Coober Pedy gets $433k for permanent gallery showcasing Indigenous art

The state government is committing more than $400,000 to help fund the construction of the first permanent Aboriginal-owned art gallery in a South Australian outback town.

The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Kyam Maher, announced the state government would provide $433,755 in funding to establish a permanent centre, featuring artists from Coober Pedy’s Umoona community.

The Umoona Art Centre, which will be set up by the APY Art Centre Collective, would be the first permanent and Indigenous-owned facility of its kind in the town.

Mr Maher said the Umoona community had been pushing for a physical centre in the town for some time.

“There are some very successful established art centres in places like the APY Lands, Oak Valley and Ceduna and it was certainly discussed with me that it was a desire and a goal of the community in Coober Pedy to have a similar art centre,” Mr Maher said.

Mr Maher, who visited the community in Coober Pedy to make the announcement, said the gallery would be a culturally significant project for the Umoona artists.

He said it would also create opportunities for employment and economic participation.

“Art is a really important way that Aboriginal people to express their stories and their heritage and share that both with their families and communities but also the broader Australian community,” he said.

“It’s a really important way that Aboriginal people participate.

“I’m really looking forward to the building of the art centre and then seeing a whole lot of artists develop and flourish.”

Community determination
APY Art Centre Collective general manager Skye O’Meara said there were about 60 artists in Coober Pedy who would have their works showcased at the gallery once it was built.

“These are individuals living in Coober Pedy in the town, in Umoona in the Aboriginal community that sits alongside Coober Pedy. The Oodnadatta community have also been joining,” Ms O’Meara said.

She said it was the determination of elders in remote communities who had worked tirelessly to make the vision of the art centre a reality.

“I feel really privileged to work under Indigenous leadership that’s operating with such generosity in sharing the benefits of their model with other areas,” she said.

“The work in Coober Pedy wouldn’t have been possible without elders from Indulkana community in the APY Lands saying, ‘We’ve got family in Coober Pedy who need some support and help, let’s get involved!’.

“That kind of leadership is how Aboriginal communities overcome social challenges.”

‘Engine rooms for local economies’
Ms O’Meara said the art centres across the APY Lands provided the only source of non-government income to those remote communities.

“The most wonderful thing about Aboriginal-owned art centres in regional and remote communities is they are not simply art making studios or creative spaces — these spaces are the engine rooms for local economies,” she said.

“They’re a place of culturally affirming employment, of meaningful employment.

“They’re a place where culture is celebrated and kept strong and instructed by elders to young people.”

She said a permanent art centre in Coober Pedy would attract people from around the world, as works from local artists had already been featured on the international stage.

“I’ve had galleries in Europe and the US that have reached out looking to represent the artists from Umoona community,” Ms O’Meara said.

“I think with an Indigenous-owned art centre there will be a place where tourists can come and have a real and meaningful engagement with Aboriginal people that live in Coober Pedy.

“I think that’s going to be an extraordinary opportunity for visitors and also an extraordinary opportunity for local people in Coober Pedy.”