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DAAFF Yarns… with Philip Watkins, Desart

Mar 11, 2021

Cover Image | The Pound, Balgo, Photo courtesy Warlayirti Artists.

DAAFF Yarns… with Philip Watkins, CEO of Desart

Over the next few months, we’ll be giving you a peek inside Australia’s major Art Centre Peak bodies. 

These organisations play a critical role within the Indigenous arts industry, acting as a key support and voice for the Art Centres which in turn provide autonomy, sustained growth and stability for First Nations communities. The Peak Body remit covers everything from advocacy to business support, from professional development to sales and marketing.

Today we chat with the CEO of Desart, Philip Watkins. Desart is the Peak Body for the Art Centres of Central Australia.

Words | Camilla Wagstaff in conversation with Philp Watkins

How would you describe what Desart does?

Desart’s role is to be a united voice for our 35 Aboriginal-owned art and craft centre membership, advocating for better operational environments and supporting artists to exercise their artistic, cultural, social and economic rights on the foundation of Culture First.

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

Central Australia is the birthplace of the Aboriginal Art movement in Australia, beginning with Albert Namatjira and then the senior men at Papunya Community, through to the multimillion-dollar industry of today.

Miriam Baadjo painting at Warlayirti Artists. Photo courtesy Warlayirti Artists.

2020 was a pretty wild ride! What would you say were the key learnings for you and Desart? 

Desart’s foundation is Culture First, we approached everything from this key principle. In this, we found the agility and responsiveness to ensure the safety and ongoing capabilities of our membership and their capacity, and ours, for growth!

What were the major challenges of the year and how did you overcome them?

I am proud of the resilience shown by the Desart Board, staff and the Art Centres that make up the Desart membership. We came together with the collective purpose of supporting and strengthening each other’s capacity to manage the unknown road ahead. 

Our responses were swift and consistent providing ongoing resources to ensure Art Centres could make informed decisions around operational, health and safety and human resources management issues. Desart presented two highly successful online marketplaces, and by assisting Art Centres to have their own online shops we were able to ensure equity across our membership.

Artist Ngilan, Photo courtesy of Mimili Maku Arts

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

DAAF has grown exponentially over the years and the business acumen that comes with that growth ensured the transition from a physical to hugely successful online event.  

In 2020, Desart member Art Centres participated in the online fair and engaged in DAAF’s online workshops. So, DAAF continued to provide much needed income-generating opportunities for Art Centres as well as promoting Aboriginal culture.

What is in store for 2021?

We will continue to push further into the digital landscape as well as look toward physical events. But should that change, I am confident in Desart’s capacity, as well as our membership, to rise to any challenge before us. 

Theo Nangala Hudson, Nyirripi Community, Photo courtesy of Warlukurlangu Artists.


Thank you to Philip Watkins for sharing his knowledge as part of the ‘DAAFF Yarns’ series.  

You can see more from Desart at desart.com.au

Thanks for reading! Be sure to subscribe as the series continues, and if you haven’t already, catch up on our last posts below.

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