“The Bottom has been Reached”

Jeremy Eccles | 19.12.13

Author: Jeremy Eccles
News source: Press Release

That's the tentative conclusion of a group called Ninti One – more formally The Cooperative Research Centre for Remote Economic Participation – based in Alice Springs. They're doing what they unhelpfully call a 'Value chain survey' of where money is made and where money is spent on remote Aboriginal art. The research came in for some cat-calling in Nicolas Rothwell's Australian articles in August where he suggested that the CRC was just part of the bureaucratisation of Aboriginal art which was reducing its worth and contributing to a white straight-jacket on this important Black industry.

I responded at the time; but now Ninti One has issued an interim report on its activities. You can make up your own minds:

“The focus of the Scope and Scale research is to assess and understand the production of art from remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the sale of these art products by private (agents and galleries) and public art businesses. Central to this was a survey of art businesses, including analysis of business trading practices and relationships, impacts of government policies, product development and provenance of art works.

Public and private art businesses that produce and/or sell remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art were invited to take a comprehensive online survey.   One hundred and thirty nine art businesses participated in the survey, including 12 overseas-based businesses. 

The depth of knowledge, (the majority of respondents had more than five years industry experience), combined with a geographical spread from the remotest parts of Australia to Europe and the USA, has provided a rich and diverse insight into the art value chain.
A full report will be out soon, but initial results indicate that the Western and Central Desert followed by APY lands were the most popular art regions for sourcing art works.  Three quarters of current sales are to Australian residents, private buyers. NSW followed by Victoria were the largest markets, and Europe followed by North America were the main international markets. Respondents believed there was plenty of room for growth in the Australian private buyers sector, and also from international buyers.

The last five years had been slow, very slow for most art businesses.  Business turnover was down but most respondents were confident that the bottom had been reached and expected art product sales increases over the next 5 years.  The top end art market has been particularly impacted and many businesses had diversified their product range, increasing their share of merchandise and lower value art works.

Art businesses were using a range of marketing strategies and providing customers with several options to purchase and view art works (eg retail shop, exhibitions, online and wholesale).

Sourcing materials was not considered to be the major challenge in developing new products; rather the main barriers were:
product design and development was time consuming and expensive,
finding new markets was difficult and funding was a major barrier. 

Respondents did not think it was easy to work with remote artists and art centres on product development, however they did believe that artists were interested and willing to create new products.

Provenance and authenticity certificates were a hot topic: The vast majority of galleries and agents ascertained the provenance of art works and provided documentation to their customers. Art businesses highlighted the implications of inconsistent documentation and verification processes, with varying levels of authenticity.  This, they believed, was creating confusion for customers and even financial losses and undermining the provenance efforts of reputable agents.

Other staff are completing the Scope and Scale analysis of the production and sales data from art centres along with government funding and other inputs into remote area Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art.  All these data sets will be combined to understand the broader implications and published in early 2014. The findings of the survey and other assessments will provide clear messages about what has worked and what has not and where businesses need help.

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