Overseas tourists may have disappeared, but demand for genuine Aboriginal art remains strong. So strong, Michael Connolly has opened a new Dreamtime Kullilla Art shop.
The shop is not far from his previous one but has more gallery and retail space to showcase the art and products he creates and sources from communities across Australia.
It’s a bold move in the middle of a pandemic, but proves the confidence he and wife Jo have in their business and the artists they support.
COVID-19 has reduced the number of customers coming into the shop, but more have been buying art and products online.
Michael says they’ve had an online shop for about 10 years, and were able to keep trading during the shutdown.
“We had a lot of specials we put on at the time and because we moved, we had a lot of stuff that we could turn over. We advertised and marketed it, and people just bought,” he explains.
The internet has provided a lifeline, with online sales booming in the wake of galleries and shops closing.
“Because there’s not many tourists about, they’re still making their money because they’re selling online still,” Michael says.
“There’s still people looking for that gift, that special gift out of Australia. A lot of people know the artists in the central desert, East Arnhem Land, The Kimberley, the Cairns groups, Victorians - everywhere there’s a mob doing art, people are connected to them around the world. People who can’t get here, are still viewing online.”
While supply chains for fake art have been disrupted, cheap fakes continue to rob legitimate Aboriginal artists of income and dishonestly trade on the broader community’s desire to support them.
“They (customers) have to ask the question … who’s your artist, who’s your community and what most of these liars are doing … say someone’s working their shop, they then give then a spiel that they read out…,” he says.
It’s difficult for consumers to spot the difference, so buying from reputable suppliers is essential whether that be in a shop or online.
Michael says they should do their research and if they’re buying online, ensure the website is Australian.
“I had a lady from Bribie Island yesterday who wanted to send some gifts to a couple in Germany getting married. She said, ‘why not something traditional?’. She went online found our website and drove from Bribie Island to here and bought four or five gifts. Because our name is pretty strong, over 25 years, people do know us,” he explains.
“They know we’re here, they know we’re genuine. COVID has made people open their eyes, instead of going down the road to a $2 shop and buying a boomerang … We now have a chance to support our communities.”
He’s reporting fake art suppliers to the Federal Government regularly and would love to see a ban on imports.
Michael loves their new open-plan gallery and shop and is planning an open day in the coming weeks.
It’s a more practical space, but also offers a strong spiritual connection. He says that’s why people feel good when they visit.
“We’re here for supporting our community as well as the arts,” Michael says.
“Come down, say G’day, have a visit and see what we’ve got, have a yarn. Education is the greatest tool that the human has. That’s what reconciliation is all about.
“You can make a million people happy and one person miserable but that one miserable person has made a million miserable people himself. It’s all about respect, genuine connections, yarning about things …”
Dreamtime Kullilla Art is at Unit 1/349 MacDonnell Rd, Clontarf.
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