Chapter 1 - Introduction and conduct of inquiry
Australian Indigenous art is a story of the flowering of one of the
world's great contemporary movements in art. It is a story of cultural
reinvigoration and communication within, between and beyond Indigenous
communities. It is a story of successful links being forged across areas of
Indigenous policy and need, particularly between culture and health. And it is
a story of economic growth and prosperity amidst poverty and economic
Set against the rapid evolution of contemporary Indigenous visual arts
and craft is emerging concern about the sustainability of the sector, and
allegations of unethical business practices within it. It was at the
intersection of the great hopes and sincere concerns held for Indigenous art
that this inquiry was born.
On 15 August 2006, the Senate referred the following matter to the
Committee for inquiry and report by the first sitting day of 2007:
Indigenous visual arts and craft sector, with particular reference to:
- the current size and scale of Australia's Indigenous visual arts and
- the economic, social and cultural benefits of the sector;
- the overall financial, cultural and artistic sustainability of the
- the current and likely future priority infrastructure needs of the
- opportunities for strategies and mechanisms that the sector could adopt
to improve its practices, capacity and sustainability, including to deal with
unscrupulous or unethical conduct;
- opportunities for existing government support programs for Indigenous
visual arts and crafts to be more effectively targeted to improve the sector's
capacity and future sustainability; and
- future opportunities for further growth of Australia's Indigenous visual
arts and craft sector, including through further developing international
With the inquiry attracting considerable interest from stakeholders, on 18 October 2006 the Senate granted an extension of time to report until 22 March 2007. On 27 February 2007 the Senate granted a further extension of time to
report until 12 June 2007 and on 12 June 2007 the Senate granted a final
extension to 21 June 2007.
In accordance with its usual practice, the Committee advertised details
of the inquiry in The Australian. The Committee also contacted a range
of organisations and individuals, inviting submissions. The committee received
submissions from 89 different individuals and organisations, listed in
Appendix 1. The committee conducted seven hearings in Canberra, Kununurra, Darwin,
Alice Springs, and Sydney. Details of the hearings are shown in Appendix 2. A
list of tabled documents and additional information is in Appendix 3.
During the course of the inquiry the committee or committee members
visited a number of sites, including:
- Waringarri Aboriginal Arts, Kununurra
- Jirrawun Arts, Kununurra
- Our Land Gallery, Kununurra
- Red Rock Art, Kununurra
- Karen Brown Gallery, Darwin
- Amoonguna Community art centre, Amoonguna
- Irrkerlantye Arts, Alice Springs
- Tangentyere Artists, Alice Springs
- Gallery Gondwana, Sydney.
Members were also shown around Alice Springs, giving them a
picture of the distinctive circumstances of art production in that town.
The committee is extremely grateful to the artists and workers in the
sector who took the time to show the committee the industry and to talk to it
about the issues. The committee particularly extends its thanks to Lyn Allen at
DCITA, Nigel Ridgway and Jacqueline Thorpe at the ACCC, John Oster at Desart,
Paul Sweeney at Papunya Tula, Bev Knight and Diane Mossenson of the Australian Commercial
Galleries Association, Martin Wardrop of Art.Trade, and Mark Gooch in Alice
Springs, as well as many other industry participants who gave freely of their
time and knowledge.
The committee was honoured by the opportunity to meet with, and in some
cases hear evidence from, artists in their communities, including Freddy Timms,
Nancy Noonju, Nellie Gordon, Peggy Griffiths, Kim Griffiths, Donna Burak,
Miriam Charlie, Djambawa Marawilli, Regis Pangiraminni, Peggy Brown, Mary
Napangardi Brown, Joy Nagala Brown, Jimmy Frank, Andrea Nungarrayi Martin,
Valerie Napaljarri Martin, Bess Nungarrayi Price and Amelia Turner. It regrets
it was unable to take up all the many invitations extended to it to visit art
centres, communities and galleries all over Australia.
The committee was impressed with the enormous commitment of stakeholders
in the industry, and the passion they all share for Indigenous art and
Indigenous community development. The committee also noted a level of anger and
conflict in different parts of this sector. Much of what was claimed about
business practices appeared to be based on hearsay, and there was little
tolerance of the diversity of people and legitimate ways of doing business
which might all contribute to the benefit of Indigenous creativity, Indigenous
art and Indigenous prosperity.
There is no doubt that there have been unethical, and at times illegal,
practices engaged in within the field of Indigenous arts and craft. There are
probably still instances of these problems, and there may be people seeking to
take advantage of issues within the sector by ripping off artists or art
In spite of all this, the committee urges everyone in the sector to
recognise each other's sense of commitment, and reap the benefits of
co-operation, rather than sow seeds of rancour and division.
The committee notes that the Indigenous Art Centres Strategy and Action
Plan was developed in 2003. While the Action Plan provides for the future
development of the sector, the committee believes that it should be reviewed in
due course, especially in light of the recommendations in this report.
The committee acknowledges the valuable reviews that have been
undertaken by those committed to the future of the sector, including the report
of the Review of the Aboriginal Arts and Craft Industry (1989), Desart and
Felicity Wright's report, The Art and Craft Centre Story (1999), and the
Report of the Contemporary Visual Arts and Craft Inquiry (The Myer
In particular the committee notes the work still underway by the National
Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) and others on an Indigenous Australian
Art Commercial Code of Conduct. This work has the potential to be crucial to
the future of the industry.
The committee has made a number of recommendations that involve adoption
and implementation of a code of conduct. It recognises that the NAVA-led
process is aimed at developing a broad code suitable for application by the
different participants in the sector. The committee supports this process. As
this report demonstrates, there is a need for a practical code that sets out
clear parameters for appropriate conduct in the industry. An industry code will
need to set clear expectations regarding behaviour in this market, and be
widely adopted, if it is to have an impact on unethical conduct in the sector.
In chapter 10 the committee indicates that this code should be released as soon
as possible, so that further steps toward implementation can then be taken.
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