It’s important to know that Aboriginal artists and art centres are not all one homogenous group – each have their own style, stories, methods, materials and traditions that are unique to their Country and culture, that often cannot be practiced elsewhere. Through the artwork produced in community art centres there is so much to be learned about the spirit, culture and history of our country’s First Nations people.
There are a few things to keep in mind when purchasing artwork by Indigenous artists. Supporting art centres that are Aboriginal owned, operated and governed means that economic autonomy remains within the community. I asked Shilo McNamee, Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF) Foundation’s artistic director, why this is important.
‘Art centres are the beating heart of Indigenous communities. Supporting art centres ensures that Australia’s Indigenous art sector continues to flourish and excel’, she says. ‘The economic independence of communities helps ensure that people can continue to live on their homelands, resulting in the preservation of traditional practices, ceremonies, language, art and spirituality.’
Another important thing to look out for is that the art centre (or anywhere you are purchasing Aboriginal artwork from!) is a signatory of the Indigenous Art Code (IartC). This is a code of conduct (the Code) that art dealers, art centres and galleries can join to demonstrate their commitment to fair and ethical dealings when working with Indigenous artists. When art centres become signatories of the IartC, they are considered Dealer Members. ‘These businesses are committed to the fair and ethical trade with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, and transparency in the promotion or sale of artwork’, says Gabrielle Sullivan, CEO of the Indigenous Art Code. ‘Dealer Memberships signifies a commitment to act fairly, honestly, professionally and in good conscience in all direct or indirect dealings with artists.’ Members of the IartC will generally display a logo on their website. You can read more about the IartC’s recommendations for buying ethically here.
As far as what percentage of an artwork purchase goes directly back to the artists, DAAF’s executive director Claire Summers notes an industry standard as a guideline. ‘Art centres have systems in place to ensure artists are paid ethically. It is an industry standard for artists to receive 60 per cent of the sale price, with 40 per cent returning to the Art Centres, to continue their important work in the community’, she says.
You should also expect to receive a Certificate of Authenticity (CoA) with artwork purchases over $250.
Now you’re equipped with the information to make an ethical purchase from an art centre – WHERE TO START? Many art centres have great websites and Instagram pages where you can learn more about the artists, their Country and their practice, and shop their artwork online. The Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair – who return 100% of all sales directly to the participating artists and art centres – has recently announced they will be going online this year from August 6th – 11th (check out their list of all 75 participating art centres and register for early access here). The Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (running August 17th – 22nd) has a list of their participating art centres on their website, as does the Tarnanthi Festival (whose Art Fair will run October 15th – 17th) in South Australia here.
To get you going, we’ve put together a list of 15 art centres that are Aboriginal owned and operated, signatories of the Indigenous Art Code, and showcase a diverse range of the incredible work being produced by artists of the world’s oldest living culture.
Please note this is by no means an exhaustive list – according to the IartC, there are over 60 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander-owned art centres who are members of the IartC! This is a place to start – we encourage you to keep looking, learning, supporting and celebrating!