The Australian - The Deal - - Trends | People | Events - Sue Wil­liams

Five years ago, when the Abo­rig­i­nal art mar­ket be­gan to slow, artists at the re­mote Utopia community north­east of Alice Springs agreed to a novel way of boost­ing their in­come.

With de­mand for their can­vases, many of which had sold in­ter­na­tion­ally, fall­ing from the 2005 peak, the artists worked with the Alice Springs gallery they had sup­plied for 25 years to li­cense the use of some of their best-known art­works on gift­ware.

They launched in 2007 with their first item, a stubby- holder – per­haps some­what iron­i­cally from a res­o­lutely dry community – pro­duced in 16 pat­terns from var­i­ous artists. To­day, Utopia Gift­ware has 24 prod­ucts, 50 li­censed de­signs and more than 280 listed items. It sells more than 100,000 units a year.

“It has proved a huge suc­cess,” says Josh van Haaren, op­er­a­tions man­ager of both Utopia Gift­ware and the Mban­tua Abo­rig­i­nal Art Gallery. “The roy­al­ties from this have re­placed some of the in­come lost by artists as a re­sult of the down­turn in de­mand for their works since the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis. And peo­ple seem to love the prod­ucts. They like the fact that we know all the artists per­son­ally and have been work­ing with them for more than 25 years. And the roy­al­ties are di­rected straight back to the artists, as well as to the Mban­tua Foun­da­tion, which im­ple­ments community de­vel­op­ment projects in Cen­tral Aus­tralia.”

The high- qual­ity, brightly coloured range, with many in­stantly recog­nis­able art­works, in­cludes those orig­i­nal stubby- hold­ers, wine and wa­ter cool­ers, post­cards, notepads, jour­nals, ties and scarves. They range in price from $1.50 for a book­mark to $70 for a gift- boxed scarf and are sold at out­lets across Aus­tralia. “We run ev­ery idea past the artists first,” van Haaren says. “But they all love hav­ing their work out there, in all its forms.”

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