A journey on the arts trail in and around the Red Centre is a window into a world of spirituality, connections to country and the Dreamtime.
There are more than 100 community art galleries, museums and keeping places across the Northern Territory that are home to incredible examples of indigenous art and craft and none more prolific than the Red Centre. In fact, it would be safe to say that Alice Springs hasn’t traditionally been considered a Mecca for culture vultures, yet at the heart of any Alice Springs adventure is a tapestry of artistic talent that enriches the travelling experience.
The contemporary Aboriginal art movement originated in Papunya Tula in 1971, but the works were always sold through Alice Springs. Albert Namatjira (a ground-breaking indigenous artist and possibly Australia’s most famous) began painting his water colours in Hermannsburg – 130km from Alice Springs – in 1934. The authenticity of his interpretations of the flame coloured MacDonnell Ranges that border the town are unquestionable.
Here, nature and art vie for equal attention. It’s a spot where contemporary Aboriginal art is a thriving industry, yet the form is one of the oldest living art traditions in the world and a bucket-list item for any proud Aussie.
So, whether you’re a culture vulture or just looking for a special souvenir from your Central Australian holiday, we’ve handpicked a swag of galleries, experiences and events to help you add a little artistic flair to your Red Centre road trip.
Araluen Cultural Precinct, Alice Springs
From sub culture to pop culture, the Araluen Cultural Precinct is home to art and craft galleries and museums which help illustrate the development of modern day Alice Springs, as well as local indigenous dreaming stories.
Look out for: The centre recently acquired an iconic Central Australian landscape artwork by Sir Sidney Nolan – undoubtedly one of Australia’s leading artists of the 20th Century. Nolan visited Central Australia during his travels throughout Australia and while the exact site that inspired Central Australia No.2 is unknown, its layered composition clearly evokes the majesty of the MacDonnell Ranges in Nolan’s inimitable style.
Local flavour - The Ngurratjuta/Pmara Ntjarra Aboriginal Corporation purchased Albert Namatjira's Mount Hermannsburg in 1989, before lending it to the Araluen Arts Centre. The work has since been donated to help raise money for life-saving dialysis treatment for Aboriginal people living in remote desert communities… so it’s well worth checking out.
Explore the Alice Springs art scene
Alice Springs might be small in stature, but this outback town has a big reputation when it comes to indigenous art. A splattering of colourful privately owned art galleries and collectives – Mbantua Fine Art Gallery, Papunya Tula Artists, Yuba Napa Gallery and Studio, Ironwood Arts – in and around the town’s Todd Street Mall proudly display the works of some of Australia’s most successful and prominent Aboriginal artists.
Whether you’re browsing or buying, it’s so easy to while away the hours in this artsy-fartsy part of town.
Look out for: Venture further afield in and around Alice Springs to see artists at work and to meet the people behind the paintings. Tjanpi Desert Weavers, the Tangentyere Artists and the Ngurratjuta Iltja Ntjarra Many Hands Art Centre are located a stone’s throw from town and worth a visit.
Local flavour: Stay at Vatu Sanctuary apartments, a speciality lodging just 2km from the CBD, which showcases the artworks of Gallery Gondwana. Four individually decorated apartments are custom designed to inspire, nurture and deepen your appreciation of being in the heart of Australia.
Desert Mob, Alice Springs
As Thomas Merton famously said, “art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time”; so if art is your weakness, time your Red Centre visit to coincide with Desert Mob in September. Not only will you see the cream of the crop when it comes to indigenous art, but you’ll see works from more than 31 Aboriginal art centres across Central Australia and be able to buy arts and crafts directly from the source.
Look out for: The Desert Mob Marketplace is a vibrant art market held on the Saturday of the Desert Mob weekend. If you’ve an eye for talent, you can pick up high quality art works for under $500 – it’s well worth the investment.
Local flavour: The town of Alice well and truly throws their arty weight behind Desert Mob, so keep an eye out of exhibitions or symposiums or even Desert Mob dancing – all of which feed off the main event and add a distinct local flavour.