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Corroboree | Black Arts Market

 This November, Regional Arts NSW funded a group of Aboriginal artists and arts development officers from across state to travel and stay in Sydney, to attend the inaugural Corroboree Sydney festival. As it was the first year, many artists and art workers from our network were curious to observe the Black Arts Market, with a view to taking their learnings back to their various regions and begin preparing for Corroboree 2015.

Some Regional Arts Boards, including Northern Rivers and Murray Arts, had stalls in the market, which was curated by Hetti Perkins with the assistance of Jonathan Jones and held in one of the historic wool handling wharves, Pier 2/3 Walsh Bay. The space was transformed by the 30 colourful market stands, and shared the old wharf shed with the Corroboree Club (a venue for the evening) which included a cinema, and sold delicious food.

Vivien Naimo, from Murray Arts, flew to Sydney with artist, Sharon Edwards, and met with the rest of the Murray Arts group – Marlene Plunkett, Kelly Lock, Ellie Plunkett and Robert Murray who drove up, all of them lugging kilograms of artworks to sell at their stall.

With the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge looming large in the background, the opening smoking ceremony and lighting of the cauldron took place on Friday night. ‘I felt privileged to be watching the Corroboree Flame come towards the wharf and the dancers waiting to rise up to accompany the flame towards the Corroboree Firelight,’ said Vivien.

Opening night at the Corroboree Club had Archie Roach perform, and he was joined on-stage by Jimmy Barnes for one song which was unexpected. The atmosphere erupted into a party, with Vivian waltzing with Australian actress, director and writer Leah Purcell (‘Leah accepted my invitation for a dance!’)

Over two days, despite persistent rain, visitors flowed into the Black Arts Market for the unique experience of personally meeting the artists and purchasing their works. The variety of goods on the Murray Arts tables attracted both lookers and buyers. Several of Sharon’s woven necklaces are already headed to Europe as Christmas gifts.

Visitors spent hours touring the stalls before returning to purchase and many walked out with their Corroboree bags. As Jonathon Jones said, ‘The general public who did attend were blown away by the quality of goods on sale at the market. Everybody seemed to walk away with something.’ The setting was a perfect place for the event, with Vivian commenting that ‘The smell of the vivid green sea wafted through the cracks at our feet, reminding us that we were suspended over sea water on the jutting fingers of the wharf.’

It wasn’t only the punters who gained from the experience. The artists came away with memories too. ‘The Black Arts Market was a great networking opportunity,” says Vivien. “The Plunkett family reconnected with others from the Boandik Nation, of which there are believed to only be 4 generations left. Marlene was close to tears on meeting the lovely ladies who dropped by for a chat.’ Jonathan would agree with her, ‘What was great about the Black Arts Market was the networking and the contact made between the groups who participated. We’re hoping to continue to grow. NSW Aboriginal arts practitioners don’t get enough exposure compared with the other states. We wanted the Black Arts Market to be a platform, and we are working towards growing the market to include more store holders and represent a broader diversity, of high quality pieces.’

The whole weekend was a wonderful experience for all involved, and as was suggested in the opening speeches ‘a long time coming’. The artists returned exhausted but very happy after a successful weekend, filled with positive feedback and inspiration… but the best news is that their bags were much lighter.