Better philanthropy for remote art centres

By: Rod Reeve   |   Ninti One

Having started as a cool morning in Mparntwe, it’s now a warm, sunny afternoon. After enjoying a few hours of painting, the Iltja Ntjarra artists decide to sit outside for a yarn over a cuppa.

The Iltja Ntjarra (Many Hands) Art Centre in Alice Springs is home to renowned Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira’s descendants. The more senior and experienced artists produce the magnificent watercolours that eventually make their way across the world, and utilise those skills to mentor younger artists. However, that isn’t the only thing happening at Iltja Ntjarra.

In a similar way to the other ninety or so remote Aboriginal art centres, this is a place where community members come together to share stories, practice language and support each other. It is a space owned and run by the local community. It is a source of immense pride.

One of the many beautiful aspects of remote art centres is that they are not just about producing and selling art, as important as that is. They also provide other ‘community business’, where intergenerational transfer of culture, language and traditions occurs.

Highlighting how valuable this is, our Interplay project now has an evidence base – developed through the input of communities – that practicing culture is actually essential to health and wellbeing for Aboriginal people. Through the existence of a place where culture is promoted, communities will also see benefits in other areas of life.

Enhancing the strength of remote art centres is a priority for Australians who feel a commitment to reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This can occur through ‘more and better’ philanthropy.

Through the Cooperative Research Centre for Remote Economic Participation, Ninti One completed a major research project on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Economies. One of the project’s main outputs was the largest ever value chain study of remote Aboriginal art centres.

The research showed that less than 6% of remote artists receive what could be called a wage, and over 70% of these artists are female. Thus, it’s obvious to see that stronger art centres will play a substantial role in the empowerment of women in remote communities.

There are examples of corporate and philanthropic organisations demonstrating best practice in philanthropy. For instance, the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation already works with Desart – the central Australian peak body – to enhance its capacity to represent central Australian artists. Additionally, law-firm Allens holds the largest corporate art collection in Australia, and they do this by establishing fruitful connections with artists. They also provide ongoing pro-bono work for the Indigenous Art Code and its Fake Art Harms Culture campaign. These efforts strengthen the sector in a way that benefits artists and their communities.

Resulting from this collaborative research, Ninti One has four evidence-based initiatives ‘ready to go’ which provide philanthropists a mechanism to make a lasting contribution to remote art centres. These focus on four key themes: market development; reform of human resources practices, strengthening of representative peak bodies and improvement of professional standards. These are ready for immediate implementation.

In the spirit of ‘more and better’ philanthropy, these are not band-aid solutions; they go beyond just producing artworks for a corridor in Melbourne on an ad-hoc basis. Through these initiatives, philanthropists have the opportunity to provide significant capacity strength to the remote art sector.


Photo by Tim Acker.


For further details about these four opportunities, please contact Rod Reeve, Managing Director, Ninti One.

May. 22, 2017

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