This report summarises the outcomes of the workshop Connecting Papua New Guinea and Australia through the Arts which was held at the Lowy Institute, Sydney on 13 June 2018.

This workshop brought together 20 participants from different areas within the arts in both countries to explore the potential for greater connection and co-operation, in terms of the creation and showing of art and participation in cultural activities, but also to support artists and arts bodies with administration and management to make a career in the arts a viable economic choice. Participants also discussed maintaining Indigenous cultural practice and encouraging broader engagement with the Indigenous cultures of PNG and Australia through the arts. The workshop concluded with a public reception and showing of the PNG-Australia film and music collaboration a Bit na Ta.

Key Findings:

Participants saw value in community-sourced solutions to fostering the creative industries, and recommended further research into whether Australia’s Indigenous art centres could be a model to support the arts in PNG.

Mediators who can work in administrative and creative spheres are an important bridge between artists and external parties. Identifying and fostering people with these skills in PNG would help the development of the culture sector more broadly.

Greater participation by each country in arts festivals and events in the other country can help to strengthen links between the two countries. Australia should prioritise artists from Aboriginal communities and the Torres Strait Islands to represent it at regional festivals and events.

Opportunities for exchange between Australia and PNG to build links in the arts and culture space should be identified and developed.

Executive Summary

On 13 June 2018 the Lowy Institute hosted a workshop titled Connecting Papua New Guinea and Australia through the Arts. The event was held under the auspices of the Aus-PNG Network, which works to enhance the people-to-people links between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

It brought together a select group from across the arts community in both countries to explore the potential for greater connection and co-operation in this sector. This document summarises the day’s discussion and makes recommendations for ways to build closer cultural connections between the two countries.

The workshop comprised three main discussion sessions: Existing initiatives and connectionsConnecting Indigenous Australian and Papua New Guinean artists and Sparking new interest in Papua New Guinea’s art and culture.

The first session explored current and recent efforts to build links between the two countries, for example the 2016 No. 1 Neighbour: Art in Papua New Guinea 1966-2016 exhibition at QAGOMA in Brisbane. In the second session, participants discussed the experiences of Australian Indigenous artists and the systems and organisations that have developed to support them – and whether those structures would be effective in PNG. This session also covered the protection of Indigenous artists’ intellectual and cultural property. The third session focused on measures to promote interest in PNG’s arts and culture and the need to protect traditional culture in PNG.

The Lowy Institute would like to thank the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for its continuing support for the Aus-PNG Network. The Institute also appreciates the support of Bank South Pacific for the 2017-18 Aus-PNG Network event program.


Indigenous arts centre model

With the arts receiving limited support from the national government in PNG, participants saw the value of community-sourced solutions to foster the creative industries. Further research should be undertaken to determine whether Australia’s Indigenous art centres model could be a suitable structure to support the arts in Papua New Guinea. The model provides a useful example of how community-based artists can be empowered to increase economic opportunity and cultural engagement. Art centres provide practical support with materials and workshops, administrative support for operations, exhibitions and representation as well as logistics.  The networks of art centres provide governance and resources of knowledge and experience.  Art centres are also an avenue for artists to engage with potential supporters and donors while maintaining control of the creative process and their intellectual property.

Structural and operational support

Mediators or brokers who can work in both the administrative and creative sphere are an important bridge between Indigenous artists and external parties, acting as both a cultural liaison and administrative expert in many cases. Identifying and fostering people with these skills in PNG would help the development of the culture sector more broadly. Relieving artists of the responsibility for representation and administration would allow them to focus on their creative work.

Event, festival and geographic linkages

There are opportunities to build links between artists and cultural groups by fostering greater participation by each country in arts festivals and events in the other country. Participants also noted the potential to leverage regional festivals at similar times of years – for example, Rabaul’s Mask Festival and the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair are both held in July. In previous years – but not currently – there have been direct air links between the two cities which could be built upon to connect these events.

Australia should prioritise artists from Aboriginal communities and the Torres Strait Islands to represent Australia at regional festivals and events. Australia should also seek to support engagement by PNG cultural groups and artists at events in Australia. This will deepen links between the two countries and provide a means for ensuring ongoing cultural connections.

Exchange opportunities

There are numerous opportunities for exchange between Australia and PNG to build links in the arts and culture space. For example, Papua New Guinean artists and arts administrators could travel to Indigenous communities in Australia to see the operation of arts centres to look at that model as a potential structure for PNG. Experience working with cultural groups in PNG would help Australian artists and administrators understand PNG’s cultural practice and allow both groups to share knowledge through training and development work.


The arts have unique potential to connect people and inspire new interest in a place and its traditions. There are thousands of years of Indigenous history and culture in Australia and Papua New Guinea. And while there are links between the two countries in the arts there is potential to do much more to strengthen ties, especially in relation to the strong Indigenous cultures in both countries.

This workshop brought together 20 participants from different areas within the arts in both countries to explore the potential for greater connection and co-operation, in terms of the creation and showing of art and participation in cultural activities, but also to support artists and arts bodies with administration and management to make a career in the arts a viable economic choice. Participants also discussed maintaining Indigenous cultural practice and encouraging broader engagement with the Indigenous cultures of PNG and Australia through the arts.

There is much that can be gained by closer links between the arts communities of both countries, in particular to share the knowledge and experience of Australia’s Indigenous artists, in the areas of; the development of Indigenous arts centres, systems and regulations to protect intellectual property and appropriately compensate artists, and their relationships with arts funders including government, corporate donors and philanthropic organisations.

There is also a valuable store of experience and knowledge from PNG that can be shared with Australia. This extends from the sharing of the cultural traditions of PNG through to notions of management of cultural property through the oral storytelling tradition and concepts of shared intellectual property.

The workshop provided participants with the opportunity to explore these ideas in depth, to share learnings and to build connections to understand each other’s work. Those who contributed brought a range of talents and experience to the discussion, and they included representatives from major cultural organisations, community organisations, art dealers, administrators, artists, and curators. A full list of participants is included in the annex of this document.

Summary of discussion

The workshop was segmented into sessions along broad thematic lines:

  1. Existing initiatives and connections between Australia and Papua New Guinea in arts and culture
  2. Cultural integrity, the economic imperative and protecting intellectual property
  3. Sparking new interest in Papua New Guinea’s art and culture

The nature of the discussion allowed points to be raised – and returned to – when they were relevant. These notes have been organised by topic rather than the order in which they were discussed during the workshop.

Connecting Papua New Guinea and Australia through the Arts workshop in progress 13 June 2019. Photo: Shane McLeod/Lowy Institute

Existing organisational links

Links between arts and cultural organisations in Australia and Papua New Guinea have in large part been driven by festivals and exhibitions that have involved participants from both countries.

There are a number of successful collaborations between Australia and PNG in music. Organisations such as the Wantok Musik Foundation have worked to build understanding across our region by recording, releasing and promoting culturally-infused music from Australia, PNG and the broader Pacific. Examples include collaborations between David Bridie and George Telek, and Papua New Guinean musician Ben Hakalitz’ membership of Yothu Yindi. Most recently, Indigenous Australian musician Emily Wurramara has visited PNG as a guest of the Australian High Commission in PNG to commemorate NAIDOC Week. While in Port Moresby she collaborated with Papua New Guinean musician Mereani Masani.

Cultural institutions in Australia have fostered closer connections through major exhibitions such as the 2016 No. 1 Neighbour: Art in Papua New Guinea 1966-2016 and the ongoing representation of Australian and Papua New Guinean artists within the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT) series at QAGOMA in Brisbane. The Australian Museum’s efforts to exhibit its extensive Pacific Collection and connect with Pacific diaspora in NSW and with source communities in PNG was realised with the recent successful exhibition of the Holosa Masks from Komunive in Goroka, Eastern Highlands Province, PNG. Representatives came and presented new masks to the Museum and performed and engaged with communities in Sydney.

Participants discussed the importance of ensuring there is community support for and engagement with exhibitions. For example, QAGOMA went to efforts to provide opportunities for the PNG diaspora in Brisbane to experience the No. 1 Neighbour exhibition.

Exchange opportunities

A number of participants remarked on the benefits of cross-cultural exchanges to enrich the artistic practice of those involved and also to increase understanding of the cultural assets of both countries. While there was broad agreement that such exchanges benefit both communities and that there was enthusiasm for these types of initiatives, the strained administrative capacity of arts organisations means external support may be required to support and facilitate such exchanges. This could be through partnership arrangements, but also through the support of funding bodies such as Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The QAGOMA Women’s Wealth project for the upcoming APT9 was cited as an example of a project that enabled Indigenous Australian and Papua New Guinean artists to come together as part of a DFAT supported workshop in Bougainville in September 2017.

There was commentary recognising that while exchanges have been valuable, there is a need to ensure that the outcomes and experiences are shared upon return. This is to ensure that there is transfer of learning and to carry lessons forward.

Participants remarked on the value of exchange opportunities that had been facilitated through major festivals and events. These larger events are a useful tool to anchor exchange programs around and should continue to be leveraged to build new people-to-people links.

Government support for the arts in PNG

There was broad understanding that in the developing economy of PNG there was limited resourcing available to the arts, and that while this was disappointing, it was unlikely to change.

Some participants expressed disappointment that PNG had not apportioned more of its mining revenues towards cultural preservation and practice.

There was extensive discussion about potential funding sources in the absence of greater government support. This extended to discussion of support for the arts from extractive industries such as mining and petroleum interests.

External funding sources for the arts

Some participants expressed concern at the potential reliance on extractive industries for support for the arts. They remarked on the disruption that these industries cause in local communities, and worried that accepting donations for the arts from these organisations would entrench this disruptive role.

Others commented that accepting funding from mining bodies, while being a difficult decision, provided funding that would otherwise be unavailable – or, if not used for cultural activities, would be used to support other activities, such as sport.

There was concern that accepting funding from extractive industries could lead to limitations on artistic freedom. Participants discussed the editorial influence that these corporate donors may seek to – or have sought to have – over exhibitions and displays.

The experience of Indigenous Australian artists and organisations in accepting financial support from mining companies was discussed extensively. There was consensus that artists should retain the ability to accept or refuse funding from any source. There was discussion that a management structure that allowed a third party to administer these funds could help artists to manage the potential concern in accepting money from certain sources and avoid any external influence over their creative expression.

Participants also noted that industries beyond mining could be disruptive to communities. There was also discussion of the way that the disruption itself can lead to artistic expression in response.

Organisational support for the arts

The discussion about funding and support structures for the arts included extensive discussion of the experience of Indigenous communities establishing local Aboriginal arts centres, especially in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. The development of the arts centres has provided a foundation for the Indigenous art industry and they are important advocates for strengthening the legal and policy structures that support their sector.

A number of participants had direct knowledge and experience of the art centres model. The knowledge they shared was of particular interest to the Papua New Guinean participants.

Key points included the role of the art centres as a focus for economic activity in many communities. They provide practical support – the provision of art supplies and workshop space. They provide administrative support for interactions with buyers and visitors, as well as organising and co-ordinating exhibitions, and managing logistics for travel and participation in events and showings. Centres foster creative work, maintenance of culture, skills development and offer the potential for income-generating activities in communities where there is often limited alternative employment.

Peak bodies exist to represent the art centres, and the peak bodies’ governance and operational policies provide a means to ensure funding can be accounted for and used for key purposes. Systems exist to respond to issues of governance.

The bodies also establish principles of best practice concerning how artists should be supported and treated. The individual arts centres endorse these principles and they apply across the entire region, which reduces issues of regionalism or factionalism.

Some examples of peak bodies are Desart, which represents arts centres in Central Australia, and ANKA which represents communities in the Top End and remote Western Australia. IACA represents art centres in North Queensland and the Torres Strait. UMI Arts is a peak body for Far North Queensland and also operates as the Cairns Indigenous Art Centre.

Administrative and organisational support

Participants noted the benefits that artists received when they are supported by well-run organisations. There was a suggestion that more should be done to encourage appropriately qualified people – such as administrators and managers – to become involved in arts organisations, particularly community-based organisations. This would allow artists to focus on their craft and worry less about funding sources and policy. It is important that these people have strong cultural literacy as well as business acumen, so they can be effective intermediaries between communities and external organisations such as funding bodies and art buyers.

Funding design and structure

Participants with knowledge of Australia’s Indigenous art community noted the value of funding streams that support organisational structures. This includes Australia’s IVAIS, the Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support program, which provides support for basic operational costs and staffing for Indigenous art centres. The provision of this funding means art centres can employ staff – often just one person – who can co-ordinate activities, pursue additional funding support and represent the centre in discussions with external parties.

Participants considered a well-structured program to foster the development of community arts centres in PNG with provisions for administrative functions and management could be a substantial boost to the arts sector.

There was discussion of the experience of other community organisations in PNG and the structures that worked for them. One example is the PNG Surfing Association, which uses an opt-in accreditation model to support a network of community-based organisations with their surf tourism work. Community bodies that wished to join needed to sign up to relevant pricing and operational policies to be endorsed by the overseeing national organisation.

Intellectual property

There was a broad-ranging discussion about the need to ensure ethical practices and the protection of intellectual property if the arts are to be a reliable source of income for practitioners.

In Australia, concerns about exploitation, theft and misappropriation of Indigenous culture led to the development of the industry-based Indigenous Art Code to address issues of unethical practices. The effort resulted from a 2007 Senate inquiry into the Indigenous art industry.

Proponents had hoped that the code would be adopted by governments. For now, it is an industry organisation that develops policies which members agree to and implement. Accredited members display the code logo, and buyers are assured that the member adheres to the provisions, which include fair and ethical trade, transparency in promotion and sales and the fair and efficient resolution of disputes.

Separately, the Resale Royalty Scheme has also provided income for Indigenous visual artists since 2010, providing more than A$5.8 million in royalties for more than 1,500 artists.

Community cultural property

Copyright law has been a challenge for artists in PNG, as there is no formal agency managing artist rights. In music, the extension of Australian copyright agency APRA/AMCOS to cover artists in Papua New Guinea has resulted in success for some copyright owners. Participants considered provisions of a draft PNG strategy on intellectual property that identifies that many who could benefit from the protection of copyright law have limited knowledge or understanding of the system. In addition, the strategy highlights poor awareness in the broader community of intellectual property, which leads to unauthorised copying and distribution of intellectual property without respect for artists’ rights.

Participants discussed the need for ensuring copyright provisions and enforcement extends to cover the visual arts. PNG participants expressed concern at the appropriation of artistic works by other groups. This is often driven by the popularity of designs, or a trend, which spreads through art markets and becomes dominant.  Examples were discussed where increased interest from visitors in souvenirs and local crafts led to people appropriating cultural totems by copying the designs of other clans if theirs were proving more popular in terms of sales.

There was discussion of some of these cultural items being shared heritage or shared property, and the difficulty of enforcing copyright laws and intellectual property as understood by western law.

An example was raised of the experience of the Asaro mud men of PNG’s Eastern Highlands province, whose informal but determined enforcement of their ownership of their cultural tradition eradicated the practice of emulation which had been taken up by other tribal groups.

Some of the participants with connections to the Indigenous art community in Australia pointed to ways this had been dealt with in Australia. This included art centres being members of regional bodies, which meant there was an understanding that each member had its own cultural practices and assets to be managed, and other groups would not encroach on their traditions. There were also methods of protecting copyright in some designs or creations by vesting the rights in community organisations (i.e. the arts centres) so that the rights could be protected, and economic benefits managed and shared.

Cultural appropriation, knowledge and generational transmission

The discussion about appropriation of cultural assets expanded into a discussion of oral tradition, cultural sharing and knowledge. Concern was expressed by some Papua New Guinean participants that the traditional practice of storytelling and handing down culture to the next generation was being lost through the growing influence of the West.

There were observations about increasing individualism driving a culture of taking, where people are increasingly appropriating cultural symbols, practice and art to benefit themselves. The counter to this problem is to increase awareness of these issues and the harm this practice does to Indigenous cultures and peoples. Participants also discussed the potential benefits of linking young people from PNG to their own culture, to help them to understand the traditions and significance of certain cultural practices and see the value in their own culture versus one that has been imported.

Participants from Indigenous communities in Australia highlighted some of the work their art centres have done to ensure culture is passed on from elders to young people.

Participants were interested in connecting the young people of remote Australia and PNG to build shared understanding of the value of cultural traditions. This will allow each group to learn new methods of preserving culture. There was also discussion of the value of educating people about the economic opportunities available in the arts as an added incentive to maintain culture.

Opportunities for connection

The discussion concluded with general observations about opportunities for connection. All participants saw great potential for building links through participation in cultural events and festivals. This included focusing on Torres Strait Islander culture as a strong link between Australia and Melanesia.

There were also benefits in sharing the knowledge of the Indigenous art centre model and their experiences interacting with funding bodies, corporations and governments to obtain the support needed to maintain this system.

Reception and showing of a Bit na Ta

A public reception was held at the conclusion of the workshop to highlight some of the topics and themes that had been canvassed during the discussion. The audio-visual project a Bit na Ta was shown. It is a collaboration between Papua New Guineans and Australians commissioned by QAGOMA through the Wantok Musik Foundation and supported by the Australian Government through an Australian Cultural Diplomacy Grant. It is a project located in ples(place): Rabaul, East New Britain, PNG, that engages with the enormous changes over the century 1875-1975 from the perspective of the Tolai peoples who inhabit the surrounding lands. The production was introduced by workshop participants David Bridie, musician and Artistic Director of Wantok Musik, and Lisa Hilli, artist, whose work features in a Bit na Ta.


Participants, Connecting Papua New Guinea and Australia through the Arts, 13 June 2018. Photo: Lowy Institute

Back row (L-R): Shane McLeod, Anthony Mason, David Bridie, Lisa Hilli, Maxine Charlie, Michael Kisombo, Anna Kirk, Ruth Choulai, Philip Watkins, Otto Sims, Rachael Grant, Paul Johnstone

Front row: John Faunt, Christina Davidson, Sylvia Pascoe, Michael Mel, Leo Akee, Sana Balai, Patrick Jabanardi Williams, Ruth McDougall, Jeffry Feeger


The Lowy Institute acknowledges the continuing support of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for the Australia-Papua New Guinea Network, and the contribution of our sponsor Bank South Pacific to our events program for 2017-2018.