Almost a century ago, when the Red Centre was still a mysterious region that most Australians (let alone most international visitors) had never seen, Albert Namatjira transported the masses to the vivid landscapes through his paintings.
While not the first person to paint the rocky escarpments and ghostly gums of Central Australia, Namatjira had an incredible ability to capture not just the beauty of the physical, but the magic of its connection to the millennia-old culture.
His first notable paintings were from the 1930s, and by the 1940s prints of his works could be found in houses across the country. His European-style watercolours made the paintings accessible, even though there were deep layers of Aboriginal spirituality in them.
Namatjira, with his talent and success, is one of the reasons Central Australia’s art scene is now so strong, built upon solid foundations from decades ago. The creative studios are booming here, with a number of arts centres you can gather in town, along with other within easy driving distance – particularly at Hermannsburg, Albert Namatjira’s hometown.
And all of it comes together at the Araluen Arts Centre, opened in 1984 to be a focal point for the region’s art scene. As well as being a safe place to store and exhibit works from Central Australia, it also works to encourage and support emerging artists.
The modern gallery complex has a range of exhibitions, highlighting parts of its permanent collection along with temporary and touring shows. But one of the special parts of visiting the Araluen Arts Centre is getting to see some of the works of Albert Namatjira.
It’s the only gallery in Australia where you can see his paintings and then, within minutes, be amongst the landscapes that inspired them.
The Araluen Arts Centre consists of four gallery spaces within the same building, plus a small outdoor sculpture garden.
Two of the galleries are normally used to display pieces from the permanent gallery, which consists of about 1400 works (plus another 400 that are housed here for safekeeping).
One of the galleries is normally used for a touring exhibition, and the other smaller space generally hosts a solo show (a good opportunity to give emerging artists some prominence).
The collection at the Araluen Arts Centre showcases the beginning and continuing development of the Contemporary Aboriginal art movement, particularly of Central Australia and the Western Desert Region. But it also includes non-Indigenous artists from the region – the aim is to celebrate everything from around Alice Springs.
The Sculpture Garden is relatively small and only has a few works. Of note is the culturally-significant 300-year-old corkwood tree in the centre that the whole gallery was constructed around.
How to visit?
Although there are four galleries, the Araluen Arts Centre is not massive and you can normally see it all in less than an hour. However, there are other places to visit in the cultural precinct, so you may want to do them as well (more on that below).
The Araluen Cultural Precinct is not in the centre of town, but it is possible to walk, cycle, or catch a bus if you don’t have a car.
There is an admission fee for the Araluen Arts Centre, but I think it’s good value for what you get.
Where is the Araluen Arts Centre?
The Araluen Arts Centre is in the Araluen Cultural Precinct, about two kilometres west of the central Alice Springs.
You can see it on a map here.
How do you get to the Araluen Arts Centre?
If you have a car, the Araluen Arts Centre is just five minutes’ drive from the centre of Alice Springs, and there’s lots of free parking.
By public transport, you can catch bus 400 or 401. (Routes and timetables are here.)
Or it’s about a 25-minute walk from the centre of town (although you may want to avoid that when it’s hot!)
When is the Araluen Arts Centre open?
From March – October, the Araluen Arts Centre is open every day from 10:00 – 16:00.
From November – February, it’s closed Monday and open:
Tue – Sat: 10:00 – 16:00
Sunday: 10:00 – 14:00
What is the Araluen Arts Centre entry fee?
General entry to the Araluen Arts Centre is $8.
Concession (including children 5-16): $6
Family (2 adults/2 children): $20
Northern Territory residents: Free
You can find more details at the official website of the Araluen Arts Centre.
If you’re planning to see some of the other spots in the Araluen Cultural Precinct, just a note that the Museum of Central Australia has a separate entry fee, while Central Craft is free.
Is it worth it?
The Araluen Arts Centre is one of the most important cultural institutions in Alice Springs and I think it’s well worth visiting.
I think the touring exhibitions can be a bit hit and miss, in the sense that they may not be a style of art you’re interested in, and they’re not always directly related to the Alice Springs region (often they are aimed more at bringing works from other collections to the city for the locals).
But the galleries that are showing works from around Alice Springs are reason enough to come here. In fact, I would say just the impressive collection of Albert Namatjira paintings is reason enough to visit (the gallery has about sixty of his pieces and often changes which ones are on display).
The arts centre isn’t just about the more traditional styles of modern Aboriginal art – there are also contemporary pieces that can often be making quite interesting social commentary.
The gallery spaces at the Araluen Arts Centre are constantly changing, with new exhibitions installed regularly.
To see the current or future exhibitions, have a look at what’s on.
Some key events are:
- April – The Alice Prize: Run every two years, the competition accepts entries in any medium from across Australia.
- June – Alice Springs Beanie Festival: This annual event is held over four days, with more than 500 beanie makers creating more than 7000 beanies!
- July – Advocate Art Award: This annual competition is open to all artists in Central Australia and gets a good range of submissions.
- September – Desert Mob: The premier arts event in Central Australia brings about 30 Aboriginal arts centres together for a large exhibition, symposium, and marketplace.
If you can time your visit to Alice Springs to coincide with Desert Mob in September, that’s an excellent way to see a huge range of Aboriginal art styles and have the opportunity to buy something directly from the artist.
The Araluen Arts Centre is part of the Araluen Cultural Precinct, which has a few different things to see while you’re here.
Within the same building as the galleries, there’s a theatre that hosts lots of the touring theatre and musical performances that pass through Alice Springs.
Next door, you’ll find Central Craft, a small gallery and shop with contemporary crafts like jewellery, weaving, ceramics, and woodwork. There’s also a studio where you’ll sometimes be able to meet some of the artists.
Just a couple of minutes’ walk away, through the interesting Yeperenye artwork, is the Museum of Central Australia. It has a solid collection of natural history exhibits showing the diversity of the wildlife in the region.
Also within the Araluen Cultural Precinct, you’ll find the Central Australian Aviation Museum, on the site of an aerodrome from the 1940s. There are a number of heritage aircraft in the hangars, along with an interesting collection of equipment.
And as you walk around the precinct, you’ll probably also notice quite a few public art pieces – some large and obvious ones, but also smaller murals and pieces that have been added recently.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN ALICE SPRINGS
Although there isn’t lots of accommodation, at least there’s a wide range. Have a look at my detailed story about where to stay in Alice Springs, or I’ve got a few of the top suggestions here.