Why an outback arts manager could be your dream job

Working in a remote Indigenous community with local artists can be an isolating and challenging role. It could also be the experience of a lifetime.

Working with renowned artists in remote communities can be hugely satisfying. Image: supplied.

Skye O’Meara has just spent an unexpected 10 years as an arts centre manager at Tjala Arts, one of 40 such mostly remote community art hubs across Australia representing more than 8000 artists in Central Australia.

‘I was meant to come out and spent a year at Tjala Arts, before coming back to Sydney to continue my career,’ she told ArtsHub. ‘This year is my 10th year on the lands. I can’t imagine a job more exciting and rewarding job in the world than working for art centres. There isn’t a job like it. 

‘One moment one is working with galleries negotiating prestigious opportunities or discussing pricing or marketing. The next moment you are getting your hands dirty mixing paint and supporting artists in their studio.’

Art centres operate as a studio for local artists, but also as a hub endeavouring to foster local Aboriginal culture and bring the community together.

The centres are individually governed, but are supported by peak body Desart through the hiring of managers, marketing support and assisting with ways to make the centres commercially viable businesses.

In many instances, the arts centres are the only way residents in the community can earn money.

‘Working to an Aboriginal board in community is fantastic, and the roles of art centres goes well beyond that of a studio,’ says O’Meara. ‘You are working with community Elders every day. Art centres are the only places of real jobs in most communities. To Aboriginal people, they are the most important places in community and respected as such.’

Mel Henderson cataloguing artworks at Mwerre Anthurre Artists, Bindi Inc. Image by Rhett Hammerton / Desart.

O’Meara has just recently moved on from her post and Desart is now hiring – both for arts centre managers and for an educator to join the Desart team.

Mellisa Kramer, Desart’s Administration and Finance Manager, said to be a successful art centre manager you need both a love and appreciation of art but also business nous.

‘A lot of people have fine art degrees which is really interesting because it is a business role,’ she told ArtsHub. ‘At the end of the day we want our member art centres to be making the money so we create opportunities for their community.

‘We are looking for people who have a really great art degree or sense of the arts but have been working in business already so they have those skills. Alternatively, someone who has a business degree but also has a love of art.’

Kramer said you also need a special set of personal skills as many of the arts centres under the Desart umbrella are incredibly remote – it can take up to three days to reach some of them. Kramer says that can be a challenge for some candidates, but many thrive on the richness of the experience.

‘It’s pretty hard and it can be isolating so it takes a very strong person to live in a remote community,’ she said. ‘But by working with renowned artists to make a difference in their lives and building someone’s career you could be helping them with income that could support their entire family.’

O’Meara agrees: ‘Being part of a skilled team of Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff, and building a successful business is something I am immensely proud of,’ she said. ‘If you have the right skills and are happy to work hard to the vision of the Elders, you’ll get traction really quickly and what can be achieved is quite extraordinary.’

And age is not a barrier – Kramer says the current group of art managers range from 25 through to 65.

There are several roles available now through Desart, but more will be posted in the coming months. Click here for more information about current positions.

Cathy Anderson
About the Author
Cathy Anderson is a Melbourne-based freelance journalist and the co-founder of digital content creation agency Ginger Brown.