In the global economic downturn all artists are doing it tough. How will the Aboriginal art industry ride it out? A CRC project will attempt to come up with some answers.
In any picture of the Aboriginal economy, especially on remote communities, the art industry would have to be seen as the shining light, for the way that it has engaged large numbers of people, bringing them purpose, cultural prestige, income and opportunity. So why is it, in particular, the subject of a seven year research project by the CRC for Remote Economic Participation?
It's not the only focus for the CRC of course – there are 12 research areas all up – but Aboriginal Art Economies is a flagship project with a $1.5m budget and will run for the entire seven years of the CRC's life, with the final years devoted to "rolling-out" the research findings in practical ways.
Perth-based research leader Tim Acker has hands-on experience of the industry stretching back 15 years. He was for instance a manager of the famous Warlayirti Artists in Balgo, WA and more recently was one of the co-founders of the Canning Stock Route Project.
Mr Acker acknowledges that the Aboriginal art industry is the "single most obvious and long-term success story to come out of remote Aboriginal Australia", but he says it is still "characterised at pretty much every point by some form of fragility": "The way art is produced, the community circumstances, the art centres, the connections between artists and galleries, the GFC and the overall downturn in the art market in the last few years, all those things have put into sharp relief that there is nothing fixed about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art sector."
And some of fragility has come about because the industry it has been "too successful", he says. For example, there are issues of over-supply and in this regard, the marketing of art on the internet has been a double-edged sword. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Pictured above: Nancy Nyanyarna Jackson working on her painting in the Warakurna Artists studio. Photo by Rhett Hammerton