Aboriginal Arts and Culture Protocols

Warruwl (detail) by Lucy Simpson

Warruwl (detail) by Lucy Simpson


Aboriginal people have been maintaining, enhancing and sharing their unique culture for thousands of generations. This has always been governed through a wide range of protocols for ways to do cultural business through the guidance and direction from those with cultural authority such as Elders, cultural knowledge holders and keepers. This resulted in the longest living and continuous cultures in the world, a fact that is widely celebrated today.

Today, Aboriginal artists and cultural practitioners continue that important role in maintaining, enhancing and transmitting culture as they seek to develop their own practice and find inspiration through their culture and environment. However, these artists and cultural practitioners must now navigate a variety of issues and new environments that impact on not only their abilities but the need to ensure that this work continues with strong foundations of cultural authority, agency and relevance for Aboriginal communities.

This means that we need to continue to work out the right way for cultural business in our contemporary society by championing Aboriginal self-determination in the cultural space. It means that the rights of Aboriginal people need to be understood in developing and sharing cultural work and then acted on. Questions such as why we are doing this work and who will benefit from it need to be asked and answered.

Through this direction, we can ensure that the NSW Aboriginal cultural sector will continue to grow and thrive built on the foundations of authority, agency and relevance.

Create NSW acknowledges that it must play a strong role in supporting the right way for cultural business and has worked with the NSW Aboriginal cultural sector to develop these NSW Aboriginal arts and cultural

Download the Aboriginal Arts and Culture Protocols

Who are these protocols for?

Many Aboriginal protocols are developed to give guidance and direction to the broader sector in the right way to work and do business with Aboriginal people and communities. It was decided that whilst this approach is still important, it is also important that greater support and guidance is provided to Aboriginal artists, Aboriginal arts organisations and Aboriginal arts workers to help equip them with the right tools to ensure their interests and cultural rights are acknowledged and acted upon when developing or contributing to arts and cultural projects and programs. Driven by self-determination, these protocols have been developed as a series of suggested questions within five key principles that Aboriginal artists, arts workers and organisations should consider as a minimum standard. These five principles have been identified as the most important elements to ensure there is Aboriginal self-determination embedded within the Aboriginal project or program. They are:

  1. Cultural Authority and Agency
    Where does the ownership lie within the project/program and who controls the direction that the project/program takes?
  2. Recognising Rights and Maintaining Culture
    Are the rights of people being acknowledged and protected?
  3. Prior Informed Consent and Consultation
    Are Aboriginal people being engaged in the right way and are their wishes being observed?
  4. Integrity of Aboriginal Culture
    Is cultural knowledge and information being respected and managed in the right way?
  5. Attribution and Sharing Benefits
    Are the right people getting the benefits?

The protocols have also been broken into two sections that reflect where the type of work many Aboriginal artists and art workers originate from either:

  • Aboriginal people developing their own projects; or
  • Aboriginal people being asked to be a part of a project.

Links have also been provided where Aboriginal artists and art workers can seek additional information and support in the areas covered.

What do we want to achieve with these protocols? 

Create NSW plays an important role in supporting the NSW Aboriginal cultural sector through providing direct investment through funding programs, developing strategies and policies for cultural development and advice and guidance to Aboriginal artists, arts workers and organisations.

Create NSW acknowledges that a strong and vibrant Aboriginal cultural sector starts with supporting self-determination for the Aboriginal sector to manage, maintain and preserve Aboriginal cultures and ensure that the right way to do cultural business is supported, understood and acted on. With these protocols, Create NSW seeks to work with the Aboriginal cultural sector to champion a new body of practice that has Aboriginal self-determination and Aboriginal cultural authority and agency at its foundation.

Just as Aboriginal culture is living and continues to evolve, these Protocols have been developed to be a living document. Create NSW will continue to work with the NSW Aboriginal cultural sector to update the protocols annually to ensure that the continued growth and new and emerging areas are covered.

To contribute to this ongoing work with your views, ideas and guidance, email Create NSW at protocols@create.nsw.gov.au

Image: Warruwl (detail) by Lucy Simpson.