Saturday, October 18, 2008

Australian Aboriginal Art and Tourism - a good-bad fit

News from the world of tribal art from William Ernest and Susanne Waites, proprietors of TribalWorks, a website created by Aboriginals: Art of the First Person Gallery.

As someone who has had deep experience in, and deep affection for, both Aboriginal Art and tourism promotion, I was struck by a recent article from the Australia's Herald Sun.

It seems
a.) that Tourism Australia has launched a new television campaign, to the tune of AU$40 million, promoting travel to Australia by promoting the uniqueness of Aboriginal culture and the rejuvenating effect of experiencing it - or at least, the outback in which it is created, and b.) at least one self-appointed critic has decided to mock it.

I have not seen the commercials, which were directed by the same
Baz Luhrman who has directed the new feature flick, Australia, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman.

Such credentials should suggest a cinematic tour de force. And perhaps they will be.

The critic, however, takes Tourism Australia to task for using subject material that is obscure and remote. "Obscure" in that the settings for the commercial are parts of Australia that very few people have or ever will visit, comparatively speaking. "Remote" in that these places are very difficult to reach. No easy transportation will take you there from any major Australian port of arrival.

Now, I have lived in Australia, not in the outback but in a city every bit as cosmopolitan as cities anywhere in the world. I have traveled to the outback. More than once. It is a fascinating place. Although, it actually is so vast it is several places.

Getting there was anything but convenient.

I made the trip with Sue because of our pre-existing interest in Aboriginal art. Other than Ayers Rock (ULURU), a geologic oddity that has its own touristic attraction, I doubt that we would have traveled to many, if any of the outback locations, on a holiday. Even more doubtful that it would have been a destination we would have entertained for a holiday if we were not living in Australia.

On the one hand,
I applaud an effort that promotes awareness and appreciation of this unique culture and its stimulating art products. I hope more people get to know about Australian Aboriginal art and the beautiful, talented people who create it. As an investment in cultural awareness, it certainly can be justified.

On the other hand, as a tourism professional, I know what attracts visitors in large numbers. I am afraid that it is not the esoterica of remote out-lands and unknown cultures. Some people will be attracted by having their eyes opened to this different world. But enough to provide an ROI on AU$40 million? Doubtful.

Seems to me that this is a exercise in touristic self-indulgence and "look-at-how-enlightened-we-are" national expression. Perhaps, it is a form of emotional reparations for the years during which the European invaders of Australia abused the native population.

But, if the idea is to get more people to visit Australia, I share the critic' s opinion that the tried-and-true attractions of beaches, urban attractions, scenery and travel that is not quite so challenging - as offered by Crocodile Dundee (aka Paul Hogan) - are likely to be more fruitful.

That aside, I am be pleased that Australian taxpayers are spending their funds to promote Australian Aboriginal art - if only by association.

It should be good for all of us who already know the art and love it enough to seek it out for its own sake.

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