Todd Street, next to KFC, has been a vacant lot for years.

p2561 Desert Mob Michael Lynch 250By ERWIN CHLANDA
Michael Lynch, member of the first steering committee for the National Aboriginal Art Gallery in Alice Springs, has described its preparations as incompetent, failing to carry out the vital nation-wide negotiations with Aboriginal interests and governed by a “bully boy approach by the Chief Minister since the project began”.
A veteran of 40 years in arts administration, Mr Lynch (pictured) has been chief executive in leading institutions, most recently the West Kowloon Cultural District in Hong Kong and previously the South Bank Centre in London, as well as the Sydney Opera House among others.
Since serving on the initial steering committee for the proposed Alice gallery, he has also has been involved with Adelaide Contemporary, the project that is seen by some as a rival of the Northern Territory’s. He chaired the international design competition jury that chose the winning design for the gallery that will be built on the former site of the Royal Adelaide Hospital.
“It is a bizarre idea doing a business plan before someone has even started resolving what the issues are,” says Mr Lynch in an exclusive interview with the Alice Springs News Online.
“I just find it curious and in line with the rather incompetent way that the project has been run by the politicians and the bureaucrats.
“I can’t understand where the Arts Minister now sits in the scheme of things.
“I get this overwhelming feeling that once again with a project that is absolutely rooted within the Indigenous cultural communities of Australia that a bunch of white guys decided that they know better and that they can do this better than anyone else.”
Mr Lynch described it as a “bizarre situation where the new group had only just had their first meeting quite recently … and clearly not much had taken place.
25104 Art Gallery billboard 1“Once again they resort to paying a large amount of money to a big accounting firm that has little or no expertise in the area and clearly will roll out one of their pro-forma cultural project business plans to meet the requirements of the rather unsophisticated government and steering group.
“I am really perplexed: Has the project now become [something] that’s there for tourists and the activation of the city?
“The whole nature of being a national and Indigenous gallery seems to be somewhat lacking even in the core documentation.”
NEWS: What should happen next– now?
LYNCH: It now seems to be much more of a bureaucratic exercise. I don’t know where the inputs are coming from other than the rather bully boy approach by the Chief Minister since the project began, and the sidelining of the Arts Minister in preference of the tourist industry.
NEWS: What are the questions that need to be asked?
LYNCH: What is the market in Alice Springs? As far as I am aware there has been no analysis done of the likely size of the audience, where the audience is going to come from, how it will intersect with other organisations, whether there is a philanthropic base.
[Some of these questions have been asked of the consultants for the ‘Comprehensive’ Business Case.]
I don’t even see in the documentation where their collections and exhibitions are going to come from, other than some vague referencing to connections back to Canberra, to the National Gallery. It’s left-overs. It doesn’t appear to be strongly driven by the National Gallery.
NEWS: There is pressure to start building almost instantly. What could the goverment build with the information currently available?
25104 Art Gallery billboard 4LYNCH: There are steps in the development of any piece of infrastructure. With cultural projects you need a business case around the institutions. You can’t build it quickly [or it will result in] something inadequate, inappropriate, probably costing too much money, and not suited to the original purpose.
NEWS: Has there been advice about this?
LYNCH: The first steering group was very clear about the steps that needed to be taken and they now seem to short-circuit nearly all of those steps. Where is this group doing its consultation with Indigenous communities around Australia? Clearly that is going to be a huge issue for them.
Where are they sitting in regard to the institution that has been proposed for Adelaide? There is a lot of talk going on in other states about somewhat absurd plans for Captain Cook’s 250th anniversary in 2020 which I am sure the Indigenous community are about as interested in as they are in the Bubonic Plague being visited on them.
I just don’t feel the people on this project know what they are doing.


  1. Shame that Australia has so many politicians believing is important they waste tax-payers monies so they feel useful.
    They fail to understand importance attached to real public discussion, bringing wider community together to support programs they all will feel committed to.
    A community working together can cost less than numerous consultants trying to second guess needs of both community and their paymasters.

  2. Thank you, Mr Lynch, for your timely and very relevant criticism.
    Sadly, the Territory has never been able to do “planning” well, and the sign, advertising an art and cultural centre that has long closed, is a sad example of how badly we do “management”.
    Can you imagine how we must look to the disappointed tourists that set out for the art centre, only to find a carpark?
    Could anyone blame them for thinking we are an un-cultured lot?
    After all, didn’t we recently let one of the most iconic Indigenous paintings of our time, Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s Earth Creation slip through our fingers?
    The painting could have been the Blue Poles of the new art gallery, ensuring Alice Springs had a truly unique work, one worth the long trip to get here.
    Lost for a paltry $2 million by a government that sees art purchases as an expense instead of as an investment.

  3. I was working at the award winning (A World, Australian and Two Brolgas) AACC as marketing manager when in 1997 (yes, 22 years), ago I designed that sign and help install it.

  4. Colin: And the sign was used to design the cover of the booklet the Art Center was producing in all major languages. I still have one copy in French.

  5. “It is a bizarre idea doing a business plan before someone has even started resolving what the issues are,” says Mr Lynch. Exactly my argument in my last letter on the topic in another thread.
    And yes, Domenico, I have previously lamented here the loss of the Emily Kngwarreye work overseas when the sale occurred.
    We may end up with a building looking for those crowd-pulling paintings and unable to afford to buy them back. This is yet more “planning” by NTG.
    (Still) watching in amazement …

  6. Earth Creation gone. National Indigenous Art Gallery going.
    It’s possible to imagine this government’s favorite cultural event would be the unveiling of a new season’s lawnmowers.

  7. Thanks for this piece which confirms from an authoritative point of view much of what has been said on these pages already, and unerlines the fundamental point that a gallery purporting to be a NATIONAL and ABORIGINAL institution needs a consensus from BOTH local and nationally representative Aboriginal people and organisations otherwise it is likely to be an expensive failure.
    On the matter of the award winning Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre, I would love to hear its history – the rise and demise of what seemed to be a great little cultural organisation.

  8. The Alice Springs Art Gallery is small change: Northern Australia Development Corp has $5 billion over five years to invest. Massive business and population growth will come to Central Oz, airlines also (Ref – Office of North Australia).

  9. Your right Alex, a consensus from local and national groups is needed, but it won’t happen.
    The government is not even talking to the Mparntwe traditional owners, actively avoiding them.
    One would think that an iconic Indigenous gallery would respect the traditional owners of the land on which it is planned.

  10. I have a query that Mr Lynch may be able to help with.
    “Locations” in the report has 3 headings:
    • Recommended (Desert Park).
    • NTG preferred (Anzac, 3 versions).
    • Sites not recommended (incl Desert Knowledge).
    Does “not recommended” mean by the panel or by the NTG, or both?
    It seems to me that many of the arguments for the DP could also apply to DK.

  11. Stephen Fry of the English program QI must have been thinking of the NT Government and their advisers when he said at the end of one of his witty sessions some time ago: “The similarity between sperm and politicians is that one in a million may end up as a human being.”

  12. Can’t build the Art Gallery on the Anzac site without consent from ALL the Aboriginal traditional owners – otherwise what is the purpose?
    It’s meant to showcase the Aboriginal culture and is just causing conflict and dividing our lovely town. Why not chose another site where it will not cause conflict?


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