Highly Commended 2022

Solid Lines

Emrhan Tjapanangka Sultan / Dr Nicola St John / The Jacky Winter Group

Solid Lines is an illustration agency led by First Nations people, representing First Nations talent.

Solid Lines is Australia’s first illustration agency led by First Nations people and dedicated to representing First Nations talent. This ground-breaking national agency provides First Nations artists with a culturally safe pathway into industry, while educating the design and commercial art community to understand the requirements for engaging with First Nations creatives. Cultural integrity and giving back to community are at the heart of Solid Lines business structure and licensing policy, developed through direct First Nations engagement. Currently supported by The Jacky Winter Group, Solid Lines will grow into a First Nations owned agency through a staged pathway.

Design Brief

First Nations creatives often lack access to engage with design and commercial art spaces, despite the creative industries being one of the most significant to emerge in global markets. First Nations designers and commercial artists also remain largely under-represented in general design discourse. Our purpose was to co-create a pathway to improve participation and representation and enable First Nations creatives to engage with commercial art and design industries in culturally safe and supported ways, and on their own terms.

Our project was framed around exploring:

  1. How access and participation for First Nations creatives within design and commercial art sectors in Australia can be increased, developed, or reimagined.
  2. What the value of a First Nations led illustration agency would be for First Nations creatives.
  3. How First Nations cultural protocols and processes could be embedded within an illustration agency to inform engagement, knowledge sharing, and building commercial capacity.

This project was developed by:

Design Process

The project was established as a strategic partnership between RMIT Researchers, The Jacky Winter Group, and directly alongside First Nations creative practitioners across Australia. This partnership facilitated diverse conversations and ways of working, bridging the gap between industry practices and First Nations knowledges, obligations, and aspirations.

Our approach was guided by a ‘two-way’ exchange of Indigenous and non-Indigenous creative, professional, and commercial practice, reflecting industry and client best practice, and cultural requirements and priorities for First Nations people. The design process brought 10 First Nation professional creatives from across Australia together to speak about their prior experiences in the design and commercial art industries, and to reimagine what a culturally safe and supporting Illustration agency might look like. Drawing from multiple participatory and relational modalities such as deep listening, yarning, and story sharing enabled participants to share their experiences, aspirations, ideas, and values through a series of workshops.

There were three stages of collaboration, which loosely followed cycles of ‘planning’ ‘action’ and ‘reflection’:

Planning: This first workshop developed core values, questions, and considerations that shaped how this project proceeded, while providing a space for artists to imagine what an Indigenous led illustration agency could be, and what value this might have.

Action: The second workshop created an ethical and sustainable paradigm for actioning the development of an Indigenous-led illustration agency. Having a united vision of sustainable success over time enabled the workshop to productively develop priorities, values, and frameworks in response to culturally safe ways of working, self-determination, and market opportunities.

Reflection: Collaboratively reflecting on the workshops helped establish key concepts, values, and strategic outcomes for the development of a First Nations illustration agency – far exceeding the brief and ensuring First Nations voices informed the agency from the ground up.

Design Excellence

Aligning the business development of Solid Lines with the values systems of First Nations culture and country occurred through a collaborative approach, drawing on the expertise of many First Nations community members, lawyers, facilitators, and business leaders. One of the key threads of discussion from the workshops was around cultural safety within the design and commercial art industry, including cultural identity and ownership, and related issues of intellectual property, licensing agreements, copyright, and production processes.

Artists raised how there was little support or recognition of Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP) in commercial design spaces, as First Nations artists are often blindly led into licensing agreements and client relations that were not culturally safe. Solid Lines has worked in collaboration with Marrawah Law to develop an ICIP policy, specifically around digital illustration, marking a major milestone for protecting cultural identity and ownership within design and digital spaces. Under this ICIP policy, artists have the right to protect traditional knowledge and sacred cultural material when entering into collaboration or partnerships with commercial clients, and the right to ensure that traditional laws and customary obligations are respected.

Another key outcome from the workshops was the importance of giving back to community and supporting the next generation of emerging First Nations artists. Reciprocal obligations to invest, nurture, and give back to community was also raised as a value to be placed at the heart of the agency. The profit structure of the agency was thus designed in a way that will involve a share of commissions being utilised for mentoring or capacity building. Giving back to community via providing capacity building, and education and training, is seen as the way to improve the current levels of First Nations representation within the industry and create long-term employment pathways.

Design Innovation

Solid Lines is Australia’s first illustration agency led by First Nations people. It will become a First Nations owned business through an innovative staged pathway developed alongside First Nations artists to ensure the right level of support and a transparent approach to Indigenous ownership from the outset.

The approach is encapsulated within a Memorandum of Understanding for the enterprise, developed by Marrawah Law which documents how Solid Lines will begin as an incubator with The Jacky Winter group, who will support and champion First Nations artists and create opportunities for two-way knowledge sharing, while being overseen by First Nations project manager, to a joint venture relationship which reflects a collaboration of resources, skills and assets and demonstrates Indigenous management and involvement. Finally, a First Nations owned, managed, and controlled business will take flight, and can evidence trading independently. This pathway also takes into account a series of assurances to make sure that Indigenous cultural principles, protocols and levels of integrity remain at the forefront, participants priorities were met, and the development drew on and bought together key resources in regard to ICIP, Indigenous knowledge, and Indigenous business to ensure sustainable success over time.

The dialogue and collaboration to develop Solid Lines has been significant in informing and identifying the purpose, values, core requirements, processes and policies of such an agency. Also emphasised was the importance of openly discussing both the commercial and cultural implication of developing a First Nations illustration agency within a mainstream market. These values affirm the need to develop principles for collaboration and respectful co-creation upfront, to then engaging in meaningful dialogues, the sharing and production of knowledge, and the development of a new First Nations led business.

Design Impact

For First Nations artists, the development of Solid Lines signals an important step in prioritising First Nations leadership and cultural safety within the creative industries. It also positions First Nations artists as commercial creatives, wanting to walk together in respectful collaboration and knowledge sharing with commercial partners and projects. It’s impact therefore lies not only in being the first to represent and promote First Nations commercial illustrators, but in seeking to change the face of Australia’s design industry.

Solid Lines has created a culturally safe pathway for First Nations creates to access and be represented in the design and commercial art industries. For the design and commercial art community across Australia, it has created spaces and opportunities to understand the requirements for engaging with First Nations creatives within commercial settings and engage in meaningful and respectful collaboration – further enhancing the reputation and commitment of Victoria’s design and creative culture to champion First Nations creatives.

More broadly Solid Lines stimulates thinking and action in relation to addressing ICIP within the design and commercial art industries, to develop an industry-wide redefining or new professional practice precedent in the way First Nations artists engage and are protected within commercial settings. We believe developing this venture alongside First Nations artists, and their voices informing business and commission structure, respectful engagement principles and ensuing ICIP protocols are in place will enable respectful and meaningful creative collaborations.

Ensuring a culturally safe and meaningful engagement with commercial clients and ensuring appropriate payment and protection we hope will generate respectful employment opportunities and long-term careers within industries which have often been ignorant or refused to engage with First Nations ways of working – for First Nations artists to be rightfully recognised as prominent and successful creatives within Australia’s commercial art and design industries.

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