A major partnership between BHP Billiton, the State Government of South Australia and Art Gallery of South Australia has committed $17.54 million to present TARNANTHI until 2021.


Through the extension of this partnership, TARNANTHI Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, will become an annual, city-wide festival with a major biennial offering at the Art Gallery of SA from October 2017.

TARNANTHI | Art Gallery of South Australia

Nick Mitzevich, Director, Art Gallery of South Australia

Creative Partnerships: Support of this magnitude doesn’t happen overnight – what path did you take to cultivate such a significant relationship?

Nick Mitzevich: The initial idea for TARNANTHI came from Premier Jay Weatherill, who wants to see South Australia as a gateway to Aboriginal Australia. Lead by Artistic Director, Nici Cumpston, the inaugural TARNANTHI was able to build upon the Gallery’s existing relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, art centres and communities. Nici had curated the touring exhibition Desert Country in 2010 and through its national presence, this exhibition, had exposed broad Australia to the vibrancy of desert art and culture.

TARNANTHI expands from this point outwards to look at what’s happening nationally but moreover, through its commissioning strategy, TARNANTHI assists with the broad development of Aboriginal art and culture generating new work and new professional pathways.


How did you communicate your vision for the future of the festival to get this level of confidence and commitment so early on?

The first iteration of TARNANTHI exceeded everyone’s expectations in terms of artistic outcomes, audience engagement and community involvement, as well as hinting at how much more might be possible. It was this sense of potential that inspired us all to continue the TARNANTHI legacy.


What makes a good relationship with a sponsor and how important is it to find the right fit?

In the Pitjantjatjara language there is an expression ngapartji ngapartji that means ‘I give you something, you give me something’. This spirit of equal exchange, mutual responsibility and reciprocity underpins all good relationships and certainly is the bedrock for TARNANTHI.


BHP Billiton has many programs to support indigenous communities. Was this an important factor for you in developing the relationship?

What spoke directly to us was BHP Billiton’s desire to directly support Aboriginal art and culture.

Three words to describe your partnership with BHP Billiton

BHP Billiton have given us permission to be artistically brave (sorry that’s nine words).


leaping dancer crowd shot

BHP Billiton

Jacqui McGill, Asset President, BHP Billiton Olympic Dam 

Creative Partnerships: How did this initial matchmaking come about and when did you know it was the right fit?

Jacqui McGill: The majority of BHP Billiton’s operations around the world are located on or near the traditional lands of Indigenous peoples, so we have a profound responsibility to recognise and respect their status as First Peoples. Partnering with an event such as TARNANTHI, gives us a valuable opportunity to build and establish long lasting relationships with Indigenous peoples, that are based on respect, meaningful engagement, trust and mutual benefit.

We understand that Indigenous peoples often have special connections to, and identification with, lands and waters and that these are tied to their physical, spiritual, cultural and economic well-being.

We also understand Indigenous peoples, in many regions of the world, have been historically disadvantaged and often still experience poverty and other forms of social exclusion.

So through TARNATHI’s showcasing of contemporary art and culture, we look forward to greater long term, economic development and social inclusion opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and communities across Australia.


What are looking for when you take on a significant partnership like this, and what are the main benefits of supporting cultural activities?

TARNANTHI is an incredibly unique partnership, bringing together Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists from around Australia to share their stories and culture through works of art.

As a business, BHP Billiton seeks engagement with Indigenous peoples that will contribute to sustainable long-term economic empowerment, social development needs and cultural well-being – and TARNANTHI fits this perfectly.

In 2015, TARNANTHI featured more than 1,068 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists at the Art Gallery of South Australia and 22 partner exhibitions, with 1,283 individual works of art.

That’s why BHP Billiton is proud to make this contribution, as it demonstrates both our support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and culture, as well as our long-term commitment to South Australia.


What makes a good partnership between business and the arts?

BHP Billiton Olympic Dam is fortunate to partner with many incredible organisations that create shared value for everyone involved.

We are committed to our host communities and strive to make a positive impact through our active participation in community events and our investment in key community priorities.

The right fit is fundamental to the success of any partnership and getting this right early enables it to continually evolve and deliver far beyond everyone’s expectations. Importantly, it is the people involved within the organisations that forge a successful partnership. The success of the inaugural TARNANTHI event was testament to everyone involved and this collaborative approach.


What aspects of the festival’s proposal resonated with you and what tips would you have for other organisations looking partner with a corporate sponsor?

The success of TARNANTHI in 2015, coupled with the strong alignment between BHP Billiton and the Art Gallery of South Australia, made its continuation for a further five years a relatively simple decision.

There are a number of aspects to any decision regarding partnerships, though my tip would be to ensure that there is a strong fit between those involved, be flexible and enable the discussions to evolve. Most importantly, ensure the focus remains on how shared value can be created and that outcomes are maximised for its recipients.


Three words to describe TARNANTHI

Unique, moving, celebration.