The Arts, Aboriginal Art and the Private Sector

by on 19 April, 2013

Jack Wilkie-Jans

Menzies House welcomes another inspiring writer to its stable of authors. Jack Wilkie-Jans is a 21-year-old indigenous artist based in Cairns.

His perception and suggestions of how the value of art could be progressed in the region indicates a wisdom greater than his years. GC.Ed.@L.

 The Arts cannot thrive on its own and as art is something for the ages and as something that speaks about the now and the to-be in our societies, we are owed the support of others and we are charged with bravely initiating that expansion of interests. Private benefactors and donors who can be educated as to the true social value of art and art education are the ones we must source to prop up bursary funds and scholarships for, say, remotely based and financially inept artists or aspiring artists, to follow their dreams.

Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander society and culture is becoming a sort of creative and chameleon-like hybrid as it is plain to see that, as always, our culture and expressions of is strong enough to persevere in tradition and modernise with strength. Cairns is a hub for all the Far Northern and remote artists. The inauguration of the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) places Cairns on the national and international art scene in a professional capacity.

The Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) has recently enjoyed- or endured, depending on who you speak to, a remarkable re-think, re-design and of course, re-shuffle in regards to structure, presentation, funding and staffing. The business side of the Fair has been privatised and all management and duties are soon to be delegated to a Board and in the mean-time the transition process towards a private structure will be facilitated by a Working Group/Task Force.

It is bold moves such as this that really ensures a stronger arts industry, become possible, or at least explored with more bravery in Queensland. The more private businesses that are investing in the Arts, the more interest they will have to successfully support it in order to make their investment viable and sustainable. 

A lot of people have asked me to comment on the issue of privatising CIAF, however, I won’t digress into the politics of the move, but will focus on the positives which can create good lessons and examples of productivity which could be assimilated to our other artistic ventures or organisations. The thing is, we really need and deserve a stronger Arts industry. As an example, for a long time now CIAF has been a sort of a false-economy in that a great amount of the cost covering was Government funded and a lot of the sales of art-works were acquisitions using Government funds. When one entity works in conjunction with an industry but that entity funds the materials for the work, funds the worker and then purchases the goods, it is effectively running at a long-term loss. For most intents and purposes this is how a large part of the industry has been run to an extent and I believe it is setting Creatives up to fail due to paternalism.

The Cairns Indigenous Art Fair somewhat failed to attract the standard of over-seas interest that many other long-standing arts fairs in Australia enjoy, and with the people and businesses of Cairns working very hard to make the city more appealing to tourists, I believe that a Fair managed by the main and largest businesses in Cairns will hold the best interests of both the arts and their tourism goals at heart. With the freedoms and added influence and skills this new model allows, artists feel more room to grow; there may be added funds for more daring and interesting exhibits for instance. 

I believe that in the instance of CIAF, privatisation can work, as it will break down a lot of the borders and perceived difficulties in dealing with Government. I think it’s time to be brave and for the Arts to accept the notion of securing more private funding, and to aim to emulate and achieve as strong an industry as Europe has. We need to encourage our young Indigenous artists to experiment artistically and with technique and to challenge the current context of Aboriginal Art. This is extremely important, and Indigenous artists need to feel that the art world in its entirety is something they should spread across and not just be sectioned to the Indigenous Art sector. The private sector is the sector which nurtures development and progression.

Jack is an Arts Event Co-ordinator and Contemporary Artist based in Cairns, Queensland who has held four solo exhibitions since 2011. He is also a Traditional Owner of the Western Cape, Mapoon region and advocates strongly for Aboriginal Affairs across issues such as Alcohol Management Plans, the Northern Territory Intervention and the Welfare Reform trials.

In October 2012 Jack co-ordinated a Charity Art Auction to support Suicide Prevention for the Declan Crouch Fund which raised well over $5,000 to the cause of raising awareness of Suicide within the young community. In 2013 he was nominated for the Cultural Award of the Cairns Region Australia Day Awards for his efforts promoting the local Cairns art industry and charities. 

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