Alice Springs is one of the best places in Australia to buy Aboriginal art and crafts. You will find no shortage of paintings, didgeridoos, spears, clapping sticks, coolamons (dishes used by women to carry anything from water to babies), animal carvings, baskets, and jewelry, as well as books, CDs, and all kinds of merchandise printed with Aboriginal designs. Prices can soar to many thousands for large canvases by world-renowned painters, but you’ll also find plenty of smaller, more affordable works. Most galleries arrange shipment. Store hours can vary with the seasons and the crowds, so it pays to check ahead.
Mbantua Aboriginal Art Gallery, 64 Todd Mall ( tel. 08/8952 5571; www.mbantua.com.au), is a highly respected and reliable source of authentic Aboriginal art, with a dazzling selection to choose from. The art comes from a harsh desert region called Utopia, home to several Aboriginal communities. Mbantua owner Tim Jennings began supplying locals with paints and canvas during food deliveries to Utopia, first as sheriff, then as the general-store owner. Every 2 weeks, the Mbantua gallery team drops off new materials and pays the artists for finished works. Some of the 200 Utopia residents who paint have been recognized internationally, including Barbara Weir, Gloria Petyarre, the late Emily Kame Kngwarreye, and Minnie Pwerle. Jennings authenticates every piece of art; he and his team photograph the artist with the work and record the traditional meaning behind it. Works by established artists can be priced up to tens of thousands of dollars, but a much smaller investment can get you work by lesser-known but talented painters. Mbantua Gallery is a member of Art.Trade, an organization that operates to promote the ethical trade of indigenous art.
Papunya Tula Artists, 63 Todd Mall ( tel. 08/8952 4731; www.papunyatula.com.au), sells paintings on canvas and linen from Papunya, a settlement 240 km (150 miles) northwest of Alice Springs, and work by other artists living in the Western Desert, as far as 700km (434 miles) from Alice Springs.
The Aboriginal Australia Art & Culture Centre, 125 Todd St. ( tel. 08/8952 3408; www.aboriginalaustralia.com), is a community-based, Aboriginal-owned and -operated business that runs painting classes, has a retail gallery, and is a community arts base. It is open 9am to 5pm weekdays; weekends by appointment for serious collectors.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.