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A Silver Legacy

The Northern Territory is a creative powerhouse of story, song, dance and visual art. For 25 years, Artback NT has been on a mission to nurture and share this richness, wherever it appears.

By Anna Dowd

Diving into the Artback NT archive is a chance to appreciate the incredible range of visual and performing artists the Territory has produced in the last quarter of a century, and the audiences they’ve been helped to connect with.

From festivals, plays and puppet shows in remote communities, to cross-cultural exchanges in Asia, Artback NT has helped Northern Territory artists reach a total audience of over 2.76 million locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.

Executive Officer Louise Partos’ first encounter with Artback NT was working at Ernabella Arts in the late 1990s, getting a first-hand glimpse into the ethos of hands-on, community-led development that has made these connections possible.

“I rang them and said, ‘I see you’ve got some touring visual arts exhibitions, can you bring them down to South Australia to our community?’. Then pretty quickly we had this show come to our remote community, interstate, with the EO at the time coming down herself, helping to sweep out the Arts Centre floor,” Partos says.

Crossing boundaries and sharing work for Artback NT means the idea of what a venue can be is constantly being reimagined, with a total of 465 venue sites utilised across the Territory to date.

Working as a performer, puppeteer, workshop facilitator and board member with Artback NT over two decades, Tania Lieman says anything from a front yard to a basketball court can be a place of performance.

“Going from a fully formed theatre in town to somewhere that’s just the dirt and a big open area, there’s no shade, no cover, but you run a 500 metre lead to get power to it. Suddenly it all becomes possible.”

For Lieman, Artback NT's process is a reciprocal, two-way exchange between artists and communities, and the Indigenous Traditional Dance Program in Numbulwarr and Borroloola is one of many examples of the legacy of that.

“In the beginning, it was us saying, ‘here’s what we’ve got’, but then suddenly people start seeing every living part of the community as a potential, activated performance space.”

It’s this commitment to natural thinking that Chips Mackinolty, visual artist and former Chairperson, says is the secret to Artback NT's longevity, and it shows in their unique international collaborations.

“It’s why this extraordinary relationship between Bathurst and Melville Island and Taiwan was possible,” he says, of the Musician’s Cultural Exchange that has resulted in an ongoing Indigenous Artist in Residence Program.

“It’s just completely out-of-the-box stuff. In a sense, it shouldn’t be happening, but it is, and it’s really successful.”

Celebrating their success and silver anniversary, Artback NT has partnered with Library & Archives NT throughout 2021 to share images and stories from their archives.

“The Territory is a part of the cultural heart and narrative of this country,” Partos reminds us.

“And you can’t understand Australian art and culture without the Northern Territory’s visual and performing artists being part of that story.”


Top: Sandtracks, 2012. Photo: Mathew McHugh
L-R: Yanyuwa Dancers, Malandarri Festival, 2018. Photo: Benjamin Warlngundu Ellis Bayliss
Darren Edwards and Catherine Young, Mokuy (Spirit), Gary Lang NT Dance Company, 2014. Photo: Glenn Campbell
Derek Anderson, Clinton Dodd and facilitator Liam Maza, Upcycling workshop in Borroloola. Photo: Benjamin Warlngundu Ellis Bayliss
'Still in my mind: Gurindji location, experience and visuality'. Photo courtesy South Australian Museum

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