Bluethumb art marketplace boosting indigenous communities

An online art marketplace is giving remote Indigenous communities new hope for a sustainable economy by providing them a way to sell their art online and have it shipped to collectors, even during the wet season when many communities are inaccessible for up to five months.

The Bluethumb marketplace, founded by brothers Edward and George Hartley and Philip Slusarski in 2012, has closed a $1 million capital raise from QUT Creative Enterprise Australia and Grand Prix Capital, with follow on investment from Lux Group founders Adam Schwab and Jeremy Same.

Edward Hartley, formerly a senior accountant and investment analyst with the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, told The Australian Financial Review Bluethumb was vital for the livelihoods of artists and art centres in remote communities.

“Indigenous art had a real boom in the 1980s and ’90s, but the wheels came off and it hit some hurdles. Now they have well-established community art centres to protect the artists and the culture … but they don’t have distribution channels,” he said.

“We can expose their art to more collectors and also provide the distribution infrastructure. An aeroplane flys in once a week to these communities to collect the art work. During the wet season in Arnhem land it’s impossible to get there any other way and during the summer the extreme heat is almost unbearable for many tourists, so they’re not getting visitors for months of the year.”

A report from curator and industry analyst Tim Acker, commissioned by the Cooperative Research Centre for Remote Economic Participation, published last year found there were more than 13,000 Indigenous artists working for art centres in remote regions of Australia and 70 per cent of these artists had earned less than $10,000 in their entire career.

The economy of place – a place in the economy report also found that the art centres had become major employers for the communities thanks to government support since 1989, but sales have been declining for a number of years, with the percentage of profitable art centres falling from 80 per cent in 2004-05 to only 40 per cent in 2012-13.

The fresh funding for Bluethumb is going towards expanding the platform’s reach and the marketplace is hiring people with specialised skillsets in Indigenous arts and culture.

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