Value of relationships: Kaiela Arts meets Connection, Culture, and Commerce

Background

Established in 2006, Kaiela Arts is an Aboriginal Art centre located in Shepparton, situated on the Traditional lands of the Yorta Yorta Nation of the Goulburn Murray (Kaiela Dungala) Region. 

One of only two federal government-funded Aboriginal Art centres in Victoria, Kaiela Arts differentiates itself by promoting the traditional linear and X-ray art styles of the Southern Eastern Aboriginal people. The gallery provides an important space for local Aboriginal artists and the community to connect to culture through the arts, learning from the past and empowering future generations. As a result, some artists have won prestigious awards and have sold their works to private and public collections. 

Jawun has partnered with Kaiela Arts, deploying several secondees to help strengthen key areas including business functions, marketing, website and content writing, financial administration, staff development and strategic planning, including planning for the move to the new Shepparton Art Museum (SAM) in 2021. 

In 2018, Kaiela Arts identified as part of their 5-year strategic plan the need to invest in increasing the profile and professionalism of their artists and had long desired for an art curator to work with them to share knowledge on different ways of showcasing and displaying artwork.  

2021 marked 10 years of Jawun’s partnership with Allens, supporting Indigenous communities in Goulburn Murray, Inner Sydney, and North East Arnhem Land with 44 secondees to date. This support includes the provision of corporate staff, lawyers and pro bono support.  

Approach

In 2019, Jawun worked with corporate partner Allens to deploy Maria Poulos, Arts Collection Curator to support Kaiela Arts. During this time, Maria interviewed artists and used the information gathered to develop professional CVs and biographies that would accompany their current and future artworks, Maria also helped to increase data entry and curatorial skills among Kaiela Arts staff in preparation for the centre’s move to the new Shepparton Arts Museum facility. 

Building the reputation of an art centre and that of its artists is a long, slow and laborious activity, Kaiela Arts Manager, Angie Russi reflected. “There is a great deal of work that has to be done behind the scenes and recommendations from someone like Maria, who works with a high-profile company collection, helps enormously both now and in the future.” 

Maria shared her excitement around taking part in such an enriching, impactful secondment.  

I’ve been overwhelmed and heartened to see how people come together as a community here. It’s such a vibrant place, there’s always something happening, it’s an extremely exciting place to be.”  

To support the curatorial experience of Kaiela Arts, Maria reached out to her Melbourne Reconciliation Action Plan committee colleagues and arranged an exhibition of Kaiela Arts artwork coinciding with their NAIDOC week activities to help increase the gallery’s profile.  

Kaiela Arts manager Angie Russi and the team presented the history of the gallery and the significance of South-Eastern artwork to several Allens staff during the exhibition launch. This provided great exposure to educate and profile the community and region.  

Coinciding with the move to the bigger and better SAM Ltd, and off the back of their existing relationship through Jawun’s facilitation, Kaiela Arts worked with the Allens pro bono team in 2019 and again in 2021 for some much-needed commercial advice on two legal contractual agreements. One was the commissioning of artists for design work of SAM, while the other to undertake a legal review of the sublease agreement between Kaiela Arts and SAM Ltd, having regard to any ‘red flags’ and potential risks in relation to the sublease agreement.  

As highlighted by Angie, 
 
“The pro bono work done by the team at Allens on the contractual arrangements for commissioning artists’ work in the fabric of the new SAM Building was invaluable. Their work made sure that Aboriginal artists were treated fairly, their original designs were protected by clear and fair copyright agreements and that they will be properly acknowledged into perpetuity for the design work that they have created.” 

Outcomes

By supporting the strategic aims of Kaiela Arts, Allens has over time and with strong secondee and pro bono support enabled: 

  • Generation of commercial sales revenue from the exhibition, supporting social and economic inclusiveness, recognition and professional development for Aboriginal Artists 
  • promotion of local art and its importance to the Yorta Yorta community to Allens and their trusted clients 
  • a greater awareness of co-tenancy shared responsibility with the relocation to SAM 
  • larger exhibitions by way of the new SAM and greater exposure and prominence of artists. 

The impact of the Allens exhibition has been significant, as gallery manager Angie noted: 

It was great to sell some of the work but equally as important was that Kaiela Arts has become visible and known by many who have visited and worked at Allens. It also provided a touchstone for Allens employees who have been seconded to Kaiela Arts through the Jawun program to talk about their experience with us”. 

Maria was able to transfer her skills and knowledge to Kaiela Arts Curator Eric Brown in key areas of curation and exhibition planning, in particular imparting professional gallery hanging procedures. These skills have served Eric and the gallery well when planning and preparing for future exhibitions.”  

For Maria, the value of the secondment was felt in return. 


It’s had a positive impact on my tolerance, openness to new situations and creative thinking. I have now gained a better understanding of the complex issues surrounding indigenous people of the Yorta Yorta Nation.”  

Next Steps

Jawun secondees will continue to provide support to the continued growth of Kaiela Arts, focussing on growing customer experience, commercial revenue, putting more money back in the artists’ pockets and exploring more exhibition opportunities. 

In addition to this, Kaiela Arts will continue to promote and differentiate itself by promoting the traditional linear and X-ray styles of South Eastern Aboriginal people’s culture. 

“Allen’s looks forward to maintaining a respectful relationship with Kaiela Arts, and to provide meaningful opportunities for our staff to utilise their expertise in support of Indigenous-led change and reform.”