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Promoting art and preserving culture through technology

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Indigenous man with back to the camera, wearing black t-shirt with Indigenous design on the back. He has his hands raised to shoulder level. In background are group of people looking at him.
Dawang Gallery guide Chris Griffiths
6 Jun 2017

Waringarri Aboriginal Arts (WAA) saw the value of developing a digital strategy to include online sales and promotion in its business model - opening up its business to a new audience. By going ‘online’ WAA has contributed to the cultural strength of the Miriwoong people.

Established in the late 1970s, WAA is the first wholly Indigenous-owned art centre in the Kimberley region and one of the oldest operating art centres in Australia.

Celebrating the uniqueness of Miriwoong cultural identity, WAA supports over 100 artists and provides training and employment for local Miriwoong people in various roles supporting the art centre operations.

In 2015, WAA considered how technology could expand the opportunities and markets available for both artists and arts workers.

Arts and Business Manager Cathy Cummins outlined a plan for the development of a digital strategy and shared this with Jawun. This coincided with the arrival of Jawun secondee Leonie Woodfin, a skilled business consultant with Woodside Petroleum.

After arriving in Kununurra, Leonie began developing the strategy called the Dawang Digital Project. 'Dawang’ means ‘community’ in Miriwoong language.

An important feature would be the creation of high quality audio and video recordings of artists explaining the meaning, inspiration and stories behind their work.

The strategy also meant that WAA’s art works would have a digital form, be available in an online marketplace, and can be shared on social media. This would support the economic aim of WAA, but also the cultural one. Traditional stories could be preserved and made available online for future generations.

The role of Michael Casha, another Jawun secondee and digital strategist from the National Australia Bank in Melbourne was to expand the functions of the WAA website. The development included online purchasing, an online booking system for WAA cultural tourism, and a content management system for WAA staff. Michael also developed a secure portal within the website for artists themselves to manage their sales portfolios and profiles.

WAA estimated that the value of Leonie and Michael’s contributions was more than $50,000 in direct savings in digital marketing expertise and development.

So far, the digital strategy has seen more than 120 artworks digitised and made available on the new web platform. It has also provided opportunities for young artists and arts-workers to create digital stories for display online and in the art centre’s Dawang Gallery. It has led to the creation of new jobs for arts workers in business operations, marketing, arts development and cultural enterprise.

This led to new partnerships with other cultural organisations in the East Kimberley. These helped preserve and bind together traditional stories in a way not before possible.

The work of Leonie and Michael on the Dawang Digital Project advanced the empowerment of WAA artists. It expanded economic opportunities for local arts workers, and contributed to the cultural strength of the Miriwoong people.

Find out more

The WAA is working with Indigenous leaders in the East Kimberley Empowered Communities region.

Empowered Communities is an initiative of Indigenous leaders from eight regions across the country, including East Kimberley, brought together by Jawun Corporate Partnerships. The Australian Government is supporting the regional implementation of Empowered Communities, including working with Empowered Communities leaders in each region to agree priorities and co-design strategies to address them.

Jawun is a not-for-profit organisation which links corporate, government and philanthropic organisations with Indigenous people to enable real change.

More information is available at Waringarri Aboriginal Arts.