Remotely convinced

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Country: Australia

The title of my blogg reflects my uncertainty of my ability to ensuring this project has longevity. I was approached in August if I would like to help set-up the new art centre in on...

Initiated in October 2006, Papunya Tjupi Art Centre is a new arts project based in the Aboriginal community of Papunya, 250kms east of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. The project is a major collaborative effort between the artists of Papunya and Professor Vivien Johnson, of the College of Fine Arts (COFA), University of NSW. The purpose of the project is to establish a ‘community-based art centre’ in Papunya with the support of the community, government agencies and regional representative bodies. This is the first time there has been an art centre physically located in Papunya.

It was expected that up to 60 artists, many of whom were already recognised talent, would paint at the new art centre. We have easily surpassed this figure after 6 weeks, not with the exisiting talent, rather first-timers keen to paint.

In the past, the artists were serviced by renowned Papunya Tula Pty Ltd which is based in Alice Springs. As this relationship declined, Warumpi Arts (a shop front also in Alice Springs)was established by the Papunya Community Council in 1994 to represent artists living in Papunya. Papunya Tula now focuses on Kintore and Kirrikurra. The abrupt closure of Warumpi in 2004 by the Papunya Council left the artists with no representation and at the mercy of private dealers ­‑ many of whom are unethical in their business practices. It is hoped that once the new art centre is established the dependence on private dealers will be reduced.

From the very beginning, the artists strongly indicated to Viviene the education of young people in arts practice and industry skills was the primary motivation for the establishment of their own art centre. The co-founder and Committee Member of Papunya Tjupi, Mr Long Jack Phillipus and elder/artist, Mr Michael Jagamara Nelson, expressed a deep-held believe that young people need to learn the stories and the painting skills from the older artists.

The actual operation of the art centre began with the appointment of me in October 2007 – a year after the legalities of setting up the art centre were completed. I have worked extensively in the visual arts namely as a graphic designer; in marketing and communications as a public relations professional; and recently as the Manager of Tjala Arts – an Aboriginal art center based in South Australia. During my, almost, five years at Tjala Arts we managed to establish a best practice art centre and show the artists in the APY Lands were capable of creating fine contemporay art worthy of attention.

For the time being, the art centre is operating out of my house (rented from NT government) in Papunya until a building can be found. At the moment we are investigating the possibility of a disused building at the school, which requires minimal renovations, but dollars we don't have. The CEO of the community has plans to renovate a badly vandalised ‘green stilt’ house to encompass a flat for the Manager and a gallery. People don't realise that art centres are more than just a gallery and office. Art centres required separate spaces for the men and women to paint, a canvas preperation area, paint mixing and dispensing area, wash-up areas, toilets, showers, meeting spaces, various storerooms, outdoor areas and a kitchen. Consultation is the key to the sucesss of any project.

Anyway, back to the day to day...the artists collect paint and canvas from me before returning home to paint. Finished canvases are either picked up by me or dropped off by the artists or family. Because the artists are painting at home the art centre is open to risk. The artists are using the paints to paint 'private' works which they sell to dealers/retail outlets in Alice Springs or to the whitestaff in Papunya. Today, I had my first stretcher returned without the painting. It was disappointing and if continues will undermine the success of the art centre. I need to educate the whitestaff in Papunya of the importance of buying direct from the art centre not the artists. The reasons for I will elaborate in my next posting. My car is the delivery van and taxi until such time we have the funds to purchase a Troope Carrier.

Many came forward to work in the art centre as an assistant, but as the first week went by the obvious candidate for a traineeship was Isobel Major. Isobel is worth her weight in gold - patient, enthusiastic to learn, and a wonderful support especially when I require insider knowledge.

By the way, the art centre is a registered as Papunya Tjupi Art Centre Aboriginal Corporation, trading as Papunya Tjupi Arts. It is an Aboriginal owned and directed small business. During the past year we have received various grants from the NT and federal Governments to assist in setting up the project, print workshop and an exhibition in Sydney. We hope to achieve more funding next year. Good news though, we have just been given funds to employ Isobel, just as well as we are running out of money. Like any new business, there is many dollars going out and not enough coming back yet! Sigh



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Last modified: May 6, 2008 12:52 AM