Don Whyte and "Going off..."

Don Whyte runs a framing place in Darwin. But, as anyone who has spent 5 minutes with Don knows, he likes to do a bit more than run a shop that puts some glass and wood around your new favourite picture – though they do that very well.

Every – well almost every – year for the past few years Don and his crew at his eponymous shop put together a show – that is for mine the best opening of the year in Darwin or anywhere else in the NT.

I caught up with Don at the shop a week or so after this year’s Offcuts – here is Don’s tale of the why, the how and what of the annual Don Whyte Framing Offcuts show…

Don Whyte: One day we made a big mistake – the boys cut a whole lot of stuff for a really big job. I came in and said “What are they?” and they said “Oh, that is for so-and-so” and I said “They are the wrong size!” and the boys went all sheepish and said “Oh, shit!” and then they went back and checked and we ended up with all these 200mm long offcuts – hundreds of them.

So we made 60 tiny little frames – 200 x 200 and gave them to our friends who were artists – they all thought it was a cracker of an idea that we raise money for a charity. That was the very first year – 2006. And, apart from last year, we’ve been doing it every year since.

A few of this year's works...

The next decision was what to with the proceeds. The best idea was to give them to some sort of charity. The artists were given three choices: The could donate 100% of the value of their work to out chosen charity, they could donate 50% or they could donate 15%.

We figured that allowing the individuals to decide would give them control of the monetary value of their artworks and where that money went – once the works were hung we organised the opening and charity sale. It was fantastic. Of the 77 works, 52 works sold with a final total of $2,480 raised for the charity and this was exceptionally well received by the arts community.

Fergal Fleming – a staff member at Don Whyte Framing – has a history of working with the Ibilanku Community Health Centre in eastern Uganda. This was the place we chose to give the proceeds of the first Offcuts show. The health centre is a small hospital with an out-patient clinic, a maternity house and a nutrition program for orphaned babies.

We helped to finance the purchase of milking goats, a bicycle to collect fodder and the construction costs of doubling the size of the goat house at the health centre.

In 2007 we decided to have a second show after many enquiries from artists and buyers but without the excuse of abundant small scraps of offcuts…once again it was well-received and exceeded all of our expectations with 98 artworks including video, glass, ceramics and paintings.

$3,870 was raised and a number of emerging art collectives in Timor-Leste (Sanggar Matan in Manatuto, Arte Moris Art School in Bacau and Sangar Masin in Dili) were chosen to get various arts supplies including canvas, brushes and paints. Joanna Barrkman at Museums and Art Galleries of the NT and Arbilio Da Silva from the National Directorate of Culture in Timor-Leste helped us to distribute the proceeds.

Don Whyte and his Offcuts

In addition to this practical support of art supplies a one-off sum of $1,000 has been given to the emerging artists from Arte Moris Art School in Dili, Gibrael Dias Soares Carocho is due to start a 12 month course in photography at the Institute of in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

In 2008 we did the same thing. We’ve given money to the Andrew McMillan Fund at the NT Writers Centre and the Corrugated Iron Youth Centre. We’ve also provided circus equipment, did a training workshop at the Bagot community in Darwin and a canvas-stretching workshop in Dili, Timor-Leste. We went to Dili and bought them some equipment – the Darwin City Council bought us an airfare as part of their sister city program.

In 2008 we raised $7,070 – $5,200 went to charities. $1,800 went back to the artists. We do it because of popular demand – to make ourselves feel good, the artists love it an the artists just turn up once the word goes out. They turn up from Katherine – 300 kilometres down the track – they turn up from everywhere. They love it and it is a good night…we put on the drinks and everyone brings some food and everybody has a great night and hopefully snaps up a bargain.

The Northern Myth: Any favourites from this year?

DW: Oh, I always have favourites! (laughs) These guys [pointing to a group of bird paintings] are great – this is a family, mum, dad and the daughter. Chips Mackinolty – who isn’t in this year – he has always been a great supporter.

TNM: So what do you do from here – get bigger or what?

DW: No, I think it has just about hit the right size now…

TNM: You can’t fill anymore than this wall in the shop…

DW: Yes, well there are people that want it. They say we should hire a space elsewhere and grow it. My reaction to that is “bugger off!!” The thing is that people love it…the punters, artists…people come along and ask “Why aren’t you doing this all around Australia?” They tried to do the same thing in Melbourne but the artists in Melbourne are like – they sell their work for like $2,000 each…

Why do I do this job? Well I make a living out of this, as do a few of my workers. I get to go all over the Top End of the country and get to meet some great people – not just artists – lots of great people out on communities- all over the place.

We do this because we like it and more importantly, our clients like it. This is a community thing. 99% of people that were here last Saturday night have been here before. So they like it enough to come back. We don’t advertise it – it is all word of mouth – that’s why there were 312 people here last Saturday night – not all at once of course…

TNM: And you got a dollar out of most of them presumably?

DW: Definitely! I reckon from the other night that we will walk away with at least seven or eight thousand dollars…

TNM: And where will you put that this year?

DW: Some will go back to the young guys going to University…we’ll make sure that that continues. We’ve been supporting them for the last two years and we’ll do it for another year. We’ve just given some more money to some young guys going to Tasmania to play hockey…so anything really.

Seriously, if people have a good idea and they reckon it is a goer then let us know! We don’t give to things like the Red Cross, or…although I’d like to give to the Fred Hollows Foundation. We don’t give to those because we hand over cash we don’t want any administration costs. We could give it all to the Red Cross Japanese appeal…but there are things happening in our local community that can benefit.

TNM: How many works this year?

DW: 116, and by the end of the show I reckon we will sell 100 at least…

TNM: Tell me about the paperbag trick?

DW: Brown paper bag? Of course. We make sure that it goes out in a brown paper bag because we want to make sure all the money gets where it should…there is always a cross-over between whether it is graft, corruption or both (laughs). That is what we did with the nurses who went to Uganda – we handed them a paper bag of $US dollars.

And they took it there and they built the shed, bought the goats, bought the bicycle. In Timor we gave them $1,000 cash and they banked it and gave a bank receipt. And then the rest of the materials that went to Timor we bought locally and sent it over.

TNM: So what is the bomb [re Don’s own contribution this year, the bomb in the top picture here] called?

DW: “Goin’ Off”. A guy came in here from the Navy the other day and…I asked him if they’d taught him how to stop these from going off…and I handed it to him like this. He looked at me…for a split second his training crept in and he goes like “You’ve just given me a bomb”…(laughs)