DAAFF Yarns… with Chad Creighton, CEO of AACHWA

In our new series, we’ll be giving you a peek inside the country’s major Art Centre Peak Bodies. 

These organisations play a vital role within Indigenous arts, acting as a support and voice for the Art Centres which in turn provide sustained growth and agency for First Nations Communities. Peak Body responsibilities cover everything from advocacy to business support, professional development to sales and marketing.

Today we chat to the CEO of the Aboriginal Art Centre Hub of Western Australia (AACHWA), Chad Creighton. AACHWA is the Peak Body for the Art Centres of Western Australia (WA).

Words | Camilla Wagstaff in conversation with Chad Creighton

Chad Creighton, CEO of AACHWA

Image | Kuberan Muir and Kado Muir on country near Leonora, Walkatjurra Art and Culture Centre, AACHWA Indigenous Languages and Arts Project 2019.

How would you sum up the role of AACHWA in a sentence or two?

AACHWA is an advocacy and service organisation. We are a not-for-profit and charitable corporation governed by an Indigenous majority board, made up of the representatives of our member Art Centres. AACHWA works for and with WA Aboriginal Art Centres to celebrate the strength of our art and culture by promoting, empowering and connecting. 

Tell us a bit about those Art Centres – are there any styles or mediums WA is particularly well known for? 

That’s a tricky one! I can’t point to one particular medium because WA is such a dynamic state, made of a diversity of Indigenous cultures, and the artists reflect that diversity in their practice. We have Art Centres who focus on paint on canvas, and others who work in carving. Some will carve wood, some emu eggs, boab nuts. Some do works on paper or prints on fabric. We see really quite diverse practices that artists are using to present and share their culture to the outside world. 

Image | Camilia Samson, Kyra Johnson, Mauretta Drage and Fiona Gavino (Art on the Move Trainer). AACHWA Aboriginal Arts Worker Program 2019, Perth.

Image | Lily-Mae Kerley learning film and sound recording skills at Yamaji Arts in Geraldton, AACHWA Indigenous Languages and Arts Project 2019.

What were the key learnings for you in the year that was 2020?

2020 was a difficult year for everyone. It really challenged all of us, and particularly those in the arts, where people rely on gatherings to sell artwork and make a living. So immediately we saw exhibitions start to be cancelled. Marketplaces, fairs and events where Aboriginal artists sell their work were cancelled. We saw a shift in the way people operate, and we all had to learn very quickly how to work in the online space a lot more. Be it communications, accessing learning, peer group sharing, networking and, of course, sale of artwork. 

In community – and particularly in remote Aboriginal communities – we also saw that there is still a pretty huge gap. A lot of people in these communities just don’t have access to technology in the way we do in the city. They might not have access to internet, or even a computer. People quickly had to change the way they work. This is something we’re working to address.

And of course, at a most basic level, one of the main things we were focussed on was how we ensure that Aboriginal people were safe in all the practices and programs we were undertaking.

On those practices and programs, what are you excited about for 2021? 

We had to cancel a lot last year, so we’re looking at how we might change the way we program things this year. I think in 2021 we’re still going to see a lot of events happening online, at least in part. One of the interesting things that’s come about from this pretty dramatic shift in the way we view and buy art is that we’ve been able to reach people outside the ordinary market we had available to us. 

That’s one of the inspiring things – the Aboriginal art market hasn’t completely collapsed. And I think that’s due to being able to reach a diversity of Australians that are purchasing work online, for whatever reason, often for the first time.

Image | Janet Vost (AACHWA Program Coordinator) and artist Jill Churnside. AACHWA supporting Roebourne based Art Centres 2019 Christmas Sale.

And what would you want those new buyers to know about purchasing Aboriginal art, be it online or face to face? What should they be watching out for?

Online, there is a national network of Aboriginal Peak Bodies – AACHWA (in WA) Desart (in Central Australia), ANKA (in the NT), IACA (in Queensland) and Ku Arts (in the south of Australia). We all have websites with information about ethical purchasing. 

We also have the Indigenous Art Code – a national body that you can go to for information about that as well. 

If you’re looking for leads for purchasing artwork from Aboriginal Art Centres and communities, the Peak Body websites are great sources of information, and all contain links to the member Art Centres from our region.

What would you say the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation (DAAFF) and its related events like the Fair and the Country to Couture fashion show mean to WA Art Centres and the industry in general?

Over 70 Aboriginal Art Centres come together for Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair. It’s very much an event that nationally we all look forward to as a place to come together. 

Indigenous fashion initiatives have snowballed over the last decade or so. It’s really exciting to now recognise Indigenous art’s place in fashion, and it was great to see DAAFF establish the National Indigenous Fashion Awards [NIFA, in 2020]. 

There are some really interesting correlations between the art and fashion industries, and while we know the fashion industry is a tough nut to crack, it offers opportunities for Indigenous artists, but also Indigenous men and women who want to work in fashion – as models, photographers, anything. It’s a whole industry in itself that offers new opportunities and work for creatively minded people.

Image |  Lyn Yu-Mackay (AACHWA Chairperson) welcoming AACHWA member Art Centre Managers to the 2019 AACHWA Managers Conference in Broome.

Image |  Emilia Galatis delivering AACHWA support. SAM digital labelling and studio management workshop at Yamaji Arts in Geraldton 2020.



Thank you to Chad Creighton, for sharing his knowledge as part of the ‘DAAFF Yarns’ series.  

You can see more from AACHWA at aachwa.com.au

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All imagery courtesy of AACHWA