The visual art scene in Darwin is difficult to describe, as what goes on here is not obvious to a short-term visitor. When artists and curators come to our city, if possible, a local rather than a hotel usually accommodates them, so that meetings with other artists and arts professionals can be arranged while also making for a more interesting stay. Most of us live in the northern suburbs, and unless you have access to a car or bike, public transport is minimal and inefficient. Most artists have a home studio; rent is exorbitant and studio space is extremely hard to come by. So, the best way to get to get a feel for the arts scene is with me as your guide!
There are a number of galleries in Darwin to visit, the more interesting, who show Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists are: RAFT Artspace, Nomad Gallery & Project Space, Harriet Space, Art Warehouse, Woods Street Gallery & DEAF Space, and 24HR Art - NT Centre for Contemporary Art. Opening nights at these spaces are a way for the arts community to meet and network. We will go to as many of these openings as is humanely possible. The local drinking hole 'The Ski Club' is where arts workers and artists meet to debrief about the weeks events. It's a wonderful outdoor venue with Arafura Sea views, and is very conducive to meeting with arts professionals and obtaining an insight into life in Darwin.
From 2004 to late 2007 I was Coordinator of the only artist-run-initiative (ARI) in the Top End of Australia – Darwin Visual Arts Association Inc. (DVAA). The organisation runs the two exhibiting spaces - Woods Street Gallery & DEAF Space as well as managing four studio spaces. During my time at DVAA the most enjoyable project I coordinated was Blind Date (2005) that involved 'matching up' artists from across the NT from Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Pine Creek, Katherine, Yulara, Maningrida and Darwin. The exhibition that resulted from these collaborations went on to tour through the NT.
Fusion Strength (2005) and interpositions (2007) are two projects with 24hr Art – NT Centre for Contemporary Art projects that I have been involved with. Performance as an art form (beyond theatre) is still forming in Darwin, so for myself, the opportunity to work with artists in this field from Singapore and Melbourne has been extremely beneficial.
The Creative Tropical City - Mapping Darwin's Creative Industries report was recently published which eloquently outlines present concerns in the arts community. Having been involved with the research stage of this project, I highly recommend this publication to interested visitors to Darwin.
Setting the Scene
Nights are usually spent outdoors under palm trees watching sunsets, beside someone's pool with a mango daiquiri or huddling together under the nearest shelter away from a downpour. Darwin is infamous for its drinking culture, which often brings with it some unsavoury social happenings that you may be witness to - depending on the time of the year you are here. The 'build-up' is the time between the dry season and the wet season - it is extremely humid, with grey skies, but no rain, and it goes on for three or more months. Everyone goes slightly mad during this time, it is often referred to as 'going troppo' or 'mango madness' - because it's also mango season. During the build-up there are more suicides, more pool parties, more babies conceived and very angry emails are written. The dry season is perfect, usually around 30ºC during the cloudless day, and 20ºC in the night. Even though temperatures rise only a few degrees to 32ºC/25ºC in the wet season, it is much more humid (sometimes up to 90%) with frequent monsoonal showers. This time of year is particularly green and beautiful.
Why are we here?
The majority of artists living and working in Darwin have come from elsewhere in the country, including myself. We have decided to leave behind the competition of the big cities, needing a more friendly arts community to be part of, and/or are running away from a relationship that went horribly wrong. In my close circle of artist friends and peers, there is an enthusiasm to sustain an interesting and defiant arts practice, beyond painting crocodiles and palm trees. It is not often you will meet someone who is born and bred in Darwin - if you're lucky you'll get to speak to one of these intriguing characters while you're here.
See you soon!