About 300 kilometres from Alice Springs, Yuendumu is home to the Warlukurlangu Artists. Warlpiri is their language, known only to small population, yet their vibrant artwork speaks to people all around the world.
Cecilia Alfonso manages the arts centre. Apart from the local store, it's the only business in a town of two thousand people. ‘My role is to facilitate the production of art, and to market and sell the paintings on behalf of the artists. I have to find new ways of generating income both for the arts centre and the artist.’
Doing business in a remote location is not easy. The annual budget for paint and materials alone runs into six figures. With three staff and several volunteers, the entire operation supports dozens of artists.
The artists are funded by a range of initiatives. An online store sells paintings, prints, and crafts direct to consumers. They also leverage their intellectual property (IP) through licensing agreements with manufacturers and designers that include crockery and bags, cushion covers, rugs, jewelry, ties, and many other items.
Curtis Jampijinpa Fry proudly displays his Emu Dreaming
‘We have our designs on all sorts of things,’ says Otto Jungarrayi Sims, Chairman of the art centre, ‘such as cups, plates, bags, iPhone™ covers. There's a lot in the market, which is good for the Indigenous people in this area. These other people distribute our designs everyone, which makes us feel proud.’
Roopa Pemmaraju is a Melbourne-based fashion designer and one of several official licensees. Her luxury ready-to-wear line is sold in department stores in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.
Roopa believes in fair trade and ethical dealings with artists and their communities. Royalties from the sale of each garment make a positive contribution to the lives and wellbeing of artisans, communities and the environment.
The Warlukurlangu Artists have built a successful business through managing their IP. In most cases, a licensing arrangement with trusted manufacturers and designers provides a better outcome. Their products enjoy better marketing and sales through wider distribution, and the artists earning ongoing royalties.
Licensing arrangements also support the artists' moral rights, including the right to attribution. Each artist is acknowledged on labels of authenticity.
‘I've found there's a real marketing edge to work ethically through an arts centre,’ says Cecilia. ‘Consumers want authentic and sustainable products that support the artists and their community.’
The Warlukurlangu Artists are featured in a revised edition of the and on our YouTube channel.