For the majority of artists receiving income from one or more of the creative activities, this income is only incidental. Indeed creative activities provide the main income for only about 30 percent of artists and the remainder (about one-quarter
of artists) receive it as extra income. A similar pattern is evident for arts- and culture-related activities, with about half of paid artists on average receiving only incidental income from these sources. Specific activities that supply
the main income of a majority of artists engaged in them include those which offer the possibility of a full-time or part-time job, such as with a media company, an art centre or other organisation.
Turning to time allocations, we find that a majority of artists in the Kimberley spend between one full day per week and one full day per month on arts- and culture-related activities such as translation, cross-cultural consulting, caring for
country, arts administration or cultural tourism. In terms of the creative artistic activities, the artists in the region choose a diversity of time allocation strategies, with about one-fifth working in the creative arts on a full-time basis,
about one-third spending between one and three days per week, and almost a half spending between one full day per month to a few full days per year working in this area on average.
Length of experience: Just over half of respondents have been practising their art for more than 20 years; the data suggest that most artists have been practising their art for all or most of their adult lives.
Despite the difficulties of collecting financial information in surveys, we were able to collect reasonably accurate income data either through self-reporting or through an organisation such as an art centre which maintained individual sales
records or an organisation acting as an employer. In summary, we found that on average visual artists and performers earned $8.1 thousand and $9.5 thousand respectively from their creative artistic activities, and $4.1 thousand and $13.4
thousand respectively from their engagement in arts- and culture-related activities. When all sources are combined, the average annual total incomes amounted to $23.2 thousand for visual artists, $32.7 thousand for performing artists and
$27.8 thousand for all artists in the Kimberley. These incomes are significantly less than those for all artists Australia-wide – for example, the average total income of Australian professional artists in 2007-08 was $41.2 thousand.
Nevertheless it appears that artists in the Kimberley may be better off on average than the rest of the Indigenous population of the region; our estimate of the median annual income of artists in the Kimberley ($25 thousand) is significantly
higher than the median personal income for all Indigenous people in the region ($15.7 thousand) as derived from 2011 ABS Census data. This is a significant difference; given the regional context and the realities of working remotely, it
reinforces our proposition that working in the arts and cultural sector can provide an important means toward economic empowerment for Indigenous people in the Kimberley.
Role of culture in sustainable community development
In the survey we sought the opinions and attitudes of artists themselves as to the importance of the arts to sustainable community development, particularly in regard to:
- engagement of young people in art and cultural production
- infrastructure availability
- role of cultural tourism
- educational aspects
First, respondents agreed very strongly that artistic activities such as painting, music, dance and writing can provide jobs and incomes for young people in their community. For cultural maintenance activities, the employment and revenue-generating
potential was seen as being almost as strong.
Second, in regard to infrastructure, there was virtually unanimous endorsement of the economic importance of art centres. There would appear to be scope for further infrastructure development in some remote communities.
Third, although cultural tourism exists in the Kimberley, the industry remains relatively underdeveloped. Artists in our survey expressed very strong agreement that cultural tourism can bring jobs and incomes to the community.
Finally in regard to education and training as avenues for economic and cultural development, respondents endorsed the importance of bilingual education in school. In a post-school context, the value of arts-practice workshops in providing
people in the community with the skills to do more artistic activities was supported by almost all respondents.
When looking at the longer term, we can draw the inference from the views artists expressed that while the development of the art economy in the Kimberley has significant potential to contribute to community sustainability, the market
on its own will be insufficient. The way is open for new targeted public- and private-sector programs specifically designed to support the production of cultural goods and services by Indigenous artists across all art forms in the
Policy issues arising from this study
This survey has provided data that can contribute to evidence-based policy making not only specifically for the Kimberley but also in a wider State and national context. Some relevant issues are the following:
Indigenous cultural capital – an unrealised resource: The survey data indicate the significant numbers of artists who are able and willing to work at cultural production but unable for various reasons to do so.
Integration of economic, social and cultural development: This study has clearly demonstrated the pervasive nature of cultural engagement among the population of cultural practitioners in the Kimberley; economic development through
expansion of art and cultural production goes hand in hand with social development, flowing from the well-recognised benefits of the arts to community life and social cohesion. Development strategies need to comprehend the holistic
nature of sustainability when applied to remote communities.
Opportunities for small-business development: Our data demonstrate that artists in the Kimberley have skills and experience in a variety of areas relevant to small business operations. Policy can facilitate small business establishment
and development by providing support services, investment advice, assistance with finance, and so on.
Cultural maintenance: An essential aspect of sustainability of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is to ensure that mechanisms for cultural maintenance are protected and encouraged; without cultural maintenance there
is no creative arts. Moreover cultural maintenance activities offer substantial economic benefits to Indigenous people who engage in them.
Training for the arts and cultural sector:
Training programs provided in the region need to acknowledge the “Big Three” educational pathways: observing/participating with a family member; learning on the job (self-learning); and learning from friends and other community
members. Arts-practice workshops have also been successful.
Access to country: The survey data underline the importance of access to country for Indigenous people, as a source of cultural knowledge and art materials and as a place for creative inspiration and practice.
Role of art centres: Our data indicate clearly the important role that art centres play in providing facilities, supporting artists and supplying other services to their communities. Art centres have had a significant influence
on the development of the visual art economy in the Kimberley, and artists in communities which currently do not have an art centre recognise the benefits that might accrue if such a centre were to be established in their community.
Need for further infrastructure and services: For art forms other than the visual arts, expansion of activity is constrained in many cases by the lack of infrastructure to support artistic work. In the case of music, for example,
some communities could benefit from the establishment of studio space and other facilities, in particular to encourage the work of young and emerging musicians.
Remoteness issues: The arts and cultural sector has some advantages in supporting economic development in remote Indigenous communities: there is a large pool of people in these communities with relevant experience who do not need
to be trained to do these jobs; the infrastructure required to support this sector is relatively small; and jobs in the arts and cultural sector allow for flexibility to address issues of seasonality, limited access and unstable markets
that is a necessary condition of remote production.
Cultural tourism: The data in this Report point to possibilities for expansion of cultural tourism in the Kimberley, an area that offers considerable economic potential either independently or in association with environmental tourism.
The findings of this study provide some pointers for the formulation of regional arts and culture development strategies for the Kimberley. Three particular aspects can be highlighted.
Firstly, production, distribution and marketing of cultural product in any context need to be supported at all stages in the supply chain by adequate infrastructure. Visual artists who are fortunate enough to be based in communities where
an art centre has been established are well supplied with support through the centres, which in most cases receive Government funding. Performing artists on the other hand do not have access to widely available facilities to assist
in the development of their creative work. They need the sorts of infrastructure facilities that can make a difference, especially for young people who have the potential to develop their musical skills and perhaps embark on a musical
Secondly, the distribution and marketing components of the value chain need to be well established if work produced is to find an appropriate market. To a large extent market development takes place in response to commercial incentives,
but there is a role for judicious policy intervention, for example through seed-funding for start-up creative businesses, provision of market intelligence and so on.
Thirdly, the role of cultural tourism as a potential revenue source to support art and cultural production in the Kimberley remains to be further explored. Our survey found a strong belief amongst artists that tourists could bring jobs
and incomes to their communities. They also acknowledged unanimously that tourists should visit their communities in order to experience their culture at first hand.
Overall, the prospect for expanding the role of art and cultural production as a means for generating incomes and jobs in remote communities, especially for young people, appears to be viewed favourably by artists in the Kimberley region.
The results of our work support moves to integrate the arts and culture more effectively into regional development strategies, as a source of both economic and cultural empowerment for Indigenous communities.