Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday announced the federal government would contribute up to $85 million to build a national Indigenous art gallery at the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site.
The state government already pledged $60 million towards the project in last year’s budget, as well as a $200,000 scoping study to inform the “visions and key recommendations” of the gallery.
News of the federal cash splash prompted praise from the Art Gallery of South Australia, the SA Museum and State Library, all of which are set to be major players in the design and eventual management of the national gallery.
In a statement yesterday, the Art Gallery of SA said a “cultural project” at Lot Fourteen would present a “once in a lifetime opportunity for South Australia”.
“The Art Gallery of South Australia is looking forward to working with the State Government towards the realisation of this project, with a focus on both contemporary and historical art,” the statement read.
“AGSA has been involved in the consultation process and has demonstrated it can excite and generate broad audiences for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art”.
The Art Gallery expects its annual Tarnanthi Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art to form part of the national gallery’s identity, with a spokesperson telling InDaily the Marshall Government had expressed interest in continuing the festival at a new location.
“It’s not a confirmed element to have Tarnanthi as part of the national gallery, but the Premier’s office has told us that they love the example of Tarnanthi and that we would be best placed to do something similar at the national gallery.”
The spokesperson said there had been a “series of ongoing meetings” between the gallery and the State Government about the national gallery.
“We have been involved in talks all throughout the way,” the spokesperson said.
“There hasn’t been anything specific raised about the movement of artefacts but we have made it known that obviously we have a sizeable collection to have a display at a second site.”
The South Australian Museum, understood to have been one of the leading lobbyists for a national Indigenous art gallery at Lot Fourteen, is also predicting it will be able to relocate some of its Aboriginal artefact collection to the national gallery.
Director Brian Oldman said the museum had “the most comprehensive collection of Australian Aboriginal artefacts in the world”, but only five per cent of the collection was currently on display.
“We are excited to be working with the State Government to find a permanent home for these incredibly precious cultural artefacts and to bring this project to fruition,” he said.
The State Library is also upbeat about Marshall’s vision, with director Geoff Strempel telling InDaily the national gallery “was definitely a good thing for South Australia”, and that he had met with the Museum and Art Gallery on several occasions to discuss how the gallery would be run.
“From my point of view it’s all been good,” he said.
“We are thoroughly supportive of whatever the Premier wants to do in this space to bring to light the amazing collections we have and make them more accessible to the people of South Australia, but also the visitors who come to South Australia to get a better understanding of Australia’s Indigenous culture.”
But Strempel said there was a “long way to go” towards engaging with the Indigenous community about the future of the national gallery.
“Our view is, we’re happy to be involved but we’re very conscious of the fact there is a long way to go in terms of consultation with the Indigenous community,” he said.
“If this is going to be successful it must deeply engage with the Indigenous community, with them being the ones leading what this should look like.”
The State Government announced last month that it had begun consulting with SA Aboriginal communities and cultural institutions to inform the design of the national gallery.
It’s quite rude and in contempt how the conversation around this cultural precinct has been advanced
Marshall said at the time the Government had already begun preliminary discussions with “key stakeholders”, including Aboriginal communities, and it had contracted consultancy firm Price Waterhouse Cooper to lead a scoping study to further refine the design and size of the gallery.
But Kaurna Nation Cultural Heritage chair Jeffrey Newchurch told InDaily the State Government had “at no stage” consulted with Kaurna people about the gallery.
He said while he had met with consultants from Price Waterhouse Cooper two weeks ago to discuss the gallery, the State Government had not approached Kaurna people directly.
“It’s quite rude and in contempt how the conversation around this cultural precinct has been advanced,” he said.
“They want to utilise all Aboriginal peoples’ collections in the museum with no engagement, no ownership and certainly no vision about what that looks like into the future.
“We’re in for a fight from Kaurna position. We will be saying this is Kaurna land, where is our position?”
Newchurch said the consultation process had been “select” and limited to only a few representatives from the state’s Aboriginal communities.
He said he was concerned Kaurna artefacts currently owned by the SA Museum, Art Gallery of SA and State Library would be transferred to the national gallery without adequate consultation with the Kaurna community.
“They’ve got no right to touch these artefacts,” he said.
“We’re in a position now where the cultural accord has shifted because when it comes to dealing with cultural artefacts the white man has the power (and) Kaurna have been given no say.
“We don’t want tokenism to be there for Aboriginal people and we want it to culturally appropriate when they’re using artefacts from Aboriginal nations all over Australia and the islands.”
Newchurch said while he was not opposed to the gallery going ahead, he wanted Kaurna people to be granted a “position of ownership” over the gallery.
“It’s not that we don’t want the gallery, we just want a position of ownership with some form of management there and making sure we get our people employed there,” he said.
“We have a letter we have sent a letter to Marshall to put him on notice that we want to meet and we want to meet as a community, and we want to have better engagement and we want to have a better position.
“We want to do business according to Kaurna, and Kaurna want to do it their way.”
Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute CEO Denis Stokes told InDaily last month Aboriginal people needed to be in control of how their culture was portrayed at the new national gallery.
“I’m not sure what the actual content of the gallery would be and we would definitely have to have an input into that and ensure that across the board Indigenous people have a say,” he said at the time.
A state government spokesperson said the Government was honouring its commitment to involve Aboriginal leaders in the planning of the gallery.
The spokesperson reiterated that Kaurna people had been consulted as part of the Price Waterhouse Cooper scoping study and that South Australia’s Aboriginal community would be fully involved in all phases of the project.
The Government’s consultation is expected to be finalised by the end of July, with the national gallery’s construction anticipated to begin in 2020-21 and be completed by 2022.
We want to do business according to Kaurna, and Kaurna want to do it their way
Spruiking his vision for a national art gallery at Lot Fourteen ahead of last year’s state election, Marshall said the absence of a national Indigenous gallery was “a significant omission by Australian governments and a fantastic opportunity for South Australia”.
However, at the time of Marshall’s announcement the Northern Territory Government had already allocated $50 million in initial funding to build what it called an “iconic National Aboriginal Art Gallery” in Alice Springs, which would be linked to a sister National Aboriginal Cultural Centre.
That gallery hit a roadblock in January, when the territory’s Chief Minister Michael Gunner revealed the project had lost the support of “key traditional owners” and its future at the proposed Anzac Oval site was under consideration.
Northern Territory Tourism and Culture Minister Lauren Moss told ABC News today her Government was now considering alternative sites in Central Australia.
She said she was disappointed the Federal Government had pledged up to $85 million towards the South Australian gallery.
“We are disappointed around the timing of that, considering how much work, how many conversations we’ve had,” she told the ABC.
“I truly believe the heart of Australia is the right place for the National Aboriginal Art Gallery… (but) I do think that there is plenty of room for all jurisdictions to be showcasing Aboriginal art and culture, and that is well overdue.”
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