A 50-year milestone for First Nations arts that looks to the future

Eldership, advocacy and gearing for the future, Purrumpa invites sector leaders and emerging voices to gather in a momentous celebration of First Nations arts and culture.

To be held on Kaurna Yerta at the Adelaide Convention Centre from 31 October to 4 November, Purrumpa is the largest coming together of First Nations arts, artists and arts workers in five decades. 

‘Purrumpa is a moment for us to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Aboriginal Arts Board that was established back in 1973, the first time that an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander board was formed at the federal level to provide advice and direction to the Australian Government on arts and culture,’ Franchesca Cubillo, Australia Council’s Executive Director, First Nations Arts and Culture told ArtsHub. 

‘That was really the beginning of elevating First Nations arts and culture at a national and international level, and provided the investment framework to support our remarkable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander creatives,’ she added.  

This is a period that saw First Nations art collections starting to become a priority in galleries and museums, the establishment of First Nations theatre companies and dance companies, as well as real opportunities for First Nations filmmakers. 

Across the five days, each themed around reflecting on the past and looking to the future, speakers will draw from their lived experience of how the sector has evolved and areas of priority going forward. 

Cubillo continued: ‘There are two underlying considerations for the gathering. One is to celebrate the achievements and the other is to have further conversations led by First Nations people around the consideration of a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural agency. 

‘The first day on “Respectful Engagement. Deep Listening” sets this foundation for the conversations that are to follow, where on the second day we begin to examine the “Legacy” of the past 50 years.’

Following on from these two pillars will be sessions on ‘Storytelling’, ‘Now’ and ‘Imagining the future’. 

First announced keynote speakers include Minister for Indigenous Australians, Hon Linda Burney MP, musician and advocate Bob Weatherall, Pat Anderson AO, Marcia Langton AO and Minister for the Arts Hon Tony Burke MP. 

Attendees will also hear from fellow artists and arts workers such as Damien Shen, curator Glenn Iseger-Pilkington, Dr Fiona Foley, Julie Gough, Rhoda Roberts AO and many other established leaders of the sector.  

‘For artists and arts workers, I’m hoping that it’ll be an opportunity for us to honour all those who have gone before and for us to discuss the creative sector that we are currently engaged in, as well as what our priorities as First Nations creatives are into the future,’ said Cubillo. 

The voices of First Nations youth will also come to the fore in these discussions, Cubillo added. 

‘It’s about providing a space and a platform for our First Nations community. We are now in an exciting time in terms of digital engagement, and we are going to be hearing from our First Nations youth of their aspirations. There’s a whole new landscape today that is very different to the art landscape that was in place 50 years ago.

‘Not only do we need to protect and care for our Eldership, we need to ensure that cultural knowledge has a real opportunity to be handed down from one generation to the next,’ said Cubillo. 

Purrumpa launch in July 2022. Photo: Nat Rogers.

Concession pricing to Purrumpa is available for First Nations artists, students, concession card holders and First Nations small to medium organisations. Non-First Nations delegates are welcomed to join the audience and hear from these thought leaders. 

The event will also be live-streamed for free throughout its duration, with post-event recordings and an upcoming 50th anniversary publication in the works to ensure that this legacy is carried into the future. 

Cubillo is looking forward to the outcomes of this milestone event. ‘I suspect that there’ll be lots of important conversations around First Nations language, about the environment, Country and climate. We’re expecting that there will be some really important, not only deliberations, but recommendations that will come from the gathering to carry us forward the next 50 years.’

Purrumpa runs from 31 October – 4 November at Adelaide Convention Centre and onlineview the program or register to join the free livestream.

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. Most recently she took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne. Instagram: @lleizy_