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Artlink's publisher is the non-profit organisation Artlink Australia, which is supported by the Federal Government through the Visual Arts/Craft Strategy of Australia Council, and by the South Australian Department for the Arts and other state funding bodies.
Its general brief is to give exposure to those working at the leading edge of art practice, whether it be in new attitudes and working methods, new technologies, new theories of art, art which is not commercially driven, or social and politically-related work. It also analyses and comments on the mainstream visual art world. It achieves these ends through its examination of exhibitions, and all manner of ways in which visual culture is manifested, internet art, video, film, design etc, conferences, publications, electronic media, organisations, legal issues, artists' rights, funding or employment opportunities.
It was founded in 1981 in Adelaide by Stephanie Britton, as a bi-monthly 20-page black and white magazine with the initial aim of providing a national profile for South Australian art, and linking the various contemporary art organisations which existed in Adelaide. A small seeding grant was provided by the SA Dept for the Arts. A Committee was set up comprising representatives of the Experimental Art Foundation, the Contemporary Art Society, the SA School of Art Student Union, the Women's Art Movement, and the Friends of the Art Gallery of SA. Each of these organisations had a guaranteed page in each issue over which they had complete control. This "Artlink Adelaide" format continued to serve a very useful purpose from 1981 - 1986 after which due to changes in the management etc of the member organisations and the growing demands of the field for a more national outlook, they were discontinued.
The Committee continued to have responsibility for the management and accountability for government funds until the dissolution of Art Link Incorporated and the formation of Artlink Australia in 1994.
At the outset the magazine was designed and laid out by students at the SA School of Design, with traditional typesetting technology. In 1987 having been introduced to the Apple computer at the Experimental Art Foundation, Artlink became, through a generous equipment sponsorship from Apple Computers, the first art journal to venture into desktop publishing, with the ambitious 128-page full colour Special Issue on Art & Technology of August 1987, a joint project with ANAT (the Australian Network for Art & Technology). This move into computer systems heralded a major shift in all aspects of the journal, not only design and layout, but data bases, advertising systems, distribution and sponsorship bids. 1988 saw the new larger Artlinks appearing quarterly. From 1990 Artlink has employed designers on a project basis.
1989 saw the beginning of a series of Themes for each issue - Public Art, Community Arts, Design, Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Art, Architecture & the Environment, Multicultural Arts, Museums on the Edge, Thinking Craft/Crafting Thought, Naive & Outsider Art, Film & Video, Sculpture, Contemporary Arts of the Region : South East Asia & Australia, and new methods of researching and national networking, as well as a wide canvassing of funding sources. More colour illustrations and perfect (square-back) binding were notable changes at this time.
From small beginnings, distribution has developed into a many-layered operation which includes subscriptions, bookshop and art gallery outlets, newsagents, regional galleries and, from 1989 till about 1994 bulk orders from various organisations for community distribution eg education depts, government depts (eg ATSIC, OMA, DFAT) and units of the Australia Council. Since late 1992 Artlink has also been distributed throughout the USA and from 1998 into Canada and New Zealand.
In 1991 one of the original regional imperatives of Artlink was reinstated with a decision to limit the Review section to the 'marginal' states of SA, WA, Tasmania, and the NT, with support from each state for regional editors. Content relating to the major theme of each issue, however, remained determinedly national. From 1998 the review policy was changed to include all states.
In late 1991 the Visual Arts/Crafts Board of the Australia Council - the major source of core funds for visual art journals in Australia) took a decision to select four out of the many national clients and new contenders for guaranteed three-year funding. Artlink was one of this four and from 1992 was in receipt of so-called First-Tier funding along with Art & Text, Agenda and Art Monthly Australia.. This later became Triennial Funding, with just Artlink and Art & Text as initial recipients. Artlink has continued to receive Triennial funding from the Australia Council since then.
In 1992 the Special Issue on contemporary Aboriginal art (first printed in 1990) was reprinted - a further 6,000 copies, due to continuing demand.
1992 saw the successful attraction of a major grant from the Dept of Foreign Affairs & Trade towards the production of a Special Double Issue on contemporary Art of SE Asia. The Editor and Chair travelled to SE Asia in Dec/Jan 1992/3 to promote and organise this project.
In 1994 the organisation underwent a change of corporate structure: Artlink Incorporated was dissolved and became Artlink Australia, a Company Limited by Guarantee with 3 Directors. This reflected a recognition that the Committee's talents would be more productively used on Editorial matters than on the financial and administrative management of the organisation, which in any case did not have the resources to service a large committee.
In 1996 Artlink took off in a radical new direction with the publication of Australia's first ever CD-Rom surveying multimedia interactive art. Funds were provided for this from the Australia Foundation for Culture & the Humanities and other sources. SEQUINZ was distributed free with the issue on Electronic Art in July 1996 and later as a standalone CD-Rom through bookshops and through overseas new media fairs and events.
In 1998 Artlink was awarded a special grant to promote the magazine and Australian art in the UK.
In 1999 Artlink was offered the chance to produce a special issue on contemporary Indigenous art as a sequel to the first one in 1990 which had since become a classic and much quoted reference. The offer came jointly from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Board of the Australia Council (ATSIAB) and was targeted at international visitors to Australia for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. 20,000 copies were printed the bulk of which were distributed as complimentaries to visitors. This issue titled Reconciliation: Indigenous art for the 21st Century is 128 pages in full colour throughout and has been widely praised by the art world and the general reader alike.
Artlink's 20th birthday was marked by the publication of The Anniversary Issue, guest edited by Stephanie Radok. Since then issues have tackled major themes such as Water, Childhood, Biotechnology, Place, War, terror and refugees, and the city of Brisbane.
Artlink has had solo booths at several overseas art fairs, including ARCO in Madrid (2001 and 2002) and the Berlin Art Forum (2003)
In March 2004 the special issue 'The China Phenomenon', co-edited by Binghui Huangfu and Stephanie Britton, was launched in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing to critical acclaim. Special support for this issue and promotion in China was received from the Australia-China Council, the NSW Ministry for the Arts. Assisting in the launches were the Asia Art Archives in Hong Kong, the Duolun Museum of Modern Art in Shanghai, and Red Gate Gallery in Beijing.
In 2005 'Ecology: Everyone's Business' tackled environmental issues from a vantage point of artists taking responsibility for raising consciousness in the wider community about the threat of imminent ecological collapse. In 2006 New Zealand came under the microscope.
In December 2006 Artlink celebrated its 25th Anniversary in style with a high energy event at Carclew in Adelaide to launch the bumper December issue The Old Magic: Elders of the Artworld. Greg Mackie, Head of Arts SA, was Master of Ceremonies and speakers included Dr Donald Brook, Dr Ian Gibbins, Dr Anna Haebich and the Hon Ian Hunter MLC.
Since then it has continued to produce outstanding themed issues including The Word as Art; Art, Mind, Beauty; Curating Creating; Rational Emotional; and in 2010 Blak on Blak, a landmark issue edited and written by Indigenous Australian writers and editors; followed by issues on The Underground, and Public Art.
The success nationally and internationally of Blak on Blak was the catalyst for a new initiative - Artlink Indigenous - where the June issues of 2011, 2o12 and 2013 will be themed on contemporary Indigenous art, with a commitment to promote and distribute this as widely as possible internationally. Special funding was committed to this by Copyright Agency Ltd (CAL) and Queensland Indigenous Art Marketing and Export Agency (QIAMEA).
Artlink's 30th birthday was celebrated with the first Artlink Award, given to Donald Brook for his writing and support for the magazine from its founding to the present day and for his book The Awful Truth about What Art Is, published by Artlink in 2009.