I have read Trent Walter’s story re Northern Editions with great interest. I was overall manager of Northern Editions – which encompassed the CDU art collection (Anita Angel as curator) and the workshop (Dian Darmansjah as manager) as well as the retail operations – from 2002–2004 arriving direct from being managing director of Port Jackson Press in Melbourne. The fate of niche print workshops such as Northern Editions (and indeed PJP which has gone from Australia’s largest print publisher to small retailer) has always been precarious.
The issues I faced on arrival in Darwin (extreme heat, isolation and parochial mentality) were common to many talented artists, academics and arts administrators who often left after a year or so. Staff retention was a major issue for the university in particular and the Northern Territory in general. The complexities of dealing (in practical terms) with often dysfunctional remote communities who were our major ‘clients’ as well as the very limited audience of galleries, institutions and individuals interested in collecting prints meant balancing the books would always be a constant challenge. In the bigger picture of the university’s multi-million dollar budget the internal problems of Northern Editions were far exceeded by the political goodwill in supporting Indigenous and local artists. The publicity successful print projects generated at both a local and international level earned the title for Northern Editions as ‘jewel in the crown’ of Charles Darwin University.
The inevitable bust after an unprecedented boom in the Australian art market compounded by the Global Financial Crisis ensured the Indigenous arts industry in particular suffered a fatal blow on both domestic and international markets starting in 2006–07. I am not surprised therefore that the future of Northern Editions is under threat but a key factor will be whether senior university staff and politicians see the value of the arts as integral to the contribution CDU makes to the cultural life of the Northern Territory.