Council bans Aboriginal street artists — racist or just dumb?

Aboriginal Art Directory | 07.06.10

An essential read from Bob Gosford about street art in Alice Springs:

I’ve been out of town for the past month and on my first day back I wandered down the local mall and noticed that the Aboriginal street artists, who have for years offered their modest wares out the front of the John Flynn Uniting Church in the middle of the mall, were missing.

I didn’t think too much of it at the time but later that day caught up with the local freebie fish-wrapper, The Alice Springs News. Apparently the Alice Springs Town Council (ASTC) decided to enforce its local by-laws and ban the Aboriginal street artists from selling their art in downtown Alice — threatening them with a fine that could eventually see them jailed.

More than 700,000 tourists — most from overseas — come through Alice Springs every year. Many of those tourists head straight to Uluru, but more than a few spend a few days wandering the dusty streets of Alice. Almost to a man and woman they want some kind of “Aboriginal experience”, and there is no shortage of local enterprises — usually owned and operated by whitefellas — willing to take their money to give them at least some version, sometimes dubious, expensive and very second-hand, of that experience.

But during May this year one of the best and cheapest options available to tourists to Alice Springs was stripped away by the ASTC.

Late in April the News ran a letter from Michael Hollow, proprietor of the Aboriginal Desert Art Gallery some distance down the mall from the John Flynn Church. Hollow’s letter, a copy of which had earlier been sent to the ASTC, was a swingeing attack on the Aboriginal street artists and urged the ASTC to take urgent action against a threat posed by them. Hollow claimed Aboriginal street artists posed such a serious threat to his business so as to be a matter of commercial “life or death” for he and many other traders.


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