24 August 2023

Longtime manager farewells Pormpuraaw Art Centre

| Sarah Martin
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Mr Jakubowski teaching Pormpuraaw students etching.

AFTER more than a decade of guiding and supporting a group of award-winning artists, Paul Jakubowski has hung up his hat and retired as the manager of Pormpuraaw Art Centre.

What he expected to be a short-term role ended up in 14 years of community involvement that saw the remote town’s artists and art centre elevated to the international stage.

“When I went to Pormpuraaw I had no idea where I was going,” he said.

“I didn’t even know how to pronounce it.

“I never thought I was going to be there for 14 years, or almost 14 years – I’m one month shy!”

Mr Jakubowski grew up just outside New York City and is a professional artist by trade, with years of management, teaching and business under his belt.

When he arrived in the western Cape York community, he found a quiet art centre focused mainly on painting, with minimal sales.

One of the centre’s signature mediums are huge sculptures woven from abandoned fishing nets, called ghost nets, which were influenced by the centre manager.

“When I arrived we were making baskets and things like that with the ghost nets, so I made the first sculpture with a coat hanger as a frame; I made a dog and a crab,” Mr Jakubowski recalled.

“It just took off from there and we became very well-known for our ghost net work.”

Mr Jakubowski said he learned with Pormpuraaw’s arts community, absorbing everything he could.

Mr Jakubowski has retired after 14 years at the helm of Pormpuraaw’s award-winning art centre.

“We also became very well known for our printing,” he said.

“I wasn’t a printer, but I am now – I’ve learned alongside them.”

Mr Jakubowski credited the community, and especially the Elders, for keeping his passion alive.

“The Elders would come up to me and thank me and appreciate me, and that’s probably why I stayed all these years,” he said.

“It was very hard to leave, Pormpuraaw people are good people and I’m going to miss them. I had no idea what to expect when I went there and I was welcomed and appreciated, especially by the Elders, and I would like to thank them.”

Despite the centre’s stellar statistics since he came on board, with more than 90 artists involved and millions of dollars worth of sales, Mr Jakubowski was quick to put credit firmly where it’s due. “It’s not my legacy, it’s the artist’s legacy … the Elders’,” he said.

“My wife says it’s the kind of job I was made for, but at the end of the day, it’s up to the artists and the community, it has to come from them, it can’t just come from outsiders.

“To me it’s a success and I’m amazed – when I went there 14 years ago I never thought we’d be having artwork in galleries in Europe and with collectors all over.”

Mr Jakubowski with renowned Pormpuraaw artist Syd Bruce Shortjoe.

He said the centre was literally and figuratively at the heart of the community.

“The art centre is located right in the middle of the community, the town centre is where everyone comes, everyone is welcome and it’s a real hub and meeting place,” he said.

Mr Jakubowski said of all the artist’s achievements during his tenure, he was most proud of the five books the centre published.

“It’s a long-term legacy, many years from now our descendants will be reading those books. I think I’m most proud of that,” he said.

The art centre management has been taken over by Ellen Maugeri, a Pormpuraaw local.

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