On first glance, a long and narrow lift corridor at Canberra’s 2 Constitution Avenue may not seem like the spot for an augmented reality art exhibition for Indigenous people in the prison system.
But a collaboration between ISPT, Knight Frank and tenant customer ACT Corrective Services saw the potential of a forgotten space, transforming an ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ into a gallery that brings reconciliation and rehabilitation to life.
Dream Gallery started with a simple idea: to adorn some of the walls of ACT Corrective Services’ tenancy at 2 Constitution Avenue with artwork created by Indigenous detainees at the Alexander Maconochie Centre.
“When our customers came to us with the idea, we thought ‘we can do even better than that’ and the Dream Gallery was born,” explains ISPT’s General Manager for Sustainability and Technical Services, Alicia Maynard.
“Our buildings aren’t just bricks and mortar – they are the places where people gather and connect. And they play a central role in reconciliation, as each building rests on land occupied by Indigenous people for 60,000 years.
“As all Australians work towards reconciliation, we have an extraordinary 60,000 years of culture to understand and appreciate. No other place on the planet has such a long human history with such a rich store of art, language and dreaming to draw upon.”
Insights into Indigenous culture
Launched last Christmas, Dream Gallery is a 12-month project featuring artwork from dozens of Indigenous Australians who practice art as part of their rehabilitation while in prison.
David Witham, Indigenous Services Coordinator with ACT Corrective Services, says the Dream Gallery has “maintained a keen interest amongst our Indigenous artists in custody to attend art classes and create quality Indigenous artwork” which, when sold, provides a “nest egg” on their release.
The paintings range from the symbolic to the subjective, but each offers insights into Indigenous culture and shares personal stories. In The Wandjina, for example, a water spirit travels through multiple campsites against a dazzling backdrop of blue and gold. Brown at the Bidgee captures the moment the artist first saw a wild brown snake while playing on a rope swing on the Murrumbidgee River. The traditional dot technique used in Stolen Generation depicts Indigenous children separated from their families, and, as the artist explains, “the black shows the deep hole with its emptiness and darkness left in our hearts, minds and souls”.
The Gallery also harnesses the latest in augmented reality technology, through an app called EyeJack, to enhance visitors’ viewing experience and emotional connection to the work. This immersive experience encourages gallery visitors to reflect on complex themes of community, social isolation and inclusion, and magnifies the message of reconciliation.
“I’ve viewed each artwork and read the stories of the artists, and the courage they show and the messages they share are artwork is important for all Australians,” Maynard explains.
Painting with pride
Witham says the Dream Gallery has helped the Indigenous artists in custody “as it has instilled a sense of pride to see that their work is admired and appreciated”. It has also reinforced “their ability to create quality work and engage in productive activities”.
So far, 21 artworks have been sold and $9,600 held in trust for the artists after they leave the prison system. As one artist says: “My art relaxes me and keeps me grounded. When people buy it, it gives me such pride I have never before felt.”
The project also aligns with ACT Corrective Services’ Reconciliation Action Plan, or RAP, which emphasises respectful relationships and partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – something that is especially important when a disproportionate percentage of First Australians find themselves in the prison system.
The people who work at 2 Constitution Avenue can point to a powerful illustration of how their workplace supports rehabilitation and reconciliation. As one tenant customer said: “More buildings should think about how to deliver experience like this one!”
“By reimagining an under-utilised area into the Dream Gallery, we created a meaningful space for our customers – one that inspires people and fosters pride in their workplace,” Maynard adds.
Download the Dream Gallery catalogue or view a video of the Dream Gallery launch.
From dream to reality
One of the paintings was purchased by project management firm TSA. Jonathan Stone, TSA’s senior project manager, says the decision to purchase from the Dream Gallery was aligned with its RAP.
“As part of our RAP initiatives, we wanted to connect with local Indigenous artists to display an artwork in our Canberra office,” Stone says.
Dream Gallery “resonated” with TSA as an “an incredible initiative for rehabilitation and collaboration between the community, government and private sectors”.
“We hope that we can share the story behind the artwork with our colleagues and clients. This is another step for TSA in our participation, awareness and acknowledgement of Indigenous Australians and reconciliation,” Stone adds.
The positive impact of the project is best illustrated in the feedback from the artists. As one artist says, painting and displaying his artwork has “made me realise that I am actually good at something and I could do art in the community and sell it at markets.”
Maynard sees the Dream Gallery project as an “essential part” of her company’s commitment to responsible investment and foreshadows its RAP, which is currently in progress.
“Places can be powerful platforms for reconciliation and celebration of culture – and that is on display alongside some amazing Indigenous artwork at the Dream Gallery.”