OAKAJEE Port and Rail and other sponsors are keen to grow opportunities for indigenous artists in the Mid West by building on the success of the Good Heart Mid West Aboriginal Art Exhibition.
Now in its fifth year, the exhibition attracts 5,000 visitors and features up to 150 works of art.
OPR developed the exhibition of Mid West-based indigenous art as the lead event of its corporate social responsibility program.
The aim was to develop commercial opportunities for artists in the Mid West and promote the region’s culture.
“During the early stages when Oakajee Port and Rail was established, one of the first things we needed to do was establish our credentials,” OPR government and community relations general manager Kim Pervan said.
“There was very strong sentiment for this type of project in the Mid West. We reacted quickly and genuinely and it was considered to be worthwhile.
“This really was a grass-roots-up exercise, it is a partnership between the indigenous community, the Mid West community, government and corporates.”
Since the first exhibition in 2008, the event has grown to attract 5,000 visitors each year and has generated $350,000 in income for artists (set to hit the $500,000 mark this year).
Up to 150 works are exhibited, and between 65 and 90 per cent of the works exhibited have sold.
An independent review of the exhibition program last year went to Good Heart’s sponsorship partners in order to ensure they were happy with the way the exhibition was moving forward.
“After four years I wondered what this would look like in 10 years’ time and realised we really needed to do a review,” Ms Pervan said.
“I was motivated by good business practice to review where you are going and refresh what you are doing and to seek input from various stakeholders.”
Stakeholders gave feedback on how the exhibition should be developed, with the key outcomes being: to capitalise on the exhibition’s momentum; to deliver artist development programs; to maintain the grass-roots approach and feel of the exhibition; to continue with the same set of values and steer away from a corporatised exhibition structure; and develop a national tour.
OPR listened to the feedback and will launch a professional development scholarship program for artists this year, which aims to secure the exhibition’s long-term future, by encouraging the talents of emerging artists.
Two scholarships will be granted each year, offering a week’s intensive tuition at the Kidogo Art Institute in Fremantle, accommodation, art supplies, and airfares between Perth and Geraldton.
From the feedback, Ms Pervan developed concepts for its partners to work on independently in order to foster the art industry in the Mid West.
Suggested projects included the development of an exhibition program, exhibition space development, hospitality functions, artists’ mentorship tours, and regional workshops.
One example of independent support for the exhibition is the development (by OPR Good Heart partner, Market Creations) of a memento coffee table book featuring work from previous exhibitions to promote the stories and culture of Aboriginal culture in the Mid West.
“Each initiative delivers something different to the community or it suits a business need of the organisation that is running the initiative,” Ms Pervan said.
“They are not hanging onto us, these things have been happening independently.”
OPR has focused on developing sponsorship of the exhibition through its project partners.
“If I wear a business hat and I look at who might like to be involved in this and gain some benefit from it, which includes a corporate social responsibility benefit, it seems sensible to approach OPR’s business partners who also have a footprint in the Mid West,” Ms Pervan said.
“In developing their own corporate social responsibility programs or reconciliation action plans or indeed their own business plans, it may be that this fits.”
Ms Pervan said majority shareholder Mitsubishi was a great supporter of the Good Heart exhibition program; this support had continued since Mitsubishi increased its stake in OPR when it bought out Murchison Metals earlier this year.