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Integrating art production and economic development in the Central Desert (NT) and the APY Lands (SA)

National survey of remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists
Aboriginal Australian art Aboriginal customs Cultural awareness Rural and remote communities Art economy Economic development Northern Territory South Australia

The purpose of this study is to investigate and analyse the extent to which art and cultural production can provide a viable pathway towards economic empowerment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living in remote towns, settlements, homelands and outstations across the Central Desert/APY Lands region. These are areas where cultural production has the potential to be one of the most important means for providing a viable, sustainable and culturally-relevant livelihood for members of the community.

This Report presents the results of a study that forms one component of a major National Survey of Remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Artists. The National Survey is being undertaken in the Department of Economics at Macquarie University progressively across seven regions in remote Australia.
The regions are:
Region 1: Kimberley, WA
Region 2: East and West Arnhem Land, NT
Region 3: Tiwi Islands and North-west NT
Region 4: Central Desert, NT and APY Lands, SA
Region 5: Pilbara and Western Desert, WA
Region 6: Far North Queensland

The present Report relates to the implementation of the National Survey in Region 4: Central Desert NT and APY Lands SA.

Key Findings:

  • Infrasctructure Needs:
    Art centres, resources for performing artists, and cultural organisations such as Desart and Ku Arts, have important roles in facilitating the development of arts and cultural practice. They need full acknowledgement in the formulation of policy strategies at all levels of public and private sector engagement affecting arts and cultural producers. For some of these organisations, there is ample scope for extending these sorts of facilities to more communities with adequate funding support; they are the sorts of infrastructure facilities that can make a difference, particularly for the community's young people.
  • Expanding Economic Opportunities:
    A fundamental policy issue in addressing issues of disadvantage among remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities concerns how to open up opportunities for employment creation and income generation in the communities in a way that respects the needs and desires of the Indigenous people, with particular regard to employment that is both culturally sensitive and culturally appropriate. Examples such as culture-related activities, small business development, and learning from the successes of hybrid organisations are ways to expand economic opportunities for artists in the survey region. However, challenges such as market and supply-chain issues where progress is needed in measures to prevent the sale of fake Indigenous art products of every sort, and to promote best practice in the certification of authenticity by all sellers of products purporting to come from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. 
  • Education, Training and Skill Development:
    The survey results point towards a number of improvements that could be made in the delivery of Indigenous education, training and skills development in the region, such as schooling, intergenerational cultural transmission, access to country, post-school education pathways, and obtaining business skills either through education or while in the workplace.
  • Cultural Tourism:
    Tourism is a means to bring customers directly to the source of supply. Tourists who visit remote communities can engage with Indigenous culture at first hand and hopefully buy artworks or attend performances staged by local artists. There is a significant demand from both domestic and international tourists to experience Indigenous culture; for example, international arts tourists who visited regional areas of the Northern Territory in 2017 had particularly high levels of engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, with 79 percent of them attending a First Nations arts activity while visiting Australia. In the Central Desert/APY Lands region, tourism occurs in three distinct areas: at Yulara and Uluru; in the rest of the Central Desert; and in the APY Lands.

The aim in carrying out this study has been to document the nature of art and cultural production by individual Indigenous cultural producers in the Central Desert/APY Lands region, and to assess the extent to which these activities might provide a means to integrate economic and cultural development in the region’s remote communities. There is considerable variation across the region in existing economic, social and cultural circumstances and in different communities’ potential for future development. 

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