GIFTS FROM THE ART
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.”