For decades, the idea of a National Indigenous Arts and Cultural Authority (NIACA) has emerged and re-emerged in recognition of the unique place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts as the world’s premier continuous cultural tradition. A NIACA would acknowledge and assist with the ongoing responsibilities and obligations for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to maintain, control, protect and nurture this inheritance and its myriad contemporary creative expressions.
The First Nations arts and cultural sector has identified a significant gap in existing structures and is working towards agreement to create a NIACA. A NIACA would provide a much needed central peak body for the Indigenous arts and cultural sector, providing First Nations artists and cultural organisations with a national voice across all areas of practice. The body would promote social, cultural and economic development, including important leadership on matters such as the upholding of Traditional Knowledge (TK) and Traditional Cultural expression (TCE) and their cultural and intellectual property; arts practice priorities; and emerging issues and opportunities to increase economic returns for First Nations communities through increased participation in the creative industries.
In 1973, a national summit was hosted by the Australia Council and attended by approximately 400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, organisations and community representatives in Canberra. The national summit recommended the establishment of the then Aboriginal Arts Board, and the programs it should deliver to assist the growth, profile and presentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander Arts.
Since 2008, a number of art form specific Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak bodies representing many Indigenous artists and arts organisations have been established in the areas of dance, literature, visual arts, music, festivals and art fairs. These organisations play a vital role in supporting the growth and sustainability of their respective sectors through advocacy, support, representation and the establishment of strategic networks and partnerships. However, the absence of an effective national representative body has meant that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and cultural organisations have been constrained in their efforts to develop coordinated, cross-art form and community driven solutions to challenges facing the sector.
Why create a NIACA
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the custodians of a living artistic and cultural tradition embedded in thousands of years of heritage and continuing practice. First Nations arts are an integral part of our evolving national identity. For this contribution to continue, it is imperative that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and their communities are enabled to control and protect their cultural expressions and to realise the economic, social and cultural benefits of participation in the arts.
Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions…[including] oral traditions, literatures, designs… and visual and performing arts.
They also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions.
In conjunction with Indigenous peoples, States shall take effective measures to recognise and protect the exercise of these rights.
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
There are a number of existing First Nations arts and cultural peak bodies with strong mandates and governance structures that work across particular regions or art forms. However, there is no national peak body providing a collective voice across art forms; promoting the rights of First Nations artists and cultural custodians across Australia; or building networks and capacity to support a flourishing First Nations arts sector in its diversity and entirety.
Role of the Australia Council for the Arts
The Australia Council has committed to providing interim secretariat support to the First Nations arts sector, including the facilitation of a national consultation process, to assist with the development of a National Indigenous Arts and Culture Authority (NIACA). This is in line with the Council’s commitment to support the excellence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts, strengthen Australia’s First Nations arts and cultural ecosystem and increase audiences for First Nations arts and culture at home and abroad. The Australia Council’s support for this process is guided by: the Deputy Chair of the Australia Council, Lee-Ann Tjunypa Buckskin; the Council’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Strategy Panel, comprised of external leaders from the arts and cultural sectors, and chaired by Wesley Enoch; and led within Council by Executive Director Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts, Lydia Miller and Arts Practice Director First Nations Arts & Culture, Patricia Adjei. If a NIACA is formed the Australia Council’s role to support the consultation process will conclude and the body would be entirely independent.