Business of remote arts and culture

EMERGING artists from Cape York and Torres Strait travelled by boat, Troopcarrier and small aircraft to exhibit and learn the business of art at Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, as part of a new enterprise training program in remote communities of Far North Queensland.

Cairns-based Community Owned Enterprises, a not-for-profit foundation of social enterprise My Pathway, is developing the professional skills of the artists from Cook region, Doomadgee and Islands of Torres Strait as a pathway to sustainable income for jobseekers in regional areas.

As part of the arts employment program, the group of eight jobseekers and art tutors learn skills in product development, pricing, sales, legal knowledge such as cultural authenticity and royalties, and the art of storytelling including writing and building confidence in public speaking.

“Once, I was so shy, I could not look at anyone,” said artist Helen Gordon of Cooktown, “but, when I meet people now, I say “this is the story – I can use storytelling to sell my art”.

Tony Harry lives on Sue island, or Warraber in the local language, and through the revival of traditional language in this small community in the outer Torres Strait islands he is crafting songs and powerful art.

“Charlie made it very simple – how to cost my art, what to charge, what my overheads are, that was valuable to me,” said Harry, explaining the art business sessions presented in Cairns by Black Square Arts workshops facilitator Charles Street.

The business skills workshops, held over three days prior to the fair, prepared the artists with retail and exhibition design skills to complement techniques and product development training delivered by My Pathway and joint-venture partners – Hope Vale Foundation, Gungarde Community Centre, Wujal Wujal Aboriginal Shire Council, Doomadgee Aboriginal Shire Council, Gur A Baradharaw Kod - under the Australian government’s Community Development Program (CDP).

For many of the participants, Cairns Indigenous Art Fair was their first time exhibiting their arts - that included traditional weaving, local batiks, music instruments, jewellery, handcrafted bush soaps, painting the stories of family, totems or clans – and even Helen Gordon’s author father’s story of ancestors meeting Captain James Cook, on the shores of Cooktown.

“Chosen for dedication to their art and building a business, the jobseekers are matched with a tutor to help achieve their goals - and take this knowledge back to community to help others on the training program,” said Conrad Michael of Hopevale, a former musterer, now an arts trainer with My Pathway in the Cook region.

“I hurt my knee chasing a bull, so now I’m an artist and I help others to learn.”

The arts entrepreneurs-in-training followed a team roster during the three-day event to staff the Joint Venture Community Artist Development stall, at CIAF’s Art Market, gaining valuable experience in sales, storytelling and media interviews. 

“CIAF makes me feel proud,” said Anne Nunn, a shield artist from Wujal Wujal. “CDP helps us to earn money from our art, our community is stronger”.

The CDP artists from Torres Strait, Cooktown and Doomadgee regions successfully sold over $5000 worth of their artworks during the 3-day CIAF Art Market.


Photo: My Pathway. Art business: Remote artists learn microenterprise skills and public speaking at CIAF Art Market. 

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