A review of the government’s new model Indigenous Art Academy

On Friday 9th August Nicolas Rothwell published this article in The Australian on the state of indigenous art in Australia.  Nicolas’s  article details how, over the past 6 years, the old free market indigenous art sector has largely been replaced by a state backed official Indigenous cultural academy:

…..the private-sector market collapsed. What replaced it was a new kind of state culture network,  funded by new or expanded programs: programs for remote community arts infrastructure, for research into indigenous societies and for their cultural support.

This new system is now entrenched. It has four pillars: central co-ordination; frontline art-making; downstream gallery display; and a dependent knowledge industry. These pillars interact, and support each other. They are well-funded and thus largely shielded from the pressures of the marketplace……….Trends in Aboriginal art-making are increasingly shaped by state galleries and public collections, and by the culture bureaucrats who guide them; artworks are supported by government-backed programs, made in approved and sanctioned studios, then bought with public funds.

Nicolas then goes on to conclude the article by talking about the visible effects that this official academy model for indigenous culture is having on the quality of indigenous art:

Tact is necessary in this well-presented, stage-managed new Aboriginal art scene. Revival, progress and reconciliation are the stock themes. There is no space to dwell on pervasive features of remote community life: welfare dependency, marijuana abuse, youth suicide and domestic violence.

He speaks of a particular kind of change: “a slackening, a dilution” and of “new, conformist work being made, in its vastness of scale and its odd mimicry of contemporary trends in mainstream art”. For an artist such as myself, well versed in the origins of modernism and its painful struggle to break free of the 19th century Beaux Arts Academy, none of the effects that this burgeoning official  Academy is having on the quality of indigenous art is that surprising; it has happened in other places and times. In about 1850, Eugene Delacroix in his journal, described a particularly typical academic artist contemporary  as “a conscientious servant of the art of boredom”.  Tasteful laborious boredom (and often a added measure of gangsterism) is exactly what all Academies are all about.

What does surprise me, a bit, is the idea that any elected 21C Australian federal government would consciously even contemplate systematically funding the imposition of a central planning model of Art/cultural management at all – I can only assume that the government really had no idea what ‘they’ were doing.

About john r walker

Have been exhibiting for 30 years . Utopia Art Sydney is my sole outlet. Apart from painting representations I have had a long interest in deep time , history in general and the representation of representation. http://johnrwalker.com.au/
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6 Responses to A review of the government’s new model Indigenous Art Academy

  1. derrida derider says:

    Back in the old New Left days, we would have pointed to this as a classic example of how the system manages dissent by co-opting it.

    The direct and understandable response of an indigenous artist to their condition is anger, and that’s their art should convey. “Youse can stick reconciliation up your arse” is an honest attitude – and however unhelpful that attitude might be in actually improving society (and it probably is unhelpful) it is far more likely to be productive of decent art than officially-approved cant by people whose principal motivation is to con some dollars out of city whitefellas (NTTAWWT per se – it just won’t produce good art).

    • Paul fritters says:

      If that were true, it would be money well spent. I can also imagine it has the opposite effect though: it creates a constituency of both artists and bureaucrats whose livelihoods depends on the continuation of an underlying theme of guilt and recompense. To some extent it then creates that theme. You’d have to more knowledgeable in the history of this in Australia to know if that is true though.

  2. Tel says:

    What does surprise me, a bit, is the idea that any elected 21C Australian federal government , would consciously even contemplate systematically funding the imposition of a central planning model of Art/cultural management at all -I can only assume that the government really had no idea what ‘they’ were doing, at all.

    Yeah, that’s what every other industry said… until it happened to ’em.

  3. murph the surf. says:

    “old New Left Days”?
    classic!
    How is this art production system all that different to the car industry in Australia though?
    This may be one of the new automatic stabilisers of our economy . So instead of rushing around building things we have evolved into a service industry style of makework , no doubt with the the benefit of all those Cert 2s and 4s elevating our productivity.Or are they another scheme too?

    • John walker says:

      Prior to all this I paid a lot of tax they have replaced a independently viable model with a welfare for arts managers model

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