• Local artist, Syd Bruce Short Joe, Pormpuraaw, QLD. (Pormpuraaw Art & Culture Centre Inc. (supplied))Source: Pormpuraaw Art & Culture Centre Inc. (supplied)
Art sales are drying up for remote communities in Queensland's Cape York due to the Coronavirus pandemic, with art centres looking to engage customers through an online marketplace.
Douglas Smith

21 Jul 2020 - 11:21 PM  UPDATED 21 Jul 2020 - 11:23 PM

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, an art centre in remote Far North Queensland has seen all of its art sales dry up, with artists being left out-of-pocket with little to no income. 

On the west coast of Cape York, the Pormpuraaw Art and Culture Centre is more than just a place of business, it has a strong sense of community which brings people together from across the region.  

In addition to that, the art centre is used as a way for local artists to earn an extra income to buy essentials such as white-goods, car repairs, food and other everyday items. 

Manager of the Pormpuraaw Art and Culture Centre, Paul Jakubowski has been with the centre for the past 11-years, and told NITV News that he has never seen the art market so quiet.  

“We’ve lost all our income from art sales. I had all kinds of things lined up. I had galleries lined up, I had art fairs, I had customers,” said Mr Jakubowski.  

“We were gonna do a big giant installation at Cairns airport, that was going to be a $50,000 contract and we lost that.

“The artists have lost money, and that's the money they use to buy white-goods, refrigerators and air conditioners, and washing machines or to fix the family car, or to send money to their kids in boarding school or buy the kids a computer.”

Mr Jakubowski said “extra earned money” in a community like Pormpuraaw was “rare” because of how remote it was, which meant for many of the artists in the community, painting and selling art was a full time job. 

Artist and Kugu woman from Pormpuraaw, Mylene Holroyd, told NITV News that the coronavirus pandemic has prevented her and other artists from attending events where they would normally sell their artwork.   

“We were supposed to go for the CIAF (Cairns Indigenous Art Fair) and things are getting slower...it’s just put us down,” said Ms Holroyd. 

“We don’t get much pay from the art because we haven’t sold anything."

Ms Holroyd, who has been painting for 20-years, said she hoped that business would go back to normal soon, as the art centre looked at alternatives for selling work. 

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Wik man and President of the Pormpuraaw Art and Culture Centre, Elliot Koonutta, told NITV News that he had not sold a painting in about four months.

“Most days when I go to Canberra and Adelaide, [that] is where I sell all my stuff there,” said Mr Koonutta. 

“The virus has stopped everything, like going to the art shows.

“We have to do our art online because that virus [has] spoiled everything for us.”

Mr Koonutta said he had already sold “a couple of paintings” in Paris before the pandemic, and hoped a new online marketplace would see his next painting sold soon. 

“We [are] trying to put all our art online, so people from all over the world can have a look at their screens and look at Wik painting and buy it.”

Art centre Manager, Mr Jakubowski said he was trying to "adapt and survive" by building an online marketplace for customers to purchase artwork by local artists. 

"We're trying to build an online store when I get the time so we can adapt and survive," he said. But this is a serious loss of income to artists."

QLD offers support 

On Monday, the Queensland government announced additional funding from the Indigenous Regional Arts Development Fund would go to six art centres in Cape York to help them continue projects aimed at generating revenue. 

In a statement, Minister for Arts Leeanne Enoch said a total of $290,000 from the Palaszczuk Government’s $22.5 million Arts and Cultural Recovery Package would go towards Indigenous arts centres across the Cape York region, including the Torres Strait Islands.  

Ms Enoch said art centres could access the funds through the Indigenous Regional Arts Development Fund (IRADF) and the Indigenous Arts Centre Infrastructure Fund (IACIF).   

“Through the latest outcomes of these funds, the Palaszczuk Government has delivered $290,000 and $100,000 of investment through IRADF and IACIF respectively as yet another way that we are supporting Queenslanders through our plan for economic recovery,” said Ms Enoch. 

“The arts sector has been impacted globally by the consequences of COVID-19."

The IRADF and IACIF funds have been announced in addition to the The First Nations Commissioning Fund and Indigenous Art Centres Launch Fund, which is now open until August 20.

“The First Nations Commissioning Fund will invest in new productions and visual arts commissions by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practitioners and organisations, and the Indigenous Art Centres Launch Fund will expand investment into new IACs state-wide."

Iamalaig woman and Member for Cook, Cynthia Lui also said a new online marketplace and shopfronts in Brisbane and Cairns would be procured by the Palaszczuk Government later in 2020, to support year-round sales of Queensland First Nations arts and craft. 

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