In the past weeks I have visited Darwin and Alice Springs. Both cities have very active arts communities.
Darwin Visual Arts Association (DVAA) is cited as the only official ARI in Darwin. It is located at Frog Hollow Centre for the Arts near the centre of town. DVAA has been running since 1983, so it’s one of the longest running ARIs in Australia. Leanne Waterhouse is the current Director and Sarah Pirrie is one of the co-ordinators. Both women are practicing artists and have lived in Darwin for many years – and both women very generously shared their thoughts and experiences with me about ARIs, the art scene in Darwin, and living and working in Darwin.
Watch This Space in Alice Springs describes itself as “the only contemporary experimental art space in Central Australia.” I spent an afternoon chatting with two artists Pops (Claudia Bagnall) and Milly (Amelia Cobb), best friends from Melbourne. They are artist-in-residence from June til October, 2013. They were experimenting with collaboration and painting.
Later that evening while attending an opening of the artist Wes Maselli at the Araluen Arts Centre I met, by chance, Matty Day, a local artist. This is something that I’ve noticed about the arts scene in The Territory in general…it’s very friendly. People actually talk to each other and to strangers in the gallery. Anyway, Matty was just there and we started talking. He’s been living in Alice Springs for a number of years although like many residents hails originally from down south. He’s an artist with a passion for street art amongst other things and was actually in the midst of a major collaborative wall painting in central Alice titled Alice Springs Dreamtime Wall. We arranged to meet the following day at the wall.
We arrived as planned, late in the afternoon around 4pm – just as the painters/collaborators – Phil McCormack and Makatron were winding down for the day. It was a huge wall and the painting was impressive – startling figures and colours and really well done.
The Territory is a world away from the Southern cities, where I live. Any definitions or assumptions I had about artist-run initiatives before going to the Territory became very blurred. The powerful presence of Aboriginal art and artists make the Territory an amazingly rich place for art, artists and art making. It made me question any narrow ideas of what an ARI could be. There is a wealth of Aboriginal Art Centres in the Territory, near Darwin, Alice Springs and Katherine. Many of these centres are artist initiated, artist-run, independent and very contemporary. Immediately questions arise for me about community art and ARIs, and specifically Aboriginal Art Centres. Are they ARIs? Many people would say no. They are community art centres. Yet, for me I’m not so sure. Is it productive to separate and divide these different communities? That is, Aboriginal Art Centres and traditional ARIs. Aboriginal Art Centres are full of contemporary artists – making work, and making art work. They are often not-for-profit. ARIs seem associated with art school graduates – often white. Aboriginal Art Centres are groups of artists initiating ways of working that nurture the artists and the art community – isn’t that what an ARI is or should be? They do embody the literal meaning of the words “artist-run initiative”. Yet as many artists have said to me, the term ARI was created as a funding category by funding bodies – which suggests a disquiet about what it actually means for working artists.
A short drive away from Alice Springs (131 kilometres) is Hermannsburg, an Aboriginal Community, where a group of women artists have gained a reputation for making pots and painting their distinctive designs on them. Known as the Hermannsburg Potters, this Aboriginal Artist Centre, like many others in the Territory, is developing innovative art practices in a community setting, where the artists work together in the Centre, using the facilities of the Centre as a communal studio. Although each artist makes her own pots with her own designs.
While staying in Darwin I visited Injalak Art Centre at Gunbalanya, 3 hours drive from Darwin in Arnhem Land. This too was a vibrant Art Centre with many artists roaming around and working in the studios behind the store. The Centre is located in a beautiful part of Arnhem Land beside a billabong and a rising hill where you can find lots and lots of rock art.
Just outside Alice is Santa Teresa, where another group of women artists have initiated their own art group of painters.