In April 2015, Arts Law’s Deputy Director, Delwyn Everard, and I travelled to Central Australia to engage with local independent Indigenous artists in the Alice Springs area. The aim of this project was to reach out to Indigenous artists in Alice Springs and its surrounding communities to empower them about their rights, help them to make a will where needed, and ensure they knew where to get legal assistance in the future. Research indicated that artists in Central Australia who are not affiliated with Indigenous Art Centres are less knowledgeable about their rights and more vulnerable to exploitation. Arts Law was able to develop resources and provide this outreach project through funding support we received through the IVAIS program of the Ministry for the Arts. Our partnerships with the Indigenous Art Code and Ninti One extended our reach and effectiveness.
BEFORE THE TRIP
Before going out into the community and engaging with the artists, Delwyn and I met with members of the Ninti One research team who we would be travelling with to coordinate resources and provide training on the legal issues that would be relevant to discuss with the artists. In a separate but related project, Arts Law had worked with CAAMA to produce three short Indigenous-focused animations relating to copyright, contracts and wills that we were excited to use on this trip. We also created Artist in the Black (AITB) business cards that were small enough for artists to put in their wallets in the event they couldn’t take one of our AITB packs.
On our first day of outreach we met the Ninti One researchers at Todd Mall in Alice Springs. Many independent artists can be found in the mall selling their artwork to tourists and passers-by. Delwyn and I sat on the lawn for a couple of hours that morning discussing copyright, resale royalties, and wills with local artists. This area was also great for engaging other artists in the community through the help of the local Ninti One crew who provided that familiar face. After lunch, we were guided to the Salvation Army Community Centre where many local artists spend their days. It was great to meet the people who provide so much care and encouragement to local artists.
The following day we again met with Ninti One researchers on the lawns of Todd Mall and spoke to many artists. We also made appointments with individual artists to meet at a place most convenient to them. Sometimes this involved travelling to the town camps and visiting families at their homes. It was important to be guided by the Ninti One team when entering town camps – they provided the familiar face and local knowledge while we provided the legal information and advice.
On the third day of our trip Delwyn and I met with artists and art centres who were clients of Arts Law. It was a great opportunity for us to reconnect with those independent artists that may not be aligned with art centres anymore and to let them know we could still provide them with support. Day 3 was very much about revisiting artists to follow up on work done on Day 1 and 2 and ensuring they understood with the advice given.
On our last day we met with more of Arts Law’s previous clients to provide further support. It was heartbreaking to witness and hear stories about how broken many members of the Alice Springs community are. We heard of many social problems which highlighted artists’ vulnerabilities including elder abuse, family disputes and poverty, but unfortunately Arts Law can provide very little assistance in this daily fight to survive.
That afternoon we visited a new gallery. It’s always good for Arts Law to meet gallery owners in the area to see the kind of work they display and find out about their relationships with artists. By visiting new art dealers and galleries and meeting with people who work with independent artists we are able to inform members of the Alice Springs art community about the ethical treatment of Indigenous artists, Arts Law’s services and the AITB program.
After a successful trip it was clear to Arts Law that Alice Springs has a large group of local independent Indigenous artists and also serves as the ‘business hub’ for many artists from the surrounding communities. Some artists travel hundreds of kilometres to sell their art in Alice. Most of these artists experience many financial hardships and are usually the ones exposed to unethical art dealers and carpet baggers. We were happy that we could provide advice to so many artists during the trip and hope that they can use this information in the future to protect their creative work. We were also so grateful to all the artists who gave us their time and provided us with incredible stories about their arts practice. The more Arts Law can visit Alice Springs, the more Indigenous independent artists are empowered to protect themselves from inequitable art dealers and are equipped with the tools to preserve their arts practice.
Jacqueline Cornforth is Arts Law’s Artists in the Black Coordinator.