It's the end of an era at the Old Broome Lockup, which has joined a host of other art galleries around town in closing their doors or downsizing after a steady decline in the tourism and art markets.
Owner Paul Boon last week announced a final exhibition – aptly titled Yunku Parlipa, or “we are leaving” – of works by award-winning artist Edwin Lee Mulligan and others who have decorated the gallery’s whitewashed stone walls over eight years.
The building was constructed in 1895 to hold Aboriginal people on trumped-up charges and awaiting deportation, but in its latter years has been a working studio for indigenous artists who have gone on to win critical acclaim.
Boon was sad to be shutting the doors, but said the Broome art market had entered a “semi-crisis”. In recent years, popular galleries including Rod Hartvigsen’s photographic gallery, Monsoon Gallery, Broome Six and Denise Walker have all closed and others are preparing to do so.
But in a brighter outlook, Boon said global markets were emerging through OBL’s website, social networking sites and pop-up galleries.
He also hopes to create new opportunities for Mulligan to facilitate art “on country”, where he will invite clients into his communities to see him work instead of the other way round.
“We’re looking for a new space, but obviously with the way the market is at the moment, we’re just being patient until we find something that’s cost effective so we can still display art and have artists available,” Boon said. “Creatively, they’ll always be something going on … it’s sad that places of creativity are closing but that’s unfortunate economics.”
Boon said he had enjoyed countless positive experiences through the gallery over eight years, including performing on Broadway.
“The music we’ve made, the paintings we’ve made, have travelled all over the world,” he said.
Old Broome Lockup’s last exhibition will open on December 7.