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Ruby Red Centre

Araluen Arts Centre celebrates its grassroots history during its 40th anniversary year, proving that from little things, big things grow. 

By Betty Sweetlove 

IN JUNE 1984, after years of campaigning by the Alice Springs Art Foundation and other arts-loving locals, the Araluen Arts Centre was officially opened. A state-of-the-art theatre, multi-purpose studios and exhibition galleries were at last on offer for the people of Central Australia.

Until then, a full-scale exhibition celebrating Western Arrernte painter Albert Namatjira had never been held in Mparntwe/Alice Springs. Local artist and Araluen advocate Mona Byrnes curated the opening retrospective of Namatjira’s work, putting the brand-new arts centre firmly on the nation’s cultural radar.

Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, Chansey Paech says, in the years since, Araluen’s kept the pulse strong in the heart of Australia.

“Since it opened, Araluen has played a pivotal role in supporting, shaping and promoting arts and culture in Alice Springs. Nationally important exhibitions like The Alice Prize and Desert Mob have called Araluen home for decades, while international and Australian acts have delighted audiences in the theatre,” he says.

To this day, Araluen is the destination for tourists and locals alike, allowing them to experience significant contemporary artworks by First Nations artists, as well as diverse works by non-Indigenous artists. And as the cooler weather rolls across Arrernte Country, the precinct buzzes with festivals, awards ceremonies and world-class performances.

“The Araluen Arts Centre is not only a wonderful meeting place, where audiences can experience touring shows like Shakespeare or the Australian Ballet, it is where local artists get their first taste of performing in front of a live audience,” says Minister Paech.

On every visit, stunning pieces of public art can be found nestled into the precinct. Director Felicity Green says, over the last four decades, Araluen has accumulated a vibrant collection that reflects the rich culture of the desert.

“Indigenous artists are central to the Araluen Arts Centre – its building, its collection, and its exhibition program. Artworks feature throughout the building, including the enormous stained-glass window in the foyer that articulates the Tjukurrpa for Mparntwe, as told by celebrated Arrernte artist Wenten Rubuntja,” she says.

“The Araluen Stained Glass Project, produced in collaboration with Yirara College, also adorns the front of the Arts Centre. These multi-panels of glass depict the students’ Country. Opposite is Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri’s six-metre masterpiece, consisting of six sections each representing a specific Tjukurrpa story.”

After more than four decades, the group that advocated for Araluen to be built is still going strong. The Friends of Araluen keep up to date with the local arts scene, and support the Director to expand the ever-evolving collection.

“They have acquired works by local artists, such as Franca Barraclough and Dan Murphy … They raised funds to acquire a new grand piano in 2021, which was an astonishing achievement. In the recent past they have contributed … by organising and hosting the Living Histories events,” says Green.

Local arts lovers can become a Friend by signing up as an Araluen Arts Centre member, the perfect 40th birthday gift to the institution and for your loved ones – especially as birthday celebrations are planned throughout the year, with some extra-special events yet to be announced.

“Araluen is planning an exciting exhibition program for its 40th anniversary, beginning with Kunmanara (Pepai) Carroll’s ngaylu nyanganyi ngura winki (I can see all those places), a JamFactory-developed travelling exhibition,” says Green.

Visual arts aficionados can check out the much-anticipated Alice Prize, the biennial showcase of nationally-acclaimed contemporary art, and film buffs can also enjoy a fabulous cinema program throughout 2024. Also on the cards this year are the improvised antics of Ross Noble, the ARIA-nominated, award-winning vocals of Emma Donovan, and The Flying Fruit Fly Circus.

“We have an amazing line up planned, with a real focus on our community,” Green says.

“Our visual arts team is working on a major exhibition, opening in June, and we have decided to turn that opening into our birthday party – cake will be mandatory!”

It’s almost impossible to imagine the arts scene in Alice Springs without Araluen, and this milestone anniversary celebrates the visionary artists and trailblazers of the past, present and future. Go and join the party.


Header & thumbnail: Albert Namatjira, 'Amphitheatre, Palm Valley' (detail), 1943, watercolour on paper. Gifted to the Araluen Arts Centre by the Burns Family in 2022
Inset: Library & Archives NT. (1983). Alice Springs, Performing Arts Centre, Araluen Northern Territory Government Photographer Collection, PH0136/0025

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