CIAF First digital program resounds with audiences and buyers  

[by Pip Miller]


Image: supplied

While online art sales and digital engagement are key yardsticks achieved by Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) in its 11th year, it is a series of qualitative outcomes defining success and sustainability for Queensland’s quintessential First Peoples’ cultural event.


Responding quickly and with determined focus to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions earlier this year, CIAF launched The Cultural Evolution, its first ever digital program spanning 10 days and comprising more than 40 individual and free-of-charge to view, events held between Friday 14 and Sunday 23 August 2020.


For its inaugural online iteration, CIAF’s Facebook posts and livestreams reached 2, 646, 397 people in 80 countries while the 2020 program website was visited 12, 968 times by 85 countries (and growing).


Art collectors and buyers showed unwavering support with CIAF exhibition sales tallying $330, 781, up by more than $4,000 compared to 2019. Of CIAF’s eight gallery exhibitions, the Undercurrents - Cook 2020 exhibition, in which artists surveyed the impact of Cook while addressing the imbalance of written colonial history versus First Peoples’ oral history, accounted for almost 20 per cent of sales; thus, proving CIAF a valuable and resounding platform for First Peoples’ conversations.


From the outset, CIAF Board and management were united and committed in their aim to present an illuminating program that mirrored its physical counterpart with online-ready, visual art exhibitions and markets to music, dance and fashion performances, cultural yarns, critical conversations, annual Art Awards and artists talks.


CIAF’s Artistic Director Janina Harding (pictured) said that choosing to proceed with a virtual program allowed the event to maintain and grow its already powerful brand while positioning the organisation at the forefront of new and innovative creative industries.


“In many ways CIAF created a catalyst for change, by showing the vibrant complexities of Queensland’s First Peoples’ culture to the world via a virtual and deep listening experience.


“We embraced culture and technology simultaneously to fast track the ‘cultural evolution’ while most critically, supporting artists with the continuation of their art practice at a time of uncertainty and quarantine.


“The benefits of art-making from both an economic and mental health perspective is recognised as part of CIAF’s social responsibility,” Ms Harding said.


Ms Harding said the event’s commitment to create an online presence, though exhaustive in terms of production and the logistics associated with curating 36 hours of compelling content, paid off exponentially.


“I would like to acknowledge CIAF’s partnership with the Torres Strait Regional Authority and the many communities and artists who made their own content, and so doing, allowed us to share their culture with the world.


“By showcasing the art online via four virtual galleries including CIAF’s Art Fair and Undercurrents – Cook 2020, we have broadened and lifted the profiles of Queensland’s artists and art centres while also tapping into a new buyers’ market beyond Cairns.


“Art sales not only bring economic benefits to artists; it lets artists provide their world view to those who want to be better informed,” she said.


Ms Harding praised the efforts her team, the artists and art centres who overcame all the challenges posed, including the freight of artwork from remote communities during lockdown, to bring CIAF – The Cultural Evolution to life.


“The effort has been worth it, and we now have a legacy in the digital platform with first-hand experience that will underpin and become an important part of future events; CIAF is digital ready!”


Minister for the Arts Leeanne Enoch said CIAF 2020 had reached millions of people across the globe, sharing Queensland’s unique Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and stories.


"CIAF continues to successfully evolve as a powerful expression of culture, engaging with new audiences and is well positioned for future growth," Minister Enoch said.


“CIAF’s online platforms provided opportunities for artists to share their work with worldwide audiences, in a welcoming virtual space with an adapted program and marketplace that met the needs of a COVID-safe environment.


“The Palaszczuk Government has invested in CIAF since its inception with annual funding of $600,000 through our Backing Indigenous Arts initiative to support artists and generate economic opportunities.


“Since the onset of COVID-19 the Palaszczuk Government has committed to more than $42.5 million in relief measures, including our $22.5 million Arts and Cultural Recovery Package as part of Queensland’s plan for economic recovery,” Ms Enoch said.


In its 11-year history CIAF has generated approximately $ 8 million in art sales which has been returned to the artistic community to further develop their practice and cumulatively, recognition for Queensland’s two Indigenous cultures and diverse art movement.


Added to this, CIAF 2020 provided an online marketplace for curators to acquire special works that will join the collections of museums, institutions and galleries in Australia and overseas.


Among approximately 300 artworks sold in 2020, notable purchases by institutions (which include the Sea Museum and National Gallery of Victoria) accounted for all five artwork installations by this year’s Queensland Government’s Premier’s Award for Excellence winner, Clinton Naina.


Also, in 2020, CIAF’s partnership with Coral Expeditions culminated in a $22,000 prize promotion as well as the purchase of 10 artworks for the Cairns-based tourism operation’s new vessel launching in 2021.


In releasing CIAF’s sales and attendance figures, General Manager Darrell Harris said that while statistics provide valuable data in terms of programming relevance, the commercial returns ensure artists have opportunity and support to continue their practice.


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