Indigenous Livelihoods and Art Income: participation, production and returns from woodcarvings in Arnhem Land, north Australia

Jennifer Koenig, Jon Altman, Anthony Griffiths

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Participation in the Indigenous visual arts sector provides one of few market opportunities for Indigenous Australians resident on remote Aboriginal lands. In this article we examine the economic factors that influence this market engagement as they relate to woodcarving in the Maningrida region of Arnhem Land. In particular, we look at the factors that affect participation, production and monetary returns using scan and focal sampling, resource accounting and sales data from the regional art centre. Artists were engaged in a range of activities of which art production was the prominent means of productive cash income generation. An artist's residence and also their language community were found to influence the amount of sculpture production undertaken, with artists residing on 'country' in the hinterland being more engaged in sculpture production than those living in the township of Maningrida. The annual income earned by an artist for carving was highly variable and a large proportion of woodcarvers also earned income from producing artwork in other media. Capital costs were relatively minor, with travel costs and labour the main input into carving production. Based on the average return for a single woodcarving, $160, we estimate the average hourly return to artists as between $12 and $14. Whilst this figure is relatively low and comparable to the Australian award wage for unskilled labour, the income earned from arts production makes an important contribution to people's livelihoods.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)351-369
    Number of pages19
    JournalAustralian Geographer
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


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