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Arts and culture thriving in First Nations' communities

Far North communities come together for CIAF 10th anniversary

Arts Queensland investment
CIAF is supported by the Queensland Government’s Backing Indigenous Arts (BIA) initiative with annual funding of $600,000


Australia’s premier First Nations’ arts showcase, the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF), celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2019.

From 10 to 14 July in venues across the city, CIAF showcased art from 14 Indigenous Art Centres in Far North Queensland along with works by major and emerging Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.

CIAF 2019 featured one of the first projects funded through Arts Queensland’s Backing Indigenous Arts – Performing Arts program, a choral performance work called Cultural Heights.

This ground-breaking production combined choir, traditional language and ancient storytelling, immersing audiences in songs rarely heard outside First Nations’ communities.

The fair also featured art exhibitions, fashion performance, dance, comedy, workshops, talks, markets and the CIAF Art Awards.

The Queensland Government, through Arts Queensland, has supported CIAF since its inception in 2009 and the event has generated strong creative and economic outcomes, both locally and nationally.

Over 10 years, the fair has attracted more than 325,000 people, featured 1700 First Nations artists and generated more than $7.6 million in art sales for Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.

Image: CIAF 2019 (courtesy Cairns Indigenous Art Fair) 

Kowanyama celebrates with arts festival

Arts Queensland investment
$31,000 for arts and cultural activities through the Indigenous Regional Arts Development Fund, a partnership between Arts Queensland and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities


Kowanyama’s inaugural arts and cultural festival Ngethn o’  means “we are here” in the Yir Yoront language of the Mitchell River delta lands in remote West Cape York.

Running from 1 to 6 July 2019, Ngethn o' included film nights, contemporary art and traditional craft exhibitions, workshops, ceremony and cultural exchange.

Historical and cultural objects, including images representing first contact in the region – featuring early explorers, sandalwood cutters, settler pastoralists and Native Police – were exhibited alongside contemporary Indigenous artworks during the festival. 

These items come from a collection of over 12,000 objects which has received $10,000 from Arts Queensland to undertake a needs analysis towards its conservation, care and storage. 

A highlight of the festival was a traditional cleansing ceremony for the Mitchell River Wommera (Woomera) Collection, acquired by Kowanyama from the 1880s Atherton Family Collection.

Young people in the community participated in cultural activities and helped create a digital media presence for the festival.

Ngethn o' is part of a broader Kowanyama Cultural Program that began in 2002 to maintain the heritage of ancestors and their children, and to plan and develop a future culture and research centre. 

The festival has received financial assistance from the Queensland Government through the Arts Queensland Backing Indigenous Arts initiative.

For more information visit:

Image: Nikko Possum and Lakeisha Yam at Ngethn o' festival (courtesy Mark Weaver/Woven Tracks)

Workshops fire up new generation of Cherbourg artists

Arts Queensland investment
- $45,000 (2016-17 to 2018-19) through the Indigenous Regional Arts Development Fund, a partnership between Arts Queensland and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
- $58,290 through the Queensland Arts Showcase Program – Ignite
- $50,000 through the Arts Infrastructure Fund


Through the Cherbourg Historical Precinct Group, The Ration Shed Museum provides ongoing support to Yidding and local Cherbourg artists to create new art works, including ceramic pieces, continuing the contemporary legacy of Barambah Pottery collected by Australian art museums since the 1980s.

Established in the 1960s, Cherbourg’s Barambah Pottery was one of the earliest art/craft ventures in Queensland to provide consistent creative employment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.

Arts Queensland 2016 funding for the ReFire project, through the Queensland Arts Showcase Program and the Indigenous Regional Arts Development Fund, helped revive pottery production after the original Barambah Pottery closed in 1987.

An allocation of $50,000 from the Arts Infrastructure Fund 2018 has supported the Pottery House project, which builds on the success of ReFire by providing a permanent studio, gallery and cafe space to bring artists and visitors together on the Cherbourg Historical Precinct.

An historic community house was gifted by Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council for this project, which supports creative employment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and enhances the precinct's appeal as a vistor destination.

Ongoing workshops supported by the Indigenous Regional Arts Development Fund in 2019, under the Backing Indigenous Arts initiative, supported local artists to host training workshops for school-aged and adult participants.

Up to 12 artists worked regularly on individually created pottery designs with inspiration drawn from the artists’ Aboriginal cultural traditions, local knowledge of the natural environment as well as contemporary expressions.

Workshop participants included a new generation of young Cherbourg artists, including emerging practitioner James Hopkins who used his family iconography in his Ban-Ban Spring Collection, featuring abstract designs inspired by his ancestral place of birth.  

The artists experienced all aspects of the craft’s production from creation to market, with new ceramic pieces sold at Brisbane's Meeanjin Markets.

Cherbourg Historical Precinct Group’s Chairperson Sandra Morgan says: “We have a high population of young people, with many showing interest in the creative arts.

“These workshops are keeping them engaged; they are learning more of their cultural traditions from Elders as well as being exposed to the potential of career pathways in the arts and cultural industries.”   

Image: Bowls from James Hopkins' Ban-Ban Spring Collection.

Infrastructure funding renews Aurukun’s art centre

Arts Queensland investment
$50,000 for Wik and Kugu Art Centre project, through the $500,000 Indigenous Art Centre Infrastructure Fund (2017-2019) to support upgrades to key infrastructure at 14 BIA-funded Indigenous art centres in Far North Queensland. 

See a full list of funding through the Indigenous Arts Centre Infrastructure Fund.


The Wik & Kugu Art Centre in Aurukun received infrastructure investment through Arts Queensland’s Indigenous Art Centre Infrastructure Fund (IACIF).

IACIF offered a maximum of $50,000 to each Indigenous Art Centre over the two-year life of the fund, which could be used to upgrade studios and workshops; rehearsal, performance and exhibition spaces; amenities and air-conditioning; and energy-efficient lighting and solar panels.  

Mayor of Aurukun Shire Council Dereck Walpo welcomed the IACIF investment to create an improved workspace where local artists could thrive and said the funds would further strengthen the Indigenous arts sector.

“It’s exciting to see our community’s artists will have a safer place to work and earn an income presenting Aurukun’s culture and unique stories to the world,” Mayor Walpo said.

“I am immensely proud of the achievements of our local artists.”

The works of many Aurukun artists have been acquired by state, national, and international art museums, and the arts centre again showcased works, including its popular ku’ (camp dog) sculptures, at the 2019 Cairns Indigenous Art Fair.

Image: Artist Garry Namponan preparing his ku' sculptures for CIAF