Art centres are community owned and operated artistic cooperatives. At their nucleus, art centres share a number of attributes: using the creative and cultural skills of a group of artists to produce art works of excellence, linking remote area artists with the national and international art market and building a viable, non-profit and transparent enterprise. There are around 80 art centres scattered throughout the remote communities of northern and central Australia. Art centres also act as ‘art schools’ – providing skills, training and new opportunities for communities that are marginalised, isolated and have few services. Some of the things that art centres do:
- Access to independent income
- Contribute to individual and community wellbeing
- Empower artists to develop personally and professionally
- Direct links to national and international audiences and opportunities
- Provide impeccable provenance for all artworks produced
- Work with artists of all ages and abilities
- Support intergenerational learning and the transmission of cultural knowledge
- Support both established and emerging artists
- Make a significant contribution to Australia’s national identity
- Support for a wide range of cultural and community activities
At the heart of an art centre is the studio – busy places, with artists occupying their favourite spots, working intently with their canvases, fibre or carving. Children and family come by, to talk to the artists and listen to their stories. In the background, the activities of the art centre are running.
Art centres provide their artists with professional-quality materials, from stretched canvas, acrylic paints and a range of brushes to raffia, files and ‘tommyhawks’ (axes). It is a constant job to provide materials and then to document all the works as they are finished. This involves stretching new canvas and preparing paints, documenting finished works by photographing and recording the stories for the painting certificate, un-stretching the works and readying them for sale to customers and online. Then the whole process starts again…
The many layers and meanings of ‘country’ – a concept that encompasses physical, mythical, historical and personal concepts of place and identity – is what most Ngaanyatjarra art is about. So, bush trips for art-making or to care for the country for which artists are responsible are very popular. Some of the region’s most impressive works of art have been made out bush. Tjanpi and Maruku, in particular, do a lot of their work outside of the studio.