A world-renowned art gallery in a small Kimberley community has reopened to the public after a prolonged closure due to the pandemic.
- Warmun Art Centre has reopened after more than two years
- Visitors must adhere to local virus protocols implemented by the Board
- Aboriginal communities in WA remain closed to outsiders, with a few exceptions
Warmun Arts Centre was closed for two years and two months after Aboriginal communities in Western Australia were placed into mandated closure to non-residents.
While access was still restricted to Indigenous communities, Warmun’s acclaimed art centre was on the outskirts of the community, on a riverbank opposite residents, and would operate under strict COVID protocols.
“It’s exciting,” art centre manager Melissa Callanan said of the May 16 reopening.
The gallery used the two years of closure to reinvigorate its interior, repainting walls, improving curation skills of locals and showing works through new virtual software.
Artists painted from home, with supplies of canvas, brushes and paints dropped off in bundles.
Like many remote art centres, it also boosted online sales during the pandemic.
“We’ve done well in the closure time, we’ve actually done incredibly well. We’ve maintained our sales,” Ms Callanan said.
Surprisingly the strong demand from galleries for the centre’s more expensive works by Elders and senior artists, which are not usually sold through online methods, also held up.
“Our Elders are extremely well recognised nationally and internationally,” Ms Callanan said.
“People like Shirley Purdie, she had a major acquisition through the Museum of Contemporary Art and was showing there last year and she had a sell-out exhibition in Sydney.
“And of course, we have Mabel Juli, who we call our rock star and we have constant requests for commissions of her very famous Moon and Star which is at the Museum of Contemporary Art and also held by the National Gallery of Australia.”
Ms Callanan said the gallery, owned by the Gija people, had worked hard to maintain profits returning to the community, because external galleries would deduct commissions.
“Last year we thought we have to start to work harder to make more direct sales, because that’s better for the community members and better for artists,” she said.
“A lot of the major art fairs went online last year. That means those sales come to us directly.”
Warmun’s artists have strong connections to their heritage and country, and have overcome adversity, including when the gallery was rebuilt after floods ripped through in March 2011.
The board was keen to welcome visitors back but visitors must follow COVID-19 prevention guidelines, including taking a rapid test, which will be provided free of charge.