Image description: A large sculpture of a kite is set against the Perth skyline. The very tops of six CBD buildings are visible.
By Millie Muroi
The Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA) Board and Foundation Council last week announced a $1.5 million stimulus package aimed towards the arts and supporting Western Australian artists during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We considered a response early in the pandemic which crystallised when the Federal Government packages were announced, revealing gaps in provision for individual artists,” comments Colin Walker, the AGWA Director.
Since UWA’s founding Chancellor – John Winthrop Hackett – helped to develop the WA Art Gallery over a century ago, WA’s cultural scene has flourished, often bolstered by periods of prosperous economic growth, such as the 1960s mining boom.
Now, with the Reserve Bank of Australia expecting a 10% contraction in GDP for the first half of 2020 and 53% of small arts and recreation businesses having already been shut (the highest proportion of all sectors) there is perhaps no better time for a stimulus.
“We knew from the great work of cultural economist Professor David Throsby that 60% of visual artists in normal circumstances make less than $10,000 per annum from their creative work,” says Mr Walker.
“So, when the market for that collapses we felt that we needed to do something to help.”
$525,000 of the stimulus will go towards acquiring existing artwork from Aboriginal art centres and independent artists, and a further $700,000 will be shared amongst 350 WA artists who will contribute to the expansion of an online State Art Collection archive.
“The idea of building an archive came from our curators. It appealed because we could help all artists who have contributed to our incredible State Art Collection immediately,” says Mr Walker.
“It also created work for writers, it psychologically helped artists’ morale during lockdown, and it leaves a legacy of this extraordinary period.”
Indigenous artists in particular have faced hardships following policies implemented to halt the spread of COVID-19.
“The restrictions on remote Aboriginal communities added to their difficulties in accessing the market, so creating a package that gave a broad base of support was really important,” Mr Walker says.
“The support for Aboriginal Art Centres and purchasing existing work was consistent with our aims to build the Collection, allowing us to release funds into the community straight away.”
Major challenges in the process stemmed from the logistics of the stimulus, with Mr Walker stating that “the approvals were the easy part.”
“We needed to create new systems very quickly to make sure that we could respond in a timely manner.”
“It was a whole of Gallery effort to make sure that we were able to create the payments systems, prepare for registration of artworks, prepare the conservation timeframe, ensure we had the right alignments of databases including ease of export for digital access, develop the communications, put in a system for enquiries and so on. All of this was additional work to the usual Gallery operations.”
This stimulus package is part of the AGWA Foundation’s continued legacy of support for the arts; established in 1989, they have funded the acquisition of more than 5,200 works of art valued in excess of $62 million for the AGWA Collection to date – and Mr Walker implies they have no plans of stopping soon.
“We’re looking forward to launching our Emerging Artist Acquisition Appeal, building on the support our stimulus package provides by inviting the community to help us add new artists to the State Art Collection.”
2020 has brought unprecedented changes, proving particularly challenging for those working in the arts. However, as the Gallery prepares to celebrate its 125th year, incredible acts of solidarity such as this one paint a promising picture for recovery.
Millie is an arts student camouflaged by an enthusiasm for economics.
Image courtesy of Millie Muroi