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Peak body helps matchmake in the desert for arts management roles

Sabine Brix

Manage an art centre in Central Australia. It'll change your life.
Peak body helps matchmake in the desert for arts management roles

Marissa Maher and Elle Missios cataloguing works at Iltja Ntjarra Many Hands Art Centre. Photo Rhett Hammerton 2017. Supplied Desart.

For an ambitious, artistic individual who wants to embrace cultural life in the desert, managing an Art Centre in Central Australia is a way to quickly up-skill in a wide range of arts-related areas while working with some of Australia’s most talented contemporary artists.

There are currently five management roles available in various arts centres in Central Australia.

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Candidates who will thrive in these roles will be 'creative and committed to working with Aboriginal people to achieve their artistic aspirations,' said Philip Watkins, CEO of Desart, the representative body for arts centres located in Australia’s Central Desert region.

Of Desart’s four key program areas, Watkins said Strong Business supports art centres to run strong, healthy social enterprises. Staff work closely with art centre managers, coordinators, and directors to help them do their jobs well so that artists can get on with creating art of the highest quality. 

Through the Strong Business program Desart supports art centres to recruit new managers. 'We support art centres to build systems, process, and skills that bolster and strengthen their art centre operations that compliment as well as support the skills managers bring to the art centre. In addition the Strong Business program provides on-going networking, support and professional development opportunities for art centre staff working in art centres. 

‘Each art centre in the Desart membership is an independent organisation in their own right and reflects the diversity inherent within the Central Desert,’ Watkins said.

Benji Bradley manages the Tjungu Palya Arts Centre on the APY Lands in remote South Australia. Tjungu Palya is currently recruiting two positions, an Art Centre Manager and a Studio Manager. He said these positions provide a rare opportunity to work in a location that supports the work of artists in the two remote communities of Nyapari and Kanpi.

‘The art centre has a very small group of highly-sought after and talented artists with a great national and increasingly international reputation,’ Bradley said. ‘Although the art centre has only a small group of artists working each day, it is one of the top performing art centres on the APY Lands, with a reputation for large-scale, high-quality paintings which are full of integrity. This art centre plays a crucial role in the survival of these tiny communities, being one of the only local income sources.’

Bradley said the roles on offer at Tjungu Palya are multifaceted, and would suit someone who enjoys working cross-culturally and who is adept at dealing with collectors, curators, gallerists, and Indigenous people and their cultural contexts. An understanding and interest in the dynamics of the fine art market is also essential.

‘At Tjungu Palya we have been focusing on pushing certain artists onto the international market, contextualising their work as contemporary painting rather than as “ethnographic” work,’ Bradley said. ‘The next manager will ideally take on a similar strategy and have a solid grasp on marketing different tiers of artists, from emerging to late career. 

‘They will also need a willingness and ability to understand how Aboriginal people in the desert think and work, realising that although art-making plays a central role in desert life, there are many other very important cultural commitments and obligations.’ 

In this regard, interpersonal skills, particularly in a cross-cultural environment, are imperative in these positions said the General Manager of Papunya Tula, Paul Sweeney, who has extensive experiencing recruiting such roles.

‘We look for people who can work in a challenging environment, cope with pressure, live remotely and work closely as a part of a team. They have to be understanding, sensitive and accepting of Aboriginal culture and living remotely as well as being organised and practical,’ Sweeney said. 

Keith Stevens, Tjungu Palya Director believes the art centre is the heart of their community. 'At Tjungu Palya we work together with our managers to make our business stronger and stronger for our young people’. 

For more information about job opportunities in Central Australian Aboriginal art centres please visit desart.com.au 

About the author

Sabine is a writer, editor, podcaster and electronic musician with a specific interest in personal storytelling that captures the essence of why people create. She was the former Online Content Producer at Archer Magazine and editor of the LGBTI website: Gay News Network.

Her music has appeared on the SBS series Starting From Now, and she currently produces the ‘80s music podcast Neon Mullet.

Follow Sabine on Twitter @sabinebrix

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