1. Home
  2. Aboriginal Art
  3. Protecting Australian Indigenous art
  4. Background information
  5. Taking control
  6. Aboriginal artists' cooperatives, galleries and organisations
Print this page Reduce font size Increase font size

Aboriginal artists' cooperatives, galleries and organisations

As the commercial interest in Aboriginal artists has gathered momentum, so too has the collection and exhibition of their works, and the mass circulation of reproductions. In these circumstances, many communities in which art is produced have community art centres determined to secure greater economic and moral ownership over their artistic material. These centres, which helped to develop today’s booming market, are cooperative structures for the development, display, marketing and distribution of artworks.

In some cases this collective response reflects the quite collective manner in which the art community first organised and established itself, for example Warlukurlangu Aboriginal Artists Association at Yuendumu. In other cases - for example, Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative in Sydney - it is a mechanism to support artists who work in a range of communities and circumstances.

The support offered by Aboriginal arts organisations can be far-reaching. The collegial support of arts and advocacy groups and government organisations has been important in actions taken to protect the copyright and commercial and cultural interests of Indigenous artists. In the case of Johnny Bulun Bulun this support involved a sustained period of investigation that was able to uncover a number of other Aboriginal artists whose rights were being infringed.

This network of organisations and cooperatives has emerged in a relatively short period of time. It was in 1971 that the Commonwealth Government established a company, Aboriginal Arts and Crafts, to market Aboriginal art. Two years later, it set up the Aboriginal Arts Board of the Australia Council, providing for arts advisers in remote communities. This turned around the ad hoc processes that had existed up to that time, in which explorers, anthropologists, missionaries and private collectors had obtained ‘artefacts’ for museums or private collections, or for sale in the few existing retail outlets.

The arts advisers combined their responsibilities for documenting works and organising exhibitions with encouraging the production of work for both the fine art and tourist markets. This was a sign that Aboriginal art had moved firmly onto a commercial footing, putting Aboriginal artists into closer contact with the demands of the marketplace.

Despite the growing interest, however, only a very few Aboriginal artists are able to support themselves through sales; this also applies to the art industry generally. In order to build a sustainable industry, governments subsidise most art-producing communities. Artists’ income might also be supplemented by general employment or social security benefits.

Print this page Reduce font size Increase font size
Aboriginal artists' cooperatives, galleries and organisations