Our mission is to ensure a vibrant, healthy, sustainable and inclusive Indigenous visual arts industry.
We recognise that the industry depends upon the creative genius of Indigenous artists producing cultural material and that the long term viability of the industry depends upon that culture remaining strong.
We seek to provide the industry with and to promote a nationwide safe and ethical environment in which Indigenous artists are free and safe to ply their trade for fair and prompt remuneration, free from exploitation, bullying and coercion.
We operate as an advocate for all industry participants, whether artist, gallery or dealer, independent or art centre affiliated. The AAAA provides members with the ideal mechanism to expand their contacts, remain abreast of and discuss issues relevant to the industry and grow their businesses.
Incorporated in 1999, the Aboriginal Art Association of Australia (AAAA) remains Australia’s pre-eminent association of individuals and organisations involved in the business of Indigenous art.
The AAAA is non-partisan. The Association operates as an advocate for all industry participants, whether artist, gallery or dealer and whether independent or art centre affiliated.
The AAAA believes all industry participants should have the right to participate and have a say in industry matters. This ideal is enshrined in the Association’s Constitution via its Code of Ethics and in its Membership and Board representation principles.
The Association and its Board also play an active role in moderating disputes within the industry, offering counsel to those involved, or seeking to be involved, in the industry and in interacting with bodies interested in Indigenous visual arts.
The AAAA is the initial contact for any party seeking comment on and insight into the industry.
From a Member perspective, the Association represents an excellent opportunity to network, develop best practice, expand markets and discuss challenges. New Members are often surprised at the positive impact Membership has on their businesses and careers, particularly in the areas of supply of quality artworks and access to new markets.
In 2015, the AAAA changed its name from the Australian Indigenous Art Trade Association (Art.Trade). This name change was part of the re-invigoration of the Association, a process that has seen an amended Constitution put in place and renewed energy directed towards Member recruitment and engagement with policymakers, industry participants, consumers and industry commentators.
The new Constitution also saw the AAAA launch its own Aboriginal Art Code, a mandatory Code for our Members. This Code is in addition to the Code of Ethics and Business Practice the Association has had in place since 1999, further demonstrating our commitment to the ethical trade in Indigenous art.
During 2016 the AAAA further reviewed its structure. After consulting with Members, the Board took the decision to create a separate category of Board positions for the Association’s Artist Members. By creating three dedicated Board positions for these Members, the AAAA has moved to ensure that artists are provided with formal positions through which they can provide the Association with input and consult on all matters affecting the industry. The Constitutional amendments required to give effect to this important change were unanimously approved by Members at the 2016 Annual General Meeting.
History of the
Aboriginal Art Association
On the 22 February 1998, at the height of scandals concerning the careers of several high profile Aboriginal artists, a group of 40 Indigenous art dealers met in the boardroom of the Queensland Art Gallery. The meeting was an initiative launched by Adrian Newstead of Coo-ee Gallery, Sydney, with help from Michael Eather of Fireworks, Brisbane, and Steven Culley of Desert Designs, Fremantle, W.A.
Following the spirited debate, the group elected a steering committee, headed by Adrian Newstead, to engage in industry-wide consultation, and to formulate a draft Constitution and a Code of Ethics that could be presented to a national conference later that year. While prominent art lawyer Shane Simpson was engaged to write the draft Constitution for a dealers’ association, the steering committee undertook a six-month industry-wide consultative process, during which regional meetings were held in every state capital and at a large number of the remote art centres throughout the country.
Finally, after an historic three-day conference in Alice Springs in November 1998 (attended and supported by all sections of the Indigenous Fine Art Industry), the first elected board of the Australian Indigenous ArtTrade Association (Art.Trade) announced that the 51 delegates had signed off on the first Constitution and extensive Code of Ethics ever written to govern the business practice of Aboriginal art dealers in Australia. A further 37 galleries and arts organisations had tended expressions of interest and formal apologies. This historic Code of Ethics was written with valuable input from art centres, Indigenous artists, galleries, N.G.O.s, private dealers, industry peak bodies, collectors and art co-ordinators.
The inaugural Board comprised seven elected members, each representing a separate region of the country, with two of the seven positions filled by Indigenous representatives. They included Adrian Newstead, the inaugural President, Ian Plunkett, Michael Eather, Vivien Anderson, Roslyn Premont, Paul Ah Chee and Jimmy Robertson Tjampitjinpa. Pre-requisites of membership were to be: a high standard of knowledge and industry experience; a commitment to uphold the extensive Code of Ethics; to provide active and sustained support for Indigenous artists; and to promote the role of artists and community organisations in the preservation and maintenance of cultural life.
The association was incorporated in January 1999 and attracted more than 60 financial member organisations during its first year. 'Art.Trade' quickly achieved recognition for its initiative, for its commitment to providing a safe and fair working environment for Indigenous artists and for providing a guiding light for the art buying public to enable them to buy with confidence.
At its second annual conference in Brisbane during 1999, 11 years before the Indigenous Art Code was put in place, the Association formally approved the process by which it would investigate accusations of malpractice involving Indigenous artists. Furthermore, any issue involving matters of a cultural nature would require the appointment of an Indigenous Cultural Council (ICC) made up of indigenous people from the appropriate region. The Members agreed that it was not appropriate for non-indigenous people to make decisions about matters of a cultural nature. Decisions of the ICC would be binding on the board.
The 2000s saw concerted efforts to attract government support through funding. Despite the fact that various Federal Governments and Arts Ministers relied upon, and continue to rely upon, consultations and submissions from Art Trade, the Association inexplicably failed to gain funding. The sole income for the Association’s program of initiatives and administration still comes from membership fees. In that regard, the Association is unique within this important industry in that it relies wholly upon its own fundraising efforts and the generosity of its very committed Board and Membership who freely donate their time and expertise.
During the last 20 years, the Association has used its prominent position to both lobby and inform Governments (both Liberal and Labor) on behalf of its Members with regards to matters including:
Industry challenges, opportunities and dynamics
Major Written Submissions to Federal Government on the future direction and development of the Arts (specifically Indigenous Art & Culture)
General lobbying of Art and Finance Ministers (whether Labor or Liberal) on behalf of our Membership
Codes of Conduct/Ethics
Art in Superannuation Funds
More specifically, the Association has played an active role in industry forums and events since its incorporation, including providing substantial input into the 2007 Senate Inquiry: Indigenous Art – Securing the Future. In parallel with that Inquiry, the Association and its individual members actively assisted, contributed to and encouraged efforts toward the establishment of the Indigenous Art Code (IAC). As befits an organisation that tirelessly promotes ethical dealing and ethical participation for Indigenous artists, the Association holds a permanent Board position on the IAC.
The years from 2008 onwards have been characterised by enormous challenge and change in the industry as it has struggled to overcome the financial hardship brought on by the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and then, from 2010 forwards, to digest, enact and navigate through two of the most critical initiatives to affect the industry, the IAC and the introduction of royalties on art resales. The Association has acted as a steadying force throughout these turbulent years. By employing its considerable industry expertise to counsel on these ambitious and well-meaning (but sometimes counter-productive) initiatives, it has often been able to move policymakers and other industry participants towards workable solutions. At other times, whilst not being able to achieve the outcomes it desired, it has at least ensured the disastrous consequences of proposed actions and initiatives were averted.
In 2010, the Association joined the wider arts and antique industries in establishing the Australian Antique & Art Market Federation, providing a strong voice for Members in an organisation concerned with the more consumer-facing issues in our industries.
In 2015 Art Trade formally changed its name to the Aboriginal Art Association of Australia (AAAA). At the same time, Members approved an updated Constitution and Code of Ethics. The new Code of Ethics built on the Association’s historical Code, placing even more emphasis on and structure around ethical dealing by making it mandatory that Members adopt the Aboriginal Art Code.
At the 2016 Annual General Meeting, Members made a historic decision by unanimously voting to amend the Constitution and create three dedicated Board positions for our Indigenous Members. By doing so, the rights of our Artist Members to have a say in the future of not only the AAAA but in the entire industry is enshrined in the Association’s Constitution.
Things that the Association continues to do include:
continuing to act to give all sections of this vibrant industry a voice in its future;
focusing on providing a safe and rewarding environment for Indigenous artists
committing to provide a respected and effective framework for customers to buy and experience Indigenous art and culture with confidence.
Today sees a reinvigorated and focused organization with a committed Board working towards creating an even more successful Indigenous visual arts industry; an industry where all participants are valued and accorded a voice; an industry where all players are treated equitably; and an Association where Members have the opportunity to network with others, grow their businesses and benefit from best practice.