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Boosting Indigenous participation in arts management

Boosting Indigenous participation in arts management
September 21, 2012

The National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in Canberra is aiming to ensure that more Indigenous people are involved in professional roles in the art world.

The NGA recently invited a group of artistically-minded Indigenous people from around the country to learn how things work at the top end of town, including Indigenous artist Robert Fielding who travelled from Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands in far north-west South Australia to the Capital to take part in the NGA's Indigenous leadership program, sponsored by Wesfarmers Arts.

Fielding explained "I live in a remote community and it's about leaving family, but it's up to the individual to want to go away.

"There's a lot of good people out there who can do these sorts of jobs, but they have to leave their families which is the hardest part".

Fielding is now part of a group of art enthusiasts - who are involved in either curating, creating or educating about art - who were selected for the annual program.

The 10 day program, now in its third year, is designed to show participants where working in artistic fields can lead giving participants an insight into the behind the scenes running of the NGA and career guidance from experienced arts professionals.

Fielding says the program allows Aboriginal artists to "take control (in order) to get understanding of how we can better ourselves in visual arts and to come and work in galleries of Australia."

This year, an artist from Boggabilla in New South Wales, a curator at the Koori Heritage Trust in Melbourne, an artist and tutor from Launceston and a digital officer at the State Library of Queensland are among those involved in the program.

One of last year's students has already leapt to new heights.

Brad Harkin became interested in art installation because it allowed him to blend his trade background with his interest in visual arts.

Harkin joined the leadership program in 2011, befriended the NGA's installers, and ended up helping to install an exhibition of Renaissance art last summer.

He explained "you're learning from some of the top installation people in the country.

"The learning curve is quite steep but they're very welcoming and keen to pass on that information and experience."

Harkin recently returned ton Canberra to encourage the new intake, and to undertake a year-long fellowship at the NGA, worth $50,000.

He is planning to open a studio gallery business back home in Adelaide one day - and to focus on Indigenous professional development, to help other Aboriginal art workers just as the NGA's programs have helped him.

Together, the leadership program and the longer fellowships are designed to boost the number of Indigenous people working in the arts - not only as artists but also in the business side of the industry.

Past participants have gone on to gain professional roles in cultural heritage and the arts, to study arts-related fields at university and one has even set up her own communications business.

For more information go to

Image shows the Aboriginal Memorial at the National Gallery of Australia.

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