Comics, Casework and Communication: An Update on Artists in the Black

Artists in the Black (AITB), Arts Law’s Indigenous service, has been extremely busy over the last 12 months. AITB has actively been involved in a range of national legal activities, including casework, advocacy, providing legal education and the development of publications and resources.

Whilst Arts Law traditionally does not engage in case work, AITB has had the opportunity to undertake case work, enabling the service to develop a greater awareness and insight into the issues affecting Indigenous artists and their communities.

Some of the casework AITB has been involved in includes:

  • Development of a sample agreement for FATSIL (Federation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages) the peak Indigenous Language body in Australia. The agreement applies where consultants (ie ICT specialists, linguists and anthropologists) engage in projects with Aboriginal communities to develop language materials. The agreement is accompanied by a specific protocol guideline. The agreement is a first of its kind in Australia and freely available (
  • Providing advice to an Aboriginal Language organisation in regional Western Australia. The organisation developed a set of posters with both artwork and written text to be produced in both English and Aboriginal Language focusing on arts law issues. We were able to offer legal and best practice advice.
  • Advising an Aboriginal inmate in relation to copyright and moral rights infringements of their artwork produced whilst in custody.
  • Advising a prominent Aboriginal artist from the Tiwi Islands in relation to potential copyright infringements. The client has been practising art for over thirty years and embodies cultural practices.
  • Advising an Arts Advocacy Centre in the Northern Territory who developed a policy and procedure template. The template was developed as a funding requirement imposed by the Commonwealth government to Indigenous organisations who receive Commonwealth funding.

AITB has also been involved in lobbying government on a range of arts law issues affecting Indigenous artists including:

  • Resale Royalties (introducing a scheme whereby artists receive a royalty for the resale of their artwork). Arts Law supports the introduction of a scheme particularly as it offers financial benefit to Indigenous artists and their communities.
  • Indigenous Communal Moral Rights legislation (ICMR). Arts Law supports the extension of legislative protection for Indigenous communities. However, Arts Law is of the opinion that the current proposed bill is flawed and is lobbying for amended proposals.
  • Program Funding Agreement offered to Indigenous organisations that require funding to operate their service. Arts Law offered comments to Government on behalf of our clients who have concerns about the agreement particularly the intellectual property provisions.
  • Research into Indigenous arts law issues with a focus on protecting Indigenous cultural heritage. This includes looking at Commonwealth, State and Territory legislation (ie Cultural Heritage legislation) as a means of extending protection to Indigenous communities and culture. Arts Law is aware of the gap that lies between Australian law (including copyright) and Indigenous customary law.

Education is often cited as the key to knowledge and power and we have discovered that educational workshops are the key to informing Indigenous communities about our service and raising awareness about arts law issues. So far the educational workshops have enabled us to meet with over 800 Indigenous people nationally.

We have traveled to regional Western Australia (including the Pilbara and Goldfields), Perth, Adelaide, Northern Territory (Alice Springs and Darwin), Townsville, Victoria, Wollongong and Newcastle. We hope to travel to the Northern Territory in October and November 2005, to hold an Indigenous workshop in Tasmania and travel to Northern Queensland. Information sessions have also proven to be invaluable as it ensures a greater awareness about AITB and the service it offers.

Recently, in July, AITB, celebrated 12 months of service delivery and launched new comics covering arts law issues. The launch was held during NAIDOC week to raise awareness of arts law issues affecting Indigenous peoples, and to celebrate Indigenous culture. The launch was hosted by Freehills who generously offered the venue and catering.

The four comics were produced for Indigenous artists covering the topics of Copyright, Indigenous Cultural & Intellectual Property, Contracts and Moral Rights.

The idea for the comics came about because AITB needed an eye catching resource that would interest Indigenous artists, as it was recognized that some people are unlikely to read a more traditional information sheet because sometimes the information can look too much. The comics are targeted at all Indigenous artists both young and old, from all communities around Australia.

The comics were adapted from information sheets that are specifically for Indigenous artists. Arts Law worked closely with Streetwize Communications on this project. Robyn Ayres (Executive Director) and Blanch Lake met with Liz Skelton (General Manager of Streetwize) to work out the best layout and how the information was going to put into each comic. Jo Taylor (Streetwize Project Officer) assisted after the initial meeting and helped to finalise the comics.

Blanch Lake wrote the storylines for the four comics. All the relevant legal information needed to be included but had to be changed to simpler language, so that people who read them did not need a legal background of any kind. This was also designed to make the comics more enjoyable to read. This process developed over a period of time and with constant consultation from the staff at Arts Law particularly the legal staff.

Each storyline was carefully thought about and Blanch wanted each comic to be different from the next. The idea was for a reader to pick one up and think ‘wow, I wonder what happens in the other ones’, and get them to think about how this may impact on their own lives and think ‘that has happened to me, I will call Arts Law for more information’.

The comics have become an outstanding resource for AITB. Overall the comics were a smash hit on the night of the launch and have been well received by various organisations (government & non-government) and individual artists across Australia

AITB would like to thank Streetwize Communications for their time and effort, especially Ross Carnsew who did the brilliant artwork. An enormous thank you to the Law and Justice Foundation who provided the financial assistance to produce these amazing comics and thanks to the wonderful people who spoke on the night of the launch, Robynne Quiggin (MC and Chair of the AITB Reference Group), Aunty Millie Ingram (Aboriginal Elder who gave the Welcome to Country), Justice George Palmer (President of ALCA Board), and Geoff Mulherin (Director of the Law and Justice Foundation).

We also must recognise the ongoing voluntary efforts of the AITB Reference Group. The members include Robynne Quiggin, Kevin Dolman, Carol Innes, Irene Watson, Karen Mills and John Harding. We also thank Terri Janke, Richard Frankland and Aden Ridgeway for their prior involvement in the group. The function of the group is to provide guidance and support.

Samantha Joseph is the Aboriginal Lawyer and Blanch Lake is the Aboriginal Information Liaison Officer at Arts Law.

The AITB service was officially launched in June 2004. The service is currently funded by Australia Council for an initial trial period which ends December 2005.

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