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Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair announces return of Cultural Keepers Program

Phoebe Blogg -

Renowned as being one of the most – if no the most – important art events within the Indigenous community, Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair is known for its ongoing commitment to profiling, showcasing and providing opportunities to First Nations artists, art centres and communities.

This year the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF) will again be offering its Cultural Keepers program. Created in partnership with the University of Melbourne, The DAAF Foundation is thrilled to see the program reappear once again.

Taking place at the Darwin Convention Centre, from the August 7-9, the Cultural Keepers Program strives to provide a national meeting place to network, build relationships, and share participants experience and knowledge with other First Nations visual art professionals.

Behind the scenes at DAAF 2023. (Image: Dylan-Buckee)

DAAF's artistic director Shilo McNamee shared her excitement about the program's return, saying the program has faced a few minor changes to better meet the needs of both curators and art centres.

"After sensing a need for deeper connection in the industry, the program was developed and piloted in 2017 with the support of the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation. After a brief hiatus, the program is returning in 2024 with the support of Melbourne University and the 'Place for Indigenous Art and Culture (PIAC)," she said.

"The program will still offer all the warmth and familiarity participants are used to, but there have been a few minor changes to support deeper connection between curators and Art Centres for a thoroughly enriching experience.

"We warmly welcome new and previous participants to apply."

Behind the scenes at DAAF 2023, Country to Couture Runway. (Image: Dylan-Buckee)

Featuring two components, the program has been thoroughly developed. The first is a symposium to share stories, challenges, and projects with peers. This is a First Nations-only space.

The second centres around art centre networking and support. Art centre networking and support, in which the applicant will be paired with 2-3 art centres to connect with prior to the fair commencing. Days two and three will be about working with art centres and supporting them in their exhibition booth.

Curators will also be provided with an induction pack, and will be encouraged to research the art centres they are paired with (eg. key contacts, artist profiles and background)

"The Cultural Keepers Program is a three-day program that takes place in the lead up to the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair," McNamee told Style Up.

"The program provides an opportunity for Arts Workers and curators to share their latest projects, developments and thought pieces via the Symposium.

The second component is about working with Art Centres to curate and present their booths to a high standard at DAAF.

"The program has evolved into an inspirational and safe meeting place to encourage First Nations curators and remote Art Centres to connect and build relationships that strengthen the Indigenous art sector."

Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation Artistic Director Shilo McNamee. (Image: Dylan-Buckee)

When discussing with McNamee how previous Cultural Keepers program participants have found the program, the artistic director said those who have previously participated in the program have expressed only positive experiences.

"They (previous program participants) have found it to be an amazing place for networking and reconnecting. It is incredibly important that we provide a safe space for sharing and learning. Previous participants have expressed that the program is a place of strength and healing and a place for connection," she said.

"The program supports the industry by providing opportunities for peer connection through networking. As a single Indigenous employee, curators often find themselves tasked with 'being the voice of' Aboriginal people as a whole.

"There needs to be a culturally safe space and "closed room" to allow for vulnerability. The symposium is a space for Curators and Arts Workers to reconnect and feel reinvigorated."

In 2024, the DAAF Foundation is going one step further and also offering paid opportunities for curators to help facilitate elements of the DAAF Public Program, during the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair. Roles may include assisting with artist workshops, demonstrations and talks.

With a record $4.4 million generated in sales and roughly 29,031 unique visitors, last year's event was a direct example of the reach and power DAAF has to propel, showcase and spotlight First Nations creatives and their talent.

With this year's fair set to break records once again, the return of the Cultural Keepers Program is sure to draw even more hype to the 2024 event.

Applications for the Cultural Keepers Program close on the 19th April 2024 at 5pm ACST.

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