Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair x Enterprising Stories

Enterprising Stories: Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair – Interview with Shilo McNamee, Public Program Coordinator

We’ve conducted our first pilot broadcast of Enterprising Stories, a web broadcast to cover the amazing stories that Australia’s social enterprises have to offer. In our first test interview, we’ve gone back in time to one of our favourite stories we’ve worked on, the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair. Thanks to COVID-19, the fair has gone completely virtual. In this interview, we meet one of the DAAF team members and explore the potential of Australia’s Aboriginal Art Centres and the role they play in stabilising a community.

VIDEO: It’s surviving, and each painting tells the story.

– These are healing places, I think.

– Art Centre is the most important thing in our community for every individual people.

– Very important for culture itself, and Aboriginal people that are local people.


Mikey: We’re very fortunate to have someone from the Art Fair join us today, Shilo McNamee, who is the public programme coordinator for the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair. Thanks for joining us at Enterprising Stories, Shilo.

Shilo: Great, thank you so much for having me on.

Mikey: Yes, now, I know you’ve had a really difficult job of pivoting the entire Art Fair to online, but before we talk about that, I’d love if you could just tell us a little bit about the importance of an Art Centre to its community?

Shilo: Yeah, Art Centres are hugely important in their communities, from being a social hub where artists and families can come together and work at the one place, and they also provide important services. They’ll help artists and community members connect to Centrelink, and get a lot of their basics handled, and taken care of, and that’s just day to day runnings of the Art Centre, but also, obviously, the generation of art, and the continuation of culture, so enabling artists to continue to share their stories, and pass their knowledge on to future generations.

Mikey: Those all sound like amazing impacts, positive impacts on the community, and its Art Centre, and what it does for the people. What do you think an Art Centre means for economic self-determination inside of these communities? How would you talk to that idea?

Shilo: So the Art Centres are, quite often, the only means that a community will have for generating their own independent income, so in that sense, they are critical to helping people to live, so the artists will go to the Art Centre each day and do their hours and create work. Many Art Centres will buy the work from the artists, and then sell that on, and market it in an ethical way.

Mikey: That is really focused on the artists and their, I guess, their economic well-being, but you mentioned so much about the social well-being at the Art Centre, as well.

Shilo: Yeah, absolutely, so the flow on effects from having an organisation in the community that acts as a hub, as I was saying, where people can come and create art, and children are welcome to sit there with their family members while their art is being created, and they might put on lunches, and make sure everyone’s fed and taken care of, and take care of these other important things like their doctor’s appointments, any of those day to day tasks, so it’s really a touch point for the community to come in to, and of course, once artists have received their payment, then that flows back to the families, and to the rest of the community, as well.

Mikey: How is the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair a part of that picture for the Art Centres?

Shilo: Yeah, well, we’re actually pretty happy and privileged to be a part of that story. So, the Art Fair is quite unique in that we don’t take any commission on sales at all, so we exist just to provide these platforms for the artists and art centres to sell their work, and reach wider audiences, and just really get to generating that income. Last year, I believe it was $2.84 million was generated by the Art Fair and associated sales, and that went straight back to those communities, and Art Centres, and artists, so that was pretty, pretty incredible to see that.

Mikey: That’s an amazing impact if you think about that money flowing directly into communities, into artists’ hands, I’ve always thought of as the most direct way to support, and also just a message in the artwork. It’s beautiful. The video showed such beautiful work there. So next week it’s on, you’ve gone virtual.

Mikey: Do you want to invite everybody here to join, and share a little bit about what you have planned.

Shilo: Yeah, of course. So the Art Fair will go from the 6th to the 14th of August. So the area that I oversee is the public programme, and our indigenous curators programme. So that was obviously a bit of a challenge to navigate that space, and trying to create exciting, amazing content that you would normally expect at the Fair, and try and put that into the virtual space, but I believe we’ve succeeded ’cause we’ve been working hand in hand with our Art Centres the whole way, and the first thing that we did was to, after the COVID announcements, and after things started shutting down, we called the Art Centres, each and every one of them, and just to check in, and see how they’re going, and see what they wanted from DAAF, and how we could best support them. So we’ve got some great workshops that we’ve put together and they all sold out within a couple of days of being online, so that was incredible to see. We’ve got artist talks, which are free, you can still get tickets to, so if you go to our Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair website, you’ll be able to click through to Eventbrite and register space, and they’ll be online via Zoom. So we also have music performances from local musicians and an Art Centre Injalak. They’ve got the band who was recorded playing at the social club, so yeah, we’ve got a lot of different content that we’re pretty excited about.

Mikey: I encourage everybody to check out the website, participate in the Fair this year. You don’t have to travel to Darwin this year to do that. It’s really unique in that way, and it really left an impact on me. Shilo, thank you so much for joining us on the show today.