Chapter 14 - The future of the market for Indigenous art
The future of the market for Indigenous arts and craft in Australia and
overseas is dependent upon many factors, including the continued supply of the
art itself, the cultivation of new generations of artists, tourism, the export
market, and the level of financial and professional support available for
artists to engage in the market. This chapter discusses two of the major
sectors of the market, tourism and the export market for Indigenous art.
Government plays a valuable role in assisting the identification of
markets, and in helping ensure that those marketing Indigenous art are able to
take advantage of emerging sales and export opportunities. The Commonwealth
agency Austrade has provided assistance in developing export sales. Business
development and market identification for Indigenous art sellers are activities
covered by current arts funding programs. There are also state and territory
strategies supporting export markets:
Export opportunities were also supported through direct intervention
and funding through the Indigenous Arts Strategy underpinned by the Indigenous
Art Strategy and the Northern Territory Government International Trade
In terms of the future of the market generally, flexibility in the
marketplace is essential to the future success of Indigenous art centres. As
Warlukurlangu Artists pointed out to the committee:
We are always looking for new markets. We have some people
overseas. We have a regular exhibition program. We have places like Walkatjara
that sell to tourists and then we have exhibitions at Alcaston Gallery and
Gallery Gondwana where we put more collectible work and we might get
exhibitions. So we have more than one way of marketing our work.
The tourist market
The tourist market comprises sales of Indigenous art to travellers both
Australian and from overseas. There are two distinctions between this and the
export market. First, tourism sales take place in Australia, whereas export
sales generally (though there are exceptions) are in overseas markets. Second,
tourism sales often involve the purchase of art work as a memento or symbol of
a tourist experience.
The tourist market in Indigenous arts and craft covers a wide spectrum
of products, from boomerangs and t-shirts through to fine art. The National
Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) explained the market accordingly:
In looking at the whole of the industry, there is a continuum,
if you like, from buying a design and putting it on a manufactured T-shirt or
whatever right through to the fine art spectrum. It can be art and craft, and
sometimes beautiful T-shirts come out of that spectrum. In the middle is art
and craft work. Because the Indigenous art industry has grown so quickly and so
exponentially, some of those wholesale practices result in work being produced
for tourists at a price they can afford and are the sorts of things that they
The significant growth in the market, as identified by NAVA above, has
led to calls for better management of the Indigenous arts and craft industry to
protect Indigenous communities from the impacts of tourism and commercial
pressures in the wake of market expansion. Ms Jill Gientzotis advised the
committee that NAVA's:
recommendations relate(ed) to the need to carefully manage the
ways in which this expansion occurs so that Indigenous culture is not
undermined by international commercial interests and to ensure that the impacts
of tourism are managed and fair returns are made from tourism (domestic and international)
to Indigenous creators.
While the Indigenous art market depends significantly on tourism for its
survival, this has an impact on communities and art centres due to its seasonal
nature in some areas. Ideas were put to the committee on ways to overcome
seasonal impacts on the Indigenous art market, and the Cross Cultural Art
Exchange outlined their suggestion to the committee:
One of the major issues with Darwin is the dramatic change from
wet season to dry season, and historically there has been a massive decrease in
tourism during the wet season. The idea of having an Indigenous art fair during
the time of the Darwin festival has been explored. You could have it in the
Chan building, although there are issues with that. Just like the Melbourne art
fair, you would have segmented areas. Communities could then pay a nominal amount
and utilise that time during the art awards. At the moment, there is such
limited space here in Darwin—there are only however many commercial
outlets—that there is the potential for six to 10 communities to be able to
exhibit during that prime time. If there was an Indigenous art fair at one
location during that time then everybody could capitalise on the mass influx of
Another issue affecting the market apart from seasonal fluctuations is
the purpose behind the tourist visits to Indigenous communities, art centres,
dealers and other sales outlets. Not all tourists are art collectors or wish to
buy fine art. There are those who simply wish to purchase souvenirs or gifts,
but do not have a particular knowledge of or interest in Indigenous art. Then
there are those who specifically travel to Indigenous communities because they
wish to experience the communities and art centres first hand with the specific
purpose of purchasing art for their collections. One example of this type of
collector was outlined by Mayke Kranenbarg:
There was an Austrian couple that returned to Australia every
year since the last fourteen years and each time purchased Aboriginal artworks.
As 'diehards' as they called themselves, they liked to extend their collection.
What they liked about Warmun art were the natural ochres used and the
'spaciousness' of the paintings. The meanings of the paintings also attracted
them: 'We like the way Aboriginal people connect with their land and with
nature. It is a beautiful culture that we can learn from.' They preferred to
visit art centres instead of buying art over the Internet as they wanted to
encounter the artists in person. Visiting the country where paintings were
produced also made them feel that they could connect more with the artworks.
Although discussed only briefly in the preceding paragraphs, the
different types of tourist markets need to be taken into account, in addition
to all of the other issues covered in this report, if the industry is to
continue to be successful. Dealers, art centres and other market participants
would be wise to ensure they have continuing strategies in place to plan for,
accommodate and educate buyers in different tourist categories, whether they
are simply souvenir hunters or experienced fine art collectors.
Having said that, there are strategies in place, supported by government
and other organisations to assist with the tourist education process. The Northern
Territory has funded such an exercise:
So through ANKAAA, the Northern Territory government has funded
the consumer brochures, which we now have in four languages, to assist tourists
coming into the country to get some background and to understand copyright law,
intellectual property, moral rights and all the different aspects of purchasing
The extent to which such educational initiatives are successful, or
whether more support is needed, is not discussed here. A more detailed
discussion about the education of buyers of Indigenous arts and craft is found
in chapter seven of this report.
The international market
While it is obvious that many Indigenous creative and artistic works are
sold within Australia – whether to local buyers or to overseas buyers and
tourists who then take them offshore – the international marketplace, where
Indigenous products are sold offshore, generates significant activity.
This section of the report will examine the views of witnesses to the
inquiry about the size and scale of the international market for Australian
Indigenous arts and craft, how viable the international marketplace really is
for such works, the role of Austrade within the industry, and the level of
support that is or could be provided by governments and other key bodies for
encouraging further development and expansion of international markets.
Size and scale of the international
As discussed in chapter two of this report, there do not appear to be
definitive statistics showing the size and scale of the international market
for Indigenous arts and craft. The Northern Territory Department for the Arts
has observed that there is no clear information available on export earnings
for Indigenous creative works. While there are categories like the 'export of
wooden craft articles' they 'do not identify what is Indigenous and what is
Austrade has pointed out that the size of the overseas market has not been
properly established and the monetary value of the market is difficult to
assess due to the high level of non-commercial activity that may have been
funded through government departments for various promotional reasons.
In the early 1980s it was reported that around 80 to 90 per cent of
Indigenous art and craft production ended up overseas
however it is uncertain whether such levels have continued since that time.
While this percentage is significant, it is likely that this figure includes
both Indigenous products purchased within Australia and then taken overseas by
travellers, and those products exported or exhibited and sold offshore to
overseas buyers. Because this discussion centres mostly on establishing the
size and scale of the international market, rather than looking at what has
been sold within Australia's borders, it needs to be determined what proportion
of the 80 to 90 per cent of work that purportedly ends up overseas is actually
exported first and then sold offshore.
To come up with some specific figures on the size of the offshore or
international market today there would need to be a collation of data from
various segments of the market rather than just from one particular activity.
The Cross Cultural Art Exchange outlined what aspects of the industry they felt
would need to be accounted for if some kind of accurate picture were to be
formed about the extent of the offshore market:
We need accurate statistics on, first, how much of their work
goes overseas from individual art centres and, secondly, whether those works go
into a retail scenario or into a display scenario—so nonprofit or profit.... You
could also extend that survey into all galleries to ascertain how much of the
work goes overseas outside of the community arts centres. Then you would have a
comparison between the commercial enterprise and the community art centres,
which of course are also commercial art enterprises but different.... It would
also be fantastic to see how much work goes overseas in general. Then you would
have a final result and be able to subtract what goes out from commercial
galleries that deal with arts centres, arts centres themselves and then others,
and then you would know how much work goes overseas, roughly, that has perhaps
come through areas outside of arts centres.
Although there is a lack of official data on the size and scope of the
international market at this time, various observations have been made by
industry participants regarding how large they perceive the market actually to
be. These ideas largely appear to be in relation to the traders' own
activities. For example, Maningrida Arts and Culture gave evidence to the
committee about the extent of international sales within their own business,
saying that 14 per cent of their sales were to overseas markets, and that they
were happy that this was on the increase.
Similarly, Red Rock Art advised that what they considered to be a small
percentage of their art 'would go directly overseas; possibly 10 per cent'.
Others pointed out that their focus was not necessarily on international
markets, as most of their activity was essentially domestic but that overseas
clients did contribute to some of their business activity. Mr Claude Ullin, a
dealer in Indigenous fine arts, explained to the committee that, while he did
not think the international market was presently as strong as the domestic art
market, it would certainly develop. He said it was attractive and relatively
inexpensive to overseas buyers given the strength of the euro and the US
dollar. He further went on to say that while the market was not that strong in America
at the moment, it was certainly quite strong in Europe.
Some Indigenous art dealers see the overseas market as essential to
their operations, particularly in terms of internet sales helping to prop up
the seasonal domestic market quiet periods. Mrs Pamela Linklater pointed out to
the committee that it was during certain times of the year that overseas
internet inquiries were good:
Yes, because of the incredible interest in overseas sales. It is
at this time of the year that the internet kicks in, and I always say to the overseas
people that it is because they are snowbound and icebound and they are looking
at the computer. Whereas our busy time here is when they have got their summer
over there and that is when they go away on holidays. But right now is a very
good time for internet inquiries.
Thus while there is no complete set of statistics showing the extent of
market operations in the industry internationally, it is clear that industry
participants each have their own views about what any exposure to the
international marketplace means for them. While the percentage of international
business may vary for different market participants, it seems to be generally
agreed that international trade forms an important part of the industry and
that opportunities for international trade are available for those wanting to
be involved. As Mr John Odgers from Austrade told the committee:
The potential for return for the Australian experience seems to
be there. The sales prices that perhaps are achieved in the primary market, but
increasingly over the last few years in the secondary market, have been really
quite substantial and if that were to flow into the international market, then
the potential might well be for those very large prices to be recorded in the
international market as well.... The response to Indigenous art from Australia
has been overwhelmingly good. It is seen as a unique art form. Clearly the sort
of work that is made here in Australia cannot be made anywhere else, so it is
unique from that sense. It has been welcomed in art circles in a number of
countries around the world to great acclaim. It is considered at times to be
the only new contemporary art form of the last couple of decades.
While the size of the international market and increasing potential for
international sales does seem significant enough, the lack of consolidated
statistics on the size and scale of the market could make it somewhat
problematic for both private and public sector bodies to devote resources to
and make decisions about their potential participation in the international
marketplace in the future.
Given the importance of and growing interest in Australian Indigenous
arts and craft internationally, the committee recommends that the Commonwealth
examine the feasibility of compiling industry statistics to record
international exhibitions, sales and exports of Indigenous arts and craft,
including, where possible, their value in dollar terms.
Viability of the international
It is argued that the international export market for
Indigenous visual arts and craft is very successful. Mr John Odgers from
Austrade pointed out during the hearings that he knew of galleries operating
overseas that were 'constantly touring exhibitions of Aboriginal art or going to
arts centres' and that they would not continue to do this unless it was
The National Indigenous Council (NIC) also recognised the viability of the
export market for Indigenous arts and craft, telling the committee that forging
links into the international market 'was a good way to go'.
The Northern Territory Government pointed out to the
committee that some art centres feel that involvement in the overseas market is
actually necessary for their survival in what is often a difficult market due
to the isolation of Indigenous communities from the marketplace in general:
Even for those few art centres that have direct access to an
urban retail outlet (for example, Maningrida in Darwin and Papunya in Alice
Springs), this accounts for only a fraction of necessary sales volumes.
Interstate and more recently, international, export is an obligatory marketing mode.
The Cross Cultural Art Exchange is one enterprise that
places significant emphasis on international sales and exhibitions, having
recognised this as a viable marketplace for Indigenous arts. Mr Paul Johnstone
explained to the committee how he became involved in this area:
I went on a trip to China about two years ago to have a look at
the potential of exporting Indigenous art. I was horrified to see that three of
the exhibitions I found in Hong Kong and one in Shanghai were basically
carpetbag shows with no provenance. I requested to see the coding on the back
of the paintings and I was denied. When I relayed that information to the
community arts centres where these artists usually painted, they had no
knowledge of the work going overseas at all. I realised that one of the
problems that is going to exist in the future is that, as Indigenous art
becomes more and more popular worldwide, the same issues that we are talking
about today will be replicated on an international scale. So I wanted to then
set up a company that would maintain quality, integrity and ethics through the
arts centres to set up high quality shows overseas, particularly in America.
The Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) is a government
agency the role of which is to support and assist Australian companies,
individuals and organisations who want to become involved in the export market.
The services that Austrade provide include giving practical export information
and advice, the identification of overseas opportunities, on-the-ground
exporting support overseas and in Australia, a comprehensive trade exhibition
program, services to identify potential overseas business partners and to
research and access high potential markets for Australian companies, and strategic
export planning and network formation services. They also offer financial
assistance via their Export Market Development Grants Scheme, where eligible
businesses may be reimbursed for some their export costs.
Some of the ways in which Austrade has supported the
Indigenous arts and craft sector in particular were explained to the committee
during the hearings:
Looking at Austrade’s approach to promoting and developing the
Indigenous art sector, currently there is a variety of approaches for exporting
Indigenous art. Some of these include supporting buyer visits from Europe and
the USA... Another way is through assisting with exhibitions at venues in
overseas markets that have often been negotiated directly by Indigenous arts
centres. Another way is assisting Australian galleries attending art fairs.
Austrade also outlined to the committee the difficulties
they had encountered and concerns they had in dealing with the sector. They
claimed that it was difficult to promote the sector without having
'consolidated data' and that there could be inconsistencies in the production,
supply capacity and quality control of Indigenous arts. Also, they explained
that in general micro businesses lacked the 'financial resources and time to
devote to the export market'.
Austrade also identified that there could sometimes be a lack of art centre
marketing skills suitable to deal with the inbound tourist market. Other issues
that Austrade identified were:
The remoteness of production centres, a lack of understanding of
business processes, and the affordability of Austrade services to develop long
term marketing strategies.
While there are clearly Indigenous art and craft industry
participants who see the export market as suitable for them, there are others
who feel that the initial set up costs are prohibitive, and that ongoing
involvement in this area is a financial challenge. As mentioned above, Austrade
has recognised this as a problem for some, advising the committee that:
The challenge that appears to us from what has been reported to
us is that the arts centres or the galleries do find it financially challenging
to be involved, for example, in art fairs, which is a very significant way that
art is sold internationally, because [of] the cost of those art fairs. The cost
of the freight, the cost of the travel and the people being involved and so
forth has to come out of the profit made at the art fairs, and that is not
necessarily happening. There is not enough profit being made overall to
actually allow those businesses to go back to those art fairs regularly... The
further challenge is with the arts centres in that they do not have the
appropriate infrastructure or staffing and they are very remote, so there are
things like freighting from the middle of Australia to Darwin. So all of those
issues obviously require some sort of financial resource from some area, but we
could not put a figure on it.
While Austrade has recognised the need for additional
resources in the area, it has been suggested that Austrade needs to do more to
assist art centres in that regard. For example, Warlayirti Artists in their
submission to the inquiry pointed out that Austrade could help in more
practical ways by having a program that would fund airfares and overseas
accommodation to support art centres whilst they were developing international
links and export opportunities.
Some art centres appear to have been afforded travel support by Austrade, but
the financial extent of this support is unclear. Maningrida Arts and Culture
advised the committee that Austrade had been good to them in assisting with
travel, and while that support was more moral than financial, it was better
than no support at all.
The perceived viability of the international market for
Indigenous arts and craft seems to vary depending on the individual views and
circumstances of each dealer or art centre. As discussed above, some see it as
a highly viable activity, while others are constrained by financial and
resourcing considerations. The scope seems to be there for further forays into
international markets, but it appears that more needs to be done to support and
encourage those organisations that might otherwise shy away from expanding into
While financial support for such ventures is always
helpful, it is not all that is required. As pointed out by Professor Howard Morphy,
sponsorship of international exhibitions needs to be better supported with the
This is an area where one really needs to work in association
with knowledgeable and expert curators. It is no good sponsoring exhibitions of
poor quality Indigenous art, which quite often happens because the person
happens to know someone who knows someone who has persuaded someone, without
there being the proper interrogation or the proper reference group and so on.
It is not difficult at all to create great exhibitions of Aboriginal art from Australia,
but we have been very bad at generating those and sending them overseas.
Ms Brenda Croft of the National Gallery of Australia also
raised concerns about the quality of overseas exhibitions of Indigenous art
being impacted upon by a lack of communication with appropriate experts in the
There is not enough discussion that goes on with, for example,
embassies and coming to somewhere like the Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Arts Board, which is made up of Indigenous people. You will find out
that an exhibition or whatever has been promoted through that embassy—I am
speaking from first-hand experience here—which is perhaps not the best
representation of what should be coming out of our country, or the person who
has pulled it together is not someone that we would deal with here. There is a
lack of information that is out there overseas by the people who purport to be
promoting Indigenous culture from Australia and that has concerned me and my
colleagues at the Arts Board of the Australia Council for quite some time. We
are here; come and ask us. If there is a proposal or a project that comes to
these places, then why isn’t there a standard way of just going to the people
who do know and then they can say yes or no, that this is going to be a good
representation of what comes from this artist.
This suggests that if what is represented in overseas
exhibitions of Indigenous arts and craft is questionable, then this can in turn
have an impact on the viability of the future market. In other words, if what
is being represented overseas as Indigenous art is not of sufficient standard
or is not authentic then this has the potential to affect the reputation of the
industry and Indigenous artists, and to deter international investors and
collectors from buying it in the future. In recognition of this, calls have
been made for better industry controls and regulations. The Cross Cultural Art
Exchange discussed this issue in their submission to the inquiry:
This year saw an increase in major exhibitions presented
internationally, amplifying the need to control the integrity of the industry,
the quality of the work and to ensure the fair distribution of money back to
the artists and their respective communities. As interest in Indigenous art
grows globally, it is imperative for exhibitions to be ethical. There is a risk
of national issues being transferred to the international market. The wildly
fluctuating prices being generated between auction houses and the commercial
outlets only increase consumer confusion of the market. Regulation is paramount
to prevent international markets becoming apprehensive.
Further supporting this call for better industry controls,
Dr Diane Mossenson pointed out the perceived lack of focus by Austrade in
ensuring the quality and ethical acquisition of the Indigenous arts and craft
that were being exported or exhibited overseas:
Also, I think that Austrade, because of their brief to take any
company overseas that is export ready, in some ways, do not really screen the
quality, quantity or sourcing of the Aboriginal artworks. So, at this moment,
there is a large proportion of B-grade and C-grade work, in my humble opinion,
that is going overseas and is sourced through less than ethical situations
where the artists themselves are not getting any real major benefit from it.
During the hearings the committee questioned Austrade as to
whether any assessments were conducted by them to determine the ethical
behaviour of businesses wanting to export Indigenous products overseas, or to
assess the provenance of the Indigenous art and craft products. Austrade advised
the committee that whether or not a company acted ethically or morally was not
part of their assessment process. However, they advised the committee that they
were not aware of any problems in this area:
We can fairly safely say that across those arts centres and
galleries with whom we have had dealings, we have not been made aware of any
ethical problems or issues related to those particular business clients that we
deal with. If, for example, we work with a gallery that wishes to promote its
art overseas, part of the success, it would seem, of those galleries is the
correct provenance of the artwork. That is an accepted process across the world
in terms of selling art. We have not been made aware of there being any
irregularities with the provenance of the work from those galleries They have
been relatively successful, so we can only assume that the provenance of their
work is correct.
Austrade went on to further advise the committee that there
was also a considerable amount of commercial activity in relation to the
international export of Indigenous Australian art in which Austrade had no
involvement. They pointed out that some Aboriginal arts centres had been independently
exporting for some time, and that there were also things like non-commercial international
cultural awareness programs run by other government departments and
organisations that did not involve Austrade at all.
The committee recommends that, once the Indigenous Art Commercial Code
of Conduct is introduced, Austrade consider a policy of only providing
assistance to businesses that have agreed, either directly or through an
industry association membership, to abide by the Code.
Despite such concerns, the international marketplace for
Indigenous arts and craft is currently still a viable consideration. As
Austrade reinforced, there would not be a large number of exporters in the
industry if it was not profitable to be involved.
While Austrade recognises that start-up costs are significant, they state that
over time these costs will balance out and profits will eventuate. Initially
when art galleries representing Indigenous artists or art centres start in
export it would not be unusual for them to experience a negative return, and in
recognition of these difficulties, Austrade has an Export Market Development
Grants Scheme that allows any business that is starting in export to claim a
reimbursement against its costs.
Desart is one organisation that has recognised the support
that Austrade offers art centres and other exporters to assist them with
getting involved in the international market:
We have been very encouraged by the interest shown by Austrade,
and we have worked closely with the Northern Territory government and Austrade
in the inbound trade missions. This is the third year that they will operate.
Important connections have been made with international markets. The trade
mission that we hosted with Austrade and the Northern Territory government last
year led to direct sales in excess of $100,000 and the organisation of some
seven exhibitions overseas. We also worked with Austrade on a consultancy to
However, Desart also highlighted the difficulties for art
centres wanting to take up Austrade's Export Market Development Grants Scheme.
They argued that not many art centres had been able to take up the scheme
because the payments were limited to particular categories and the payments were
retrospective, so people who did not have the funds up front were finding it
difficult to get started.
Despite such obstacles, it was pointed out to the committee
by the Northern Territory Government that the export market provided growing
opportunities in the area:
In a sense, the establishment of a growing international export trade,
with art centres marketing directly into these markets, is a fulfilment of the
historic task of the Aboriginal visual arts and craft industry: it has always
embraced economic, community and cultural development. It is an industry that
is now taking these ideas on to the world stage.
Further developing the
There are those who believe the international market for
Indigenous arts and craft could most certainly be expanded.
There has been much discussion throughout the inquiry on how this expansion
could be achieved. While there are existing programs that might assist
Indigenous artists and their representatives to further penetrate the
international market, some argue that these programs may not go far enough. Ms Hetti
Perkins, an Indigenous Art Curator from the Art Gallery of NSW, advised the
We believe there should be enhanced support for existing
institutions, in our instance, state or national fine art institutions who have
best practice models, in order that we can pursue opportunities for artists
internationally through exhibition, publishing and programs.
Similarly, Mbantua Gallery stated:
I honestly don't think the Federal Government does anywhere near
enough to promote the art overseas...Our gallery has been travelling overseas for
the past 6 years now on our own initiative to promote the art (and this
benefits all galleries). It is hard work to be quite honest.
There were various suggestions put to the committee about
what more can be done to assist with expansion and further development in the
area. Better education of buyers in the marketplace was one area where a number
of witnesses saw the need for improvements:
When we look at the international markets, my personal view is
that we should be focusing first on educating those markets about the diversity
of the Indigenous art industry so that people are making informed choices about
how they invest and how they engage. Before we invite them to invest, we need
to do all of that work. We need to think about what that market is and how we
want to grow it.
Improvements in education were also supported by Maningrida
Arts and Culture, who told the committee that in order to help access new
markets, more educational and promotional efforts were required 'to make
Aboriginal art better known overseas'. They further pointed out that 'exposure
to good quality works through educational shows' would provide encouragement
for art centres to establish new markets.
As was outlined in their submission:
There is a need to educate the international market about
Aboriginal art. Too often, the commercial shows one can see overseas are of
poor quality and do not reflect the quality of current art production. I have
seen many shows organised by carpetbaggers in Europe that give a poor name to
Aboriginal art. Only a handful of successful arts centres such as Papunya Tula
Artists and MAC have been able in recent years to organise quality shows
overseas. This year, MAC had successful shows in the Kingdom of Bahrain, France
and United Kingdom. MAC is National finalist in the 2006 Export Awards and is
planning to dedicate more energy to expand its presence on the international
art scene. However, a lot could be done to further developing international
markets for Aboriginal artists through intelligent funding programs.
Austrade also recognised the need for increased investment
in education, informing the committee that, for the export of Indigenous art to
be successful in the long term, a significant investment was required in
education and cultural awareness promotion.
As Mr John Odgers told the committee:
There was the opening of the new museum in Paris, which has
quite a lot of Australian Indigenous artwork in the building as well as in the
collection. That type of non-commercial exposure certainly helps potential
collectors and buyers to understand Indigenous arts. Therefore it helps them to
be confident in purchasing the work, but that type of promotion and education
needs to be expanded quite considerably if we were to reach a point where we
said that the export of Indigenous art was at a very high level and was
continually successful and sustainable. That is the first stage thing.
The Australia Council suggested a strategy that would
assist in this area of education by building on current successes, such as the
new museum in Paris mentioned above. They proposed an initiative called 'Showcasing
the Best—Indigenous Australia to the World' as a strategy to provide funding to
promote and profile Indigenous arts and craft internationally. The Australia Council
argued that it would:
Particularly build on the interests and opportunities created by
the opening of the Musee de Quai Branly in Paris and by Undergrowth—Australian
Arts UK, in which Indigenous arts had a significant presence.
Some art dealers have already become more involved in
exhibiting overseas, with Papunya Tula Artists telling the committee that the
level of interest overseas has increased in line with the growing exposure of
Aboriginal art, and that this year:
PTA has been involved in very successful international
exhibitions in France, United Kingdom, United States, Korea, Germany and Singapore.
Whilst five of these exhibitions were selling shows, there is enormous benefit
to be gained through non-selling shows in public galleries or institutions.
Simply making the work accessible to the general public through an
international touring exhibition program increases the exposure of the work and
provides a platform to open up and establish new markets.
Another issue raised during the inquiry was the need for
increased funding in order to encourage the growth of the international market.
Aranda Aboriginal Art argued in their submission that to promote the Aboriginal
art scene internationally, 'more aggressive funding, financial assistance and
promotion' was required, and that new markets such as Asia should be the focus.
Art curators were was also concerned about insufficient
funding for the area. Ms Hetti Perkins told the committee:
One of the issues that has come up in the ability of institutions
to create these international opportunities is the lack of financial support.
In the corporate sector, the philanthropic and also the government sector,
there is just not the funds required to mount these major exhibitions overseas
and to reach those very high art audiences that are really the taste makers or
decision makers for the consumers of art all around the world.
Financial support to promote and exhibit overseas was not
the only element considered to be critical to the success of the Indigenous art
market internationally. As Lauraine Diggins pointed out, financial support also
needed to be combined with other improved forms of assistance to help promote
the success of the sector:
It would be extremely advantageous for dealers intending to
exhibit overseas to have sensible government support. This is best applied to
both financial support and professional assistance in regard to lobbying to
assist the dealers where appropriate. I have found that Austrade, while
friendly, needs to earn its income, it is usually unskilled in regard to
assisting in the arts area.
Austrade was well aware of the need for improved assistance
for Indigenous artists to market and promote their work overseas, and advised
the committee that they had recently commissioned a report by ANKAAA and Desart
to ascertain potential alternative routes to that market.
While Austrade appeared to be assisting with developments in the area, some
groups felt the need for more involvement by Austrade. For example, the
Australian Commercial Galleries Association was keen to work with Austrade, the
government and other bodies in the industry to further develop the area,
telling the committee:
We also look to the government to involve the ACGA in developing
the overseas market either alone or in conjunction with Austrade and the
Australia Council. Many of our ACGA members have had experience in the
international market, and I think for that reason they know some of the
requirements to enable successful export of the product. I think they could be
a valuable resource in assisting you in coming to some conclusion, particularly
in the arts industry.
Ms Perkins also felt that Austrade's services in helping
create export opportunities for Indigenous art could be enhanced by making use
of the initiatives established by other organisations with experience in the
Insofar as future opportunities go and particularly with the
international markets, just to reiterate, we feel that national, state and
regional galleries, keeping places et cetera can and would take a lead in this
regard and create initiatives to create a platform for Austrade and others to
encourage people to export or to promote their work overseas. We feel that
would have a very strong flow-on effect in terms of people in Australia sitting
up and really taking notice. It is always that you do not see what is in your
back yard until someone else tells you that it is there.
The Australia Council is one organisation that has taken a
lead in creating such initiatives, advising the committee that they were, among
other things, targeting funding towards international marketing strategies and
other arts and culture related areas.
The committee also notes the Government's 'Australia on the World Stage'
initiative, a commitment of $20.4 million over four years to 'showcase
Australian arts and our other cultural assets to the world'.
This will be implemented through the Australia International Cultural Council,
the membership of which includes a representative of the Australia Council, as
well as Ms Hetti Perkins, Senior Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Arts, Art Gallery of NSW.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth support increased efforts
to showcase Indigenous visual arts and craft internationally.
In conclusion, it is apparent that many witnesses to the
inquiry feel that there exists a thriving international market for Australian
Indigenous arts and craft, and that this market has significant potential.
However, they generally believe that more support is needed in order to
continue to promote and exploit the significant opportunities that are
available in the future, and that both education and funding are key elements
in the future success of the market.
The committee agrees that there is great potential,
underpinned by both domestic and international markets, for this industry to
both grow steadily and be sustainable. It hopes that the implementation of the
recommendations in this report; the progress made by NAVA and other groups on a
Commercial Code of Conduct; and the fruitful labours of the many people in
Indigenous arts and craft, first and foremost the artists, will ensure that one
of Australia's most extraordinary contributions to culture worldwide will
continue to grow and evolve.
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