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How to win: Your guide to upcoming art prizes

Brooke Boland

Several art prizes are quickly approaching so we asked the experts what separates the winning works from the rest.
How to win: Your guide to upcoming art prizes


Every art prize has its own criteria. Understanding the values of a particular prize​ is essential to increasing your chance of making the shortlist.

Whether you are thinking of entering just one or wanting to shoot for as many as possible, you will want to know what the judges, curators and previous winners advise as you consider which works to enter or how to frame a work created especially for competition. 

Gallipoli Art Prize

​The Gallipoli ​Art Prize is awarded to the artist who best depicts the spirit of the Gallipoli Campaign as expressed in the Creed of the Gallipoli Memorial Club.

Sydney-based artist Geoff Harvey, who won the Prize in 2012 with his work Trench Interment, advised artists who are considering entering the Gallipoli Art Prize to avoid clichés and to paint from the heart.

‘It’s always hard to give advice to artists because they’re such diverse people, but what I’ve noticed from the Prize is the ones that are in the show are always very personal pictures.’

One tip artists should know is to think more broadly than literal depictions. John Robertson, Chairman of the Gallipoli Art Prize Selection Committee, said the prize isn’t about war.

 ‘Respect, loyalty – you can portray those things in all sorts of ways and it doesn’t have to be about war. So read the creed, think about those qualities, and go for it.’

Read: $20,000 opportunity for artists

The Guirguis New Art Prize

The Guirguis New Art Prize (GNAP) calls for ‘new’ art but interprets the concept of 'new' very widely to include experimental practice or materials and different ways of working.

Unlike most art prizes, this one is selected through curatorial nominations from curators. Hinton asks leading curators to suggest artists that are on their radar. Once a shortlist is nominated, Hinton approaches the artists and they have the option of submitting a proposal for the GNAP.

Getting nomination for the Guirguis requires artists to put themselves out there and invite influential creators to see their work. Hinton said in her experience artists get curators’ attention through a myriad of ways.

‘Artists will be on the radar of curators through exhibitions curated at their gallery, from viewing exhibitions curated at other local public galleries and ARIs, through observing artists working in local studios who may also be represented and exhibiting at local commercial galleries.’

Read: An art prize with an exclusive pitch

AGL Viewing Platform Art and Design Competition

The one-off art award ​managed by Broken Hill Art Exchange is looking for an artist who can make a statement within a number of frameworks: aesthetic, environmental and practical.

In this case the experience of the artists is irrelevant and the approach the judges are looking for is strong and simple. 

Susan Thomas, Artistic Director of Broken Hill Art Exchange, said entrants needed to keep in mind the budget for the build, the natural landscape and the architectural heritage of the city.

Read: Design a landmark for renewable energy

The Clarence Prize

This prize for excellence in furniture design is looking for work that is both beautiful and functional. 

The aims of the Clarence Prize are to promote excellence and innovation in art/design practice, to enhance the City of Clarence art collection with the acquisition of significant works and to present a high quality exhibition of furniture design.

Liam Mugavin, Winner of the 2015 Clarence Prize, said furniture designers thinking of entering the prize should 'go for it' because of the opportunities it affords.

'Even if you’re not trying to win, it’s a good thing to push yourself to really develop a piece and get your work out there.' As many furniture designers juggle running their own business and completing commissions on time, a good tip is to set extra time aside each year or two so you can develop your craft through prizes such as this.

Read: $20,0000 biennial prize for designers

The Mid West Art Prize

Words can also matter when entering a prize. For the  Mid West Art Prize, a short description of up to 150 words describing each work submitted is wanted, not just a discussion of the artist's general approach to their practice. Artists are also advised to include a short, sharp and up-to-date CV.

The Gallery also advises entrants to pay attention to those little bits of your application that may seem minor.

For example, many applicants can improve on the quality of images. Providing clear, high resolution in the right format makes it easier for judges to look at your work without distraction.

Read: Prestigious art award returns

City of Rockingham Art Awards 

Local awareness and a specific understanding of place can be very important for regional and local government awards..

Joanne Duffy, who was awarded the City of Rockingham Open Award in 2015, advises artists to pay attention to places they may know well. 

 ‘For local artists who are entering I would recommend they have a look around where they live and perhaps pick something that means something to them locally,’ she said. 

Duffy chose Lake Richmond, a natural swampland slated for redevelopment. ‘Lake Richmond is in a part of Rockingham where a marina is going to be built – which there is a lot of opposition to. The reason I choose a local untouched area was just to highlight what is in our backyards. People often overlook what’s there,’ said Duffy.

Read: Stretch your audience westward

City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder Art Prize

While the works received for the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder Art Prize are diverse, there is definitely a strong regional character to the awards.

‘[The winning entry] often has a Kalgoorlie flavour or a Goldfields flavour, but not always; the winner of the Best Painting last year had a coastal flavour,’ said Caitlin Chessell, Events and Projects Coordinator for the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder.

‘There’s an incredible local buy-in. From an average of 250 entries, about 150 are from local artists.

'The event particularly showcases the cultural vibrancy and heritage of Kalgoorlie-Boulder and the Goldfields region of Australia… it supports and develops the artistic and curatorial vitality of Kalgoorlie-Boulder,' she said. 

Read: The gold standard for regional art

Fisher's Ghost Art Awards

In some awards, the range of categories is so diverse that artists have almost a free range.

The Fisher’s Ghost Art Awards encompass nine categories:  open, traditional, contemporary, drawing, painting and printmaking, sculpture, photography, the James Gleeson Surrealism Award and the Aboriginal Art Award.

Campbelltown Arts Centre is proud of the diversity of entries that the prize has received across a broad spectrum of different media and artistic disciplines. In 2016, it received close to a thousand entries.

Applicants this year are advised to look at past winners across the various categories of the awards. By looking at previous winners you can often get a better sense of what the judges may look for. In the case of the Fisher’s Ghost Art Award, you’ll notice a leaning towards high quality works from artists who are pushing the boundaries, with previous winners including Elisabeth Cummings, Khaled Sabsabi, and Raquel Ormella.

Read: The ghost of a good thing

City of Stonnington Arts and Cultural Grants

While art prizes are an important source of support for many artists, grants programs may offer broader criteria, focused on providing cultural vitality to a region.

 The Arts and Cultural Grants Program run by the City of Stonnington is a current example. Open to residents outside the municipality, the emphasis is still on the local economy and residents.

‘This year, we’re looking for applications from organisations and art-based initiatives that want to present high quality, dynamic and innovative Stonnington-based activities to enhance the cultural and economic development of our city,’ said City of Stonnington Mayor Jami Klisaris.

Applicants are advised to think of initiatives that enhance the quality of life and wellbeing of Stonnington residents, while also attracting visitors to the area.

For those applying, there will be an information session about the grants program on Thursday 9 February from 5:30-6:30 pm AEDT at MARS Gallery in Windsor, VIC.

Read: City of Stonnington boosts culture grants

About the author

Brooke Boland is a Melbourne-based freelance writer.