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DAAFF Yarns… with Pam Bigelow

May 25, 2021

DAAFF Yarns… with Pam Bigelow, Manager of the Indigenous Art Centre Alliance (IACA)

Recently we’ve been giving you a peek inside the country’s major Art Centre Peak Bodies.

Peak Bodies support everything from advocacy to business and professional development. They play a critical role within the Indigenous arts industry, acting as a key support and voice for the Art Centres which in turn provides autonomy, sustained growth and stability for First Nation artists and Arts Workers.

Today we chat to the Manager of the Indigenous Art Centre Alliance (IACA), Pam Bigelow. IACA is the Peak Body for the Art Centres of Far North Queensland.

Words | Camilla Wagstaff in conversation with Pam Bigelow

What is the role of IACA in the Indigenous arts sector?

 IACA provides support to our 14 member Art Centres that includes advocacy to Government, promotion of Art Centres and artists to the public, training of artists, Art Centre Managers and Arts Workers in all aspects of best practice. We also support cultural maintenance through regular workshops and camps on Country under the leadership of Traditional Owners and Elders.

Tell us a bit about your region’s Art Centres? 

The Art Centres that are members of IACA are situated in a wide variety of landscapes from lush, dense rainforest to open dry savannah with fascinating rock formations, to tropical islands with swaying palms. Every community has a unique landscape, and these differences are reflected strongly in the work from each Art Centre. The differing cultural practices are also reflected.

At Girringun Art Centre in the south, artists make the charming ceramic Bagu and iconic and localised bicornual baskets. The Torres Strait artists are known for their fabulous Ghost Net works and intricate and lino prints. Wik and Kugu Art Centre at Aurukun is renowned for wood carving and the much sought after Aurukun Dogs or Ku. Pormpuraaw artists engage in Ghost Net works, while painting and ceramics are the specialties of Yalanji and Yarrabah. Bana Yirriji at Wujal Wujal and Hopevale Artists are producing different and very popular textiles and garments as well as incredible paintings, and Lockhart River is also famous for its distinctive paintings.

Above | Nephi Denham, Junibel Doughboy, Florence Gutchen and Bereline Loogatha; IACA Indigenous Arts Workers learning to curate and hang an exhibition at Northsite Gallery in Cairns. Image courtesy of IACA.

What were the key learnings for you in 2020? 

We all came together in 2020, It was like the feeling of having all the family home. We had twice weekly check-ins and set up training programs that would be essential during the lockdown. These included all things digital, like making videos on your phone, photography and using databases. [There was also opportunity] to just talk about how everyone was going, how to cope, and to share ideas between us. We delivered 14 sessions in total in lieu of our normal face-to-face conferences [as detailed below]. 

What were the major challenges of 2020?

2020 was a rollercoaster for IACA, and our 14 member Art Centres, under COVID-19 restrictions for 6 months. Like everyone, all our normal events and travel were dashed, and we had to quickly plan and deliver an altered program that met the new needs of our Art Centre members. Our first priority was of course the health of artists and staff, so we set up several ways of communicating regularly. A weekly Zoom meeting to check in every Tuesday, and a private members Facebook page to post helpful information, field questions, and discuss anything our members needed as we headed into unknown territory.

Upon cancelling our face-to-face April 2020 Conference, we reinvented our training delivery to 14 Zoom sessions covering a variety of areas pertinent to working in lockdown. The sessions covered photography of artworks and portraits, online sales and marketing, statistics (how to get them, what they mean and how to use them in your business), contracts, wills, licensing other legal matters, developing your brand, making and editing videos, updates from CIAF and Arts QLD, SAM database training, stocktake and studio tips, and a virtual tour of the renovated Cairns contemporary art space Bulmba Ja. Sessions ran every Wednesday afternoon for two hours, were well attended, recorded for future viewing for those who missed them, and feedback has been very positive.

The lockdown, cancellation of art fairs and closures of commercial galleries has meant that art sales have dropped, so IACA lobbied Federal and State governments to provide some emergency funds for all our members. We are very pleased and grateful to the State and Federal Government for their response to our requests for funds to help our members see it through this tough time. We are equally pleased that Queensland’s Indigenous communities have remained safe from COVID-19, with not one case reported. May this continue.

What do you think DAAFF and its events mean to your membership?

DAAFF is incredibly important to our members. It is the only national Indigenous Art Centre art fair, and the networking and sales opportunities are enormous. Almost all our members did really well financially out of the digital DAAF in 2020, and overall sold more than usual, which is amazing! 

Attending DAAF gives our members information on what’s happening nationally in other Art Centres, and allows them to secure exhibitions and meet staff from major institutions who may be interested in showing and or acquiring works. Art Centres meet collectors looking for exciting work at DAAF and can end up with them following artists and continuing to purchase long after the Fair is over.  It’s the networking that is so valuable.

Above | Portrait of Mona Waianga by Matilda Nona, Northern Disclosure Photography Workshop Badu Island. 

Below | Anne Nunn from Bana Yirriji Art Centre working on her painting Kunjuri (shield) during the IACA Belonging Arts Development workshop. Image courtesy of IACA.

What is in store for 2021? 

We have lots of very exciting things coming up! We ran a major project over 2018–2020 to develop a body of work from across the region. We facilitated expert art development workshops in each Art Centre, which resulted in 420 artworks. After two years, the Belonging and Northern Disclosure high-level arts development workshops have now been completed at all IACA member Art Centres. 

Delivered by experienced facilitators Edwina Circuitt, Rebecca Dagnall and Curtis Taylor, the artistic outcomes of the workshops are incredible, as artists experimented with new materials and techniques including photography, filmmaking, painting, ceramics, and sculpture. Photography and film workshops were selected by artists from the Torres Strait and Mapoon on Cape York. The images and films that have been produced are extraordinary and the artists have learnt editing and post-production skills so they can continue this new art form. The project has gifted Art Centres with a legacy of skills, artistic expression and knowledge of best quality materials for the future.

To bring this exhibition to realisation, IACA is proud to partner with the National Museum of Australia (NMA) in Canberra, who has recognised the cultural significance of the Belonging works. The NMA will acquire the collection and host the exhibition in September 2021. The impressive body of work includes more than 400 artworks representing each of the IACA Art Centre members, bringing together artists from the islands of the Torres Strait, the Gulf of Carpentaria, Cape York, and the tropical rainforest and coastal regions. The incredibly diverse environment is reflected in the vibrant and varied work of the artists which personifies the Country and culture of Far North Queensland.

We will also be continuing our new IACA Indigenous Arts Worker training program, which commenced in September 2020 and will finish in June 2021. We have five Arts Workers involved in a COVID-safe program, which is mostly delivered via Zoom. We have applied for funds to run this in subsequent years and hope to commence the 2021 program in September 2021 with Arts Workers assisting and being mentored at the installation of the Belonging Exhibition at the NMA, before undergoing 10 months of training in a wide range of skills designed to develop their careers in the arts.


Thank you to Pam Bigelow for sharing her knowledge as part of the ‘DAAFF Yarns’ series on the Peak Bodies.  

You can see more from IACA at IACA.COM.AU

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