CAIRNS Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) has announced the event’s 2024 theme will be “Country Speaking”, providing an opportunity for Country to be heard and insights into what Country is speaking to its custodians.
CIAF’s artistic director Francoise Lane said the concept of Country as used by First Nations people embodies 65,000 years of deep connection to the land, waters, skies and seas within their Nation and Clans.
“Country encompasses First Nations people’s spiritual, physical, emotional and mental relationship to it, inclusive of the living and breathing landscapes and the animals nourished by it,” Ms Lane said.
“Since time immemorial, First Nation Peoples have lived in close relationship with Country. Country speaks, always – the question is, are we listening?”
The launch of the 2024 theme comes as a newly released and independent research report for the 14th anniversary of the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF) held in July 2023, which gives top marks to Queensland’s pinnacle Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and cultural celebration.
Findings from the latest IER report by Australia’s leading market research company specialising in event, sporting and tourism industries found that CIAF 2023 delivered the Cairns and Far North region a significant boost to the economy, community pride and visitor appeal.
The findings underpin the unique attributes of CIAF for generating fiscal and social outcomes, usually mutually exclusive.
Ms Lane said the event’s ability to score highly on economic and social barometers is something the organisation is aware of and takes special care when programming to ensure artists, collectors, visitors, and the local community are well accommodated.
“This year, for the first time, we integrated public programming and offered a series of dance, weaving and printmaking master classes, all fully subscribed or sold out,” she said.
“This proves that visitors to CIAF are no longer satisfied with a passive experience and actively seek a deeper and more meaningful transaction, be it skill or knowledge sharing.”
When assessing community pride, IER’s research report shows CIAF rating high to very high on all indicators, with the highest level of agreement of 96 per cent accorded to feelings of local pride and Cairns’ destinational appeal.
“While CIAF does mean different things to different people, it is the way it brings everyone together to celebrate culture and identity that makes us feel proud and good about what we do,” Ms Lane said.
For artists and communities in the remote Cape York and Torres Strait Islands region, CIAF is an important annual event that people look forward to and work towards.
“CIAF is their opportunity to shine, to make new connections, to sell work and feel empowered,” Ms Lane said.
Across the four days, CIAF generated an attendance of 50,500, attracting 27,180 individuals who participated in one of some 50 programmed events.
The attendance translated to a direct and incremental expenditure of $7,598,203 benefitting the local Cairns economy and a further $3,411,401 to the greater Queensland economy.
CIAF was responsible for generating 27,230 visitor nights and a spend of $7,382,710 by overnight visitors.
Across the 14 art centres and nine independent galleries and artists in the Art Fair, displaying more than 500 artworks, plus 58 market stalls, notable sales were reported across the event, including the acquisition of Cairns artist Susan Rey’s hand-painted piano by QPAC, Brisbane, the Sydney Powerhouse Museum’s acquisition of Townsville artist Gail Mabo’s mixed media wall installations and purchase of Toby Cedar’s Nar (canoe) by Cairns Airport for display at the international terminal.
Ms Lane said among the events in this year’s program, themed Weaving our Future; Claiming our Sovereignty, there are many memorable highlights, including two sell-out shows for the decade anniversary of CIAF’s much-loved fashion performance featuring 14 of Queensland’s Indigenous designers and 17 models.
“What we have here in Queensland is so distinct from other states and territories because, in terms of diversity, we span Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures,” Ms Lane said.
“With so much new and exciting work, the Art Fair was one of the best, and with many exhibitors selling every piece of artwork – well, you cannot argue with that.”
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