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First Peoples

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this resource may contain images or names of people who have since passed away.


Integrating art production and economic development in North West NT and the Tiwi Islands

National survey of remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists
Aboriginal Australian art Aboriginal customs Cultural awareness Rural and remote communities Self-determination Art economy Economic development Northern Territory Tiwi Islands

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 six regions in remote Australia. This Report relates to the implementation of the National Survey in Region 3: The North-West region of the Northern Territory, a region that includes the Tiwi Islands.

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 six regions in remote Australia. The regions are:

Region 1: Kimberley, WA
Region 2: East and West Arnhem Land, NT
Region 3: North-West NT and Tiwi Islands
Region 4: Central Desert, NT and APY Lands, SA
Region 5: Pilbara and Western Desert
Region 6: Far North Queensland

The researchers' aim in carrying out this study has been to document the nature of art and cultural production by individual Indigenous cultural producers in the North-West NT/Tiwi Islands 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. In this final section of the Report, the researchers draw together some of the key policy issues that have emerged from the study. As it is noted, there is considerable variation across the region in existing economic, social and cultural circumstances and in different communities’ potential for future development. It is impossible to generalise in recommending policy action. Moreover, it is unlikely that a single policy measure can be found that will address all the issues at once. Instead a mix of complementary measures will be needed to address particular aspects. It is also important to bear in mind the researchers are not suggesting that art and cultural production can on its own transform any remote community; rather, it is argued that in the right conditions it can be an effective avenue towards employment creation and income generation, helping to improve the long-term prospects for economic sustainability and social viability, while respecting the fundamental importance of Indigenous culture. All policy recommendations that flow from this study are pointed in this direction.

Key Findings:

In this Report it is shown how the visual artists, performing artists, composers, writers, film-makers and multimedia artists in the North-West NT/Tiwi Islands region represent a rich resource of cultural capital. The knowledge and skills of these artists already contribute significant levels of cultural goods and services to the regional economy. But the data also shows considerable untapped potential – experienced artists who are willing to work at cultural production but who for various reasons may not be able to participate fully in the art economy at the present time. In this final section of the Report the researchers identify a number of policy issues that arise in considering the present state and future potential of art and cultural production in the North-West NT/Tiwi Islands region. The issues are grouped into the following categories:

  • Infrastructure needs:
    The art economy in the North-West NT/Tiwi Islands region depends on a wide variety of infrastructure that supports and facilitates its operation. Some of this infrastructure is general, and serves everyone in the region, such as transport and communication services. Other categories of infrastructure are specific to the arts and cultural sector, providing the necessary support to enable artists and cultural producers to pursue their work. The latter include: art centres; recording studios and other facilities for performing artists, filmmakers, multimedia and other artists; and cultural organisations of various sorts.
  • 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 communities in a way that respects the needs and desires of Indigenous people, with particular regard to employment that is both culturally sensitive and culturally appropriate. Here we consider several means to expand economic opportunities for artists in the survey region.
  • Training and skill development: 
    One of the most important areas for policy formulation at all levels of public administration in supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in remote communities is in education and training. Much of the policy attention in this area is devoted to formal education processes; nevertheless, although this Report has shown how these processes are significant, they are not necessarily the most important avenues of knowledge acquisition and skill development for artists in the region. The findings of this study show that the most important pathways for transfer of art and cultural skills and knowledge are found within the communities through family and other community members. Our results also show that for many arts and cultural jobs, Indigenous cultural producers are already job-ready and do not require a significant amount of training. The survey results point towards a number of improvements that could be made in the delivery of education, training and skills development in the remote areas of the region, as discussed further in the report.
  • Cultural tourism:
    Sale of goods and services produced by artists requires a market, and in remote locations accessible markets may exist only through channels leading to customers who may be located far away. However, 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.
    In some locations, opportunities exist for the establishment of small family-based tourism enterprises involving Aboriginal individuals and focussing on providing small-group art/culture/nature experiences for discriminating visitors. There are many ways to increase involvement of Aboriginal individuals, families and communities in these initiatives. For example, in some communities there are likely to be experienced cultural producers who are good storytellers and who feel comfortable talking to visitors, enabling them to act as tour guides, interpreters and translators for tourists individually or in groups.  Prospective enterprises in this field require basic business skills, indicating the need for skill development programs such as workshops, short-course training sessions, and/or small business incubators tailored to the needs of family-based tourism initiatives. For these developments to become a reality, a well-planned and adequately funded training strategy focussing on small Indigenous family- and community-run businesses is needed. If successful, these enterprises could become a prime example of a participatory economy in the region, engaging Aboriginal individuals and communities, and helping to reduce levels of welfare dependency among the Indigenous population. A more detailed consideration of issues for cultural tourism in the two main areas of the survey region are listed in the report.

In considering policy development, it must be understood that policies affecting individual art and cultural practice in the region are formulated at local, State/Territory and national levels as well as among the various non-government and private sector organisations and agencies. Thus there is unlikely to be a single one-size-fits-all strategy applicable to all regional remote communities. Instead, different needs can be identified in different locations depending on a range of factors. In these circumstances there is clearly a requirement for coordination between the decisions and actions of stakeholders at various levels in the policy process.

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