Photo taken by Peter Shepherd at our fist business training session in 2004.
Papulankutja Artists is a small community based, indigenous owned art centre. This is not an easy thing to be.
Our Business plan states that our objective are...
"To promote art and craft activities that provide opportunities for community members to develop their skills and to participate in fulfilling activities.
To promote cultural maintenance through art and craft activities and strengthen the cultural resources in the community.
To foster an environment which develops self esteem by acknowledging the economic and social value of Aboriginal art, language and culture.
To facilitate the development and sale of art works for the benefit of the community.
Through the sale of art works to provide sustainable and meaningful employment opportunities for community people of Blackstone.
To promote the inter generational transfer of skills and experience to strengthen culture in the region."
The art centre is owned by the artists who work in it. It is a profit share business, where the artists invest 35% of the income from painting to the art centre for its operation. The art centre provides the facility, the materials, business equipment, runs a vehicle, organizes sales, exhibitions and so on. The intent is to be self funding but we do get some help from the taxpayer for operational purposes each year and for special projects, like our lovely new building.
We are a small, very remote centre, we produce some very important and stunning work, we produce some consistently nice presentable work and we produce some pretty ho hum work. Our charter is to give opportunity to everyone one who wants it. My instruction from the artists is to assist all comers. I can not "cherry pick" participants.
Sometimes we do not have work that is worthy of being put forward for major prizes or shows, sometimes we do.
This year I had two works that I considered putting up for Telstra. I was only considering it as such good works are also easy to sell and because we are small and always in need of sales, the money imperative is strong. Over Christmas a number of significant artists from surrounding communities came over, hungry, alone and with no easy way of facilitating paintings or sales. These were artists that we at Papulankutja consider family and who have a history of occasionally working at this art centre. I was happy to be here for them and was able to arrange some work and sales for them. During this time it came to my attention that works from their community would be put up to telstra. It was the decision maker for me. I chose to consider my two good pieces for other places.
My concern is one of transparency in business and a question of conflict of interest when a Gallery owner moves into "takes over" a community and then "cherry picks" the artists who will bring in the money. This disadvantages the community concerned and in particular the many who are disenfranchised from any capacity for meaningful employmet and social activity.
Artists are free to do as they please. This art centre seeks to educate its members in "whitefella" business, hopefully giving them the tools they need to make the best decision for their own development and for their families. When an artists moves, for what ever reason, to another community, the community art centres work together and assist each other as well as the artist concerned. We are not in competition with each other, we are here to assist the artists in the community. This may not always be convenient but it is the way it is. If an artists is ill and needs to be in a major township for long or short term, then the art centres seeks to make suitable arrangements with an art centre in town that can help both the artist and the community art centre.
The best income for the artists of the community and for the art centre comes from the known or money artists. 35% of $5000.00 for one sale is a hell of a lot better, economically, that 35% of multitudes of $200.00 sales. This is in money terms only, for the artist the sense of achievement and selfesteem from the sale and appreciation of your work can not be measured in dollar terms alone.
The art centre manager needs to think in dollar terms however, because the art centre manager needs to make ends meet.
Having one's artists raided and cherry picked, having their monetary value inflated by strange whitefella trading practices puts an unfair strain on the community art centre that has built the artists reputation and put the time and energy into their development, funded by the artists of the community who have invested 35% of their sales in their art centre.
It is difficult, due to the lack of transparency by the art traders concerned to know if the artists involved are in fact getting a fair deal, maybe they are. What value a Toyota or ten, who knows?!