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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Visual Arts and Crafts

Draft report

This draft report was released on 19 July 2022. It examines the value, nature and structure of markets for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and crafts, and makes draft recommendations to the Australian Government to address deficiencies in these markets.

You are invited to examine the draft report and to make submissions by Monday 29 August 2022.

Make a submission Make a brief comment

The final report is expected to be handed to the Australian Government in November 2022.

Download the overview

Download the draft report

  • At a glance
  • Media release
  • Contents

Key points

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been creating visual arts and crafts for tens of thousands of years. This practice has grown into a significant industry, generating income for artists and art workers, creating economic opportunities for communities, and helping to maintain, strengthen and share Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
  • Total sales of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visual arts and crafts reached about $250 million in 2019–20 — this includes $30–47 million in artwork sales through art centres and at least $83 million in sales of merchandise and consumer products (mostly souvenirs) bearing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and designs.
    • While a small number of artists command high prices, the average income for the 5800–7700 artists who sold art through an art centre in 2019-20 was just over $2700. For independent artists, average income was about $6000.
  • Inauthentic arts and crafts — predominantly Indigenous-style consumer products not created by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people — are a pervasive and longstanding problem. They disrespect and misrepresent culture and, by misleading consumers and denting confidence in the market, they deprive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists of income. Inauthentic products accounted for well over half of spending on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander souvenirs in 2019-20.
  • Mandatory labelling of inauthentic products would raise consumer awareness and help them distinguish between authentic and inauthentic products, impose a negligible compliance burden on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists (and their commercial partners), and involve modest establishment and administration costs.
  • Some visual arts and crafts make use of Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP), such as sacred symbols, without the authorisation of traditional custodians. This undermines customary laws and limits the economic benefits flowing back to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Legal recognition and protection of ICIP is patchy, with very few limits on whether, how and by whom ICIP is used in visual arts and crafts.
  • A new law that strengthens protection for aspects of ICIP used in visual arts and crafts would formally recognise the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in their cultural assets, promote respectful collaborations and allow for legal action where protected cultural assets are used in visual arts and crafts without the authorisation of traditional owners.
  • Art centres assist thousands of established and emerging artists to practise their arts and crafts and engage in the marketplace; they fulfil important cultural and social roles. Other organisations provide vital services to artists — including addressing instances of unethical conduct from other market participants. Improving funding and the effectiveness of support services, as well as strengthening the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts sector workforce, will be critical for future growth. An independent evaluation of Australian Government funding to the sector — undertaken in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people — is needed to inform future funding needs, objectives and strategic priorities.

Media requests

Michelle Cross, A/g Director – Media, Publications and Web – 03 9653 2244 / media@pc.gov.au

You can help shape the future of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visual arts and crafts policy

The Productivity Commission has published its draft report on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visual arts and crafts.

We want to hear from you on our draft recommendations

Tackling inauthentic visual arts and crafts
We recommend a mandatory warning label on inauthentic products to help consumers focus on authentic arts and crafts
  • What products should be labelled?
  • What would help to strengthen compliance with labelling requirements?
Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural rights
We recommend a new law that will give traditional owners greater control over how cultural assets are used in visual arts and crafts
  • What things should the law protect?
  • Who should speak for communities looking to protect cultural assets?
Improving government support for artists and art centres
We recommend an evaluation of all support programs, and an increase in funding to strengthen the Indigenous Art Code
  • How can governments better support and work with the sector?
  • How can training and career pathways for artists and art workers be improved?

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Productivity Commission proposes new protections for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visual arts and crafts

Two in three Indigenous-style souvenirs are inauthentic, with no connection to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In a draft report released today, the Commission is calling for mandatory labelling of inauthentic products to warn consumers, a strengthened code of conduct, and protections for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural expressions.

“Inauthentic products can mislead consumers, deprive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists of income and disrespect cultures,” Productivity Commissioner Romlie Mokak said.

“Mandatory labelling would steer consumers toward authentic products and put the compliance burden on those producing fake products, not Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.”

“On balance, we consider it is a more practical response than trying to ban inauthentic products,” Mr Mokak said.

The Commission found that annual sales of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visual arts and crafts, including souvenirs, were about $250 million. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visual arts and crafts support thousands of jobs — many in remote communities — and are a major drawcard for tourists.

But Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities face longstanding challenges in protecting their cultures from being misappropriated in visual arts and crafts.

“Communities have limited legal avenues to protect their sacred stories and symbols from being used without permission and out of context,” Commissioner Lisa Gropp said.

“Our draft report proposes new legislation that would recognise the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to protect these cultural expressions,” Ms Gropp said.

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists engage successfully with art dealers, galleries and consumers — often through community-controlled art centres. But there are still instances of unscrupulous behaviour towards artists.

The Commission also recommends strengthening the supports available to artists through the Indigenous Art Code, and reviewing the adequacy and effectiveness of government funding, to ensure it aligns with community priorities and supports capacity for future growth.

People can find the draft report and provide a comment or submission at www.pc.gov.au.

Media requests

Michelle Cross, A/g Director – Media, Publications and Web – 03 9653 2244 / media@pc.gov.au

  • Preliminaries: Cover, Copyright, Opportunity for comment, Terms of reference, Disclosure of interests, Contents, Acknowledgements and Abbreviations
  • Overview
    • Key points
    • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visual arts and crafts markets are strong, dynamic and growing
    • Inauthentic arts and crafts are pervasive and cause significant cultural and economic harm
    • Labelling inauthentic products would help consumers make better choices
    • Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property is often used in visual arts
      and crafts without the permission of traditional custodians
    • Dedicated cultural rights legislation would give traditional owners control
      over their cultural assets
    • Achieving fair and ethical market interactions remains a challenge
    • Improving industry standards
    • Capacity in the sector is under strain
    • Strengthening artists and their communities
  • Summary of the Commission’s draft recommendations
  • Draft findings, recommendations and information requests
  • 1. About this study
    • 1.1 What we have been asked to do
    • 1.2 The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visual arts and crafts sector
    • 1.3 Our approach
  • 2. The contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts
    and crafts
    • 2.1 Arts and crafts are integral to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
      cultures
    • 2.2 Arts and crafts support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s
      self-determination and wellbeing
    • 2.3 Arts and crafts provide critical social and economic benefits for
      Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
    • 2.4 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and crafts play a key role in
      Australia’s economy, identity and culture
  • 3. Markets for visual arts and crafts
    • 3.1 Markets in aggregate
    • 3.2 Artists and their communities
    • 3.3 Art centres
    • 3.4 The value chain for independent artists
    • 3.5 Resales on the secondary market
    • 3.6 The consumer products market
  • 4. Inauthentic visual arts and crafts
    • 4.1 Authenticity — an important and necessary consideration
    • 4.2 How common are inauthentic arts and crafts?
    • 4.3 The effects of inauthentic arts and crafts are wide ranging
    • 4.4 Why do inauthentic arts and crafts exist (and persist)?
  • 5. Reducing trade in inauthentic arts and crafts
    • 5.1 Approaches adopted by artists and dealers to distinguish and promote
      authentic products
    • 5.2 Voluntary authenticity labelling
    • 5.3 Education and raising awareness
    • 5.4 Product bans
    • 5.5 Mandatory labelling
    • 5.6 The Commission’s proposed approach
  • 6. Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property in visual arts and crafts
    • 6.1 What is ICIP?
    • 6.2 What is the current state of play?
    • 6.3 What can be done?
  • 7. Strengthening protections for cultural assets
    • 7.1 Regulatory architecture for protecting ICIP
    • 7.2 New cultural rights legislation: the basic framework
    • 7.3 What would be protected?
    • 7.4 Who could take action?
    • 7.5 What would count as an infringement?
    • 7.6 Institutional arrangements
  • 8. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists’ experiences of unethical conduct
    • 8.1 What does fair and ethical engagement with artists look like?
    • 8.2 Artist experiences of unfair or unethical conduct
    • 8.3 What factors contribute to the risk of unethical conduct?
    • 8.4 Protective factors
  • 9. Government funding
    • 9.1 Many (mostly small) funding programs support Aboriginal and Torres
      Strait Islander arts and crafts
    • 9.2 Key issues with funding arrangements
    • 9.3 Issues with funding arrangements for training and capacity
      strengthening
  • 10. Strengthening sector capacity
    • 10.1 Supporting better conduct in the sector
    • 10.2 Addressing shortcomings in government funding
    • 10.3 Funding arrangements should centre Aboriginal and Torres Strait
      Islander people
  • A. Public Engagement
  • References

Printed copies

Printed copies of this report can be purchased from Canprint Communications.

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