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

Two out of three native-style souvenirs are inauthentic, with no connection to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In a draft report released today, the Commission calls for mandatory labeling of inauthentic products to warn consumers, an enhanced 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,” said Productivity Commissioner Romlie Mokak.

“Mandatory labeling would steer consumers towards genuine products and place the burden of compliance on those making counterfeit products, not on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.”

“Overall, we consider this to be a more practical response than trying to ban inauthentic products,” Mokak said.

The Commission found that annual sales of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visual arts and crafts, including souvenirs, amounted to approximately $250 million. The visual arts and crafts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people support thousands of jobs – many in remote communities – and are a major draw for tourists.

But Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities face long-standing challenges to protect their cultures from misappropriation in visual arts and crafts.

“Communities have limited legal means to protect their sacred stories and symbols from unauthorized and out-of-context use,” Commissioner Lisa Gropp said.

“Our draft report proposes new legislation that would recognize 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 centers. But there are still examples of unscrupulous behavior 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 the future growth capacity.

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

Key points

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been creating visual arts and crafts for tens of thousands of years. This practice has become a major 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 approximately $250 million in 2019-2020 – this includes $30-47 million in sales of artwork at shopping malls. art and at least $83 million in sales of merchandise and consumer products (mostly souvenirs) featuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and designs.

  • While a small number of artists command high prices, the average income of the 5,800 to 7,700 artists who sold art at an art center in 2019-20 was just over $2,700. For independent artists, the average income was around $6,000.

Unauthentic arts and crafts – mostly Aboriginal-style consumer products not created by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – are a pervasive and long-standing problem. They disrespect and distort culture and, by misleading consumers and undermining trust in the market, they deprive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists of income. Non-genuine products accounted for well over half of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander souvenir spending in 2019-20.

Mandatory labeling of inauthentic products would educate consumers and help them distinguish between authentic and inauthentic products, impose a negligible compliance burden on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists (and their trading partners) and incur costs of modest establishment and administration.

Some visual arts and crafts use Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP), such as sacred symbols, without permission from traditional custodians. This undermines customary laws and limits the economic benefits accruing to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Legal recognition and protection of CIPI is uneven, with very few limits on whether, how, and by whom CIPI is used in visual arts and crafts.

New legislation that strengthens protection for aspects of CIPI used in visual arts and crafts would formally recognize the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in their cultural property, encourage respectful collaborations and enable legal action when protected cultural property is used in the visual arts. and handicrafts without the permission of the traditional owners.

Art centers help thousands of established and emerging artists practice their arts and crafts and engage in the marketplace; they fulfill important cultural and social roles. Other organizations provide vital services to artists, including handling instances of unethical conduct by other market participants.

Improving funding and the efficiency of support services, as well as strengthening the workforce of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts sector, will be essential for future growth. An independent assessment of Australian Government funding in the sector – undertaken in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – is needed to inform future funding needs, objectives and strategic priorities.

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/Public release. This material from the original organization/authors may be ad hoc in nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors.

Aurora J. William