Protecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visual arts and crafts

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The visual arts and crafts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are part of Australia’s national identity.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been creating visual arts and crafts for tens of thousands of years, helping to maintain, strengthen and share Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. The practice has grown into a significant industry – total sales reached approximately $250 million in 2019-2020 – generating income for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and art workers, and creating economic opportunities for the communities.

But unauthentic arts and crafts – mostly “native-style” products not created by Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders – are ubiquitous. In a recently released report, the Productivity Commission found that two out of three Aboriginal-style souvenirs are fakes, with no connection or benefit to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The Australian Government has commissioned the Productivity Commission to examine the size and characteristics of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visual arts and crafts markets, and to explore potential policy changes to address market gaps .

The Commission found that while many inauthentic products are generic imitations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander designs and styles, some people use Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP), such as sacred symbols, inappropriately and without the permission of the traditional guardians. . This distorts traditional stories and images and limits the economic benefits accruing to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Legal recognition and protection of CIPI is uneven, with few limits on whether, how, and by whom CIPI is used in visual arts and crafts.

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These concerns are long-standing and have been the subject of multiple reviews over many years. The draft report recently published by the Commission proposes two new remedies.

First, the mandatory labeling of inauthentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait visual arts and crafts – primarily souvenirs – would raise consumer awareness of counterfeit products and help steer them towards authentic purchases. Placing the regulatory burden on suppliers of counterfeit goods would impose a negligible compliance burden on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists (and their business partners) and would involve relatively modest costs.

Second, 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, foster respectful collaborations, and enable action in court when protected cultural property is used. without the permission of the traditional owners.

More generally, improving 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.

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists rely on art centers and other organizations to practice their art, engage in the marketplace, learn skills and access legal assistance to address unconscionable behavior. scrupulous, such as copyright violations. These organizations fulfill vital cultural and social roles, but their modest resources are increasingly stretched.

An independent assessment of Australian Government funding to the sector, undertaken in genuine partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, is needed to inform future funding needs, objectives and strategic priorities.

There is much to celebrate about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visual arts and crafts and the significant economic, social and cultural benefits the industry brings to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and Australian society. . However, targeted and cost-effective reforms would strengthen the sector and put Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and arts organizations on a better footing for future growth. The Commission continues its dialogue with the participants and invites comments on its proposals. Our final report will be delivered to the Australian Government in November this year.

View the draft report and provide a comment or submission.

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