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$20,000 biennial prize for designers

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Brooke Boland

Beyond the prize money, the Clarence Prize provides opportunities to build exhibiting skills and future commissions.
$20,000 biennial prize for designers

Image: supplied. 

The Clarence Prize for Excellence in Furniture Design is one of the most established and lucrative Australian prizes for furniture designers.

Previous winner Laura McCusker said those who are shortlisted represent ‘the top of Australian design’.

‘It is quite a small and regional exhibition in many ways but it really pulls in the big hitters and to meet those people is really amazing,’ said McCusker.

The biennial prize is awarded to Australian designers and is back in 2017 with a major acquisitive prize of $20,000. Works acquired through the prize going into the City of Clarence’s art collection in Tasmania.


There are also two non-acquisitive prizes of $1,500 each – one for a work that is highly commended, and the second for an emerging artist/designer. Entries close April 13.

View call for entries here 

But it’s not just the prize money that makes the Clarence Prize valuable for designers.

McCusker said that it was a great opportunity for her to set down the tools and do some exhibition work to help her career. ‘Committing to exhibiting ideally once a year, or even once every couple of years, is an important part of your professional development,’ she said.

I-Beam Bench, 2013. Laura McCusker. Image supplied.

Her winning work I-Beam Bench was originally developed for the refurbishment of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG).

‘It was developed specifically to suit the brief and to suit what TMAG needed but I was really happy with the revolution of the design and how it ended up turning out and [the Clarence Prize] was a nice opportunity to take I-Beam out of that context and show it to a broader audience,’ said McCusker.

She also pointed out that unlike some prizes that are attached to a residency or professional development opportunities, The Clarence Prize is solely a monetary award - which is actually a huge benefit for those running their own business and juggling other commitments.

‘Different people have different parts of their life they have to balance whether that is partners or children or other work and while those opportunities are fantastic, sometimes they are difficult to fit in with your life.’

‘Having a prize where there is a cash award means you can actually choose where you want to invest that back into your own business and your own professional development in a way that you know is right for you. It is quite empowering in that it gives you the opportunity to be self directed.’

Finding future commissions

If you are still unsure about entering, you should also consider how entering a prize could help you find future commissions. Even if you don’t win one of the prizes, there is a great opportunity to network with other designers and potential clients. 

‘I met some great architects through the exhibition and that has led to a number of commissions and even an ongoing working relationship with a local architect,’ said McCusker.

Liam Mugavin, Winner of the 2015 Clarence Prize for his work Koto Light, also said that while the prize money was nice, it wasn’t the main benefit.

‘The main benefits are getting the recognition amongst all of my peers and the exposure that it created.’ 

‘The recognition in the furniture and design industry led to a few other jobs down the track. When clients were considering me for jobs it gave them more confidence in going with me,’ he said.

Koto Light, 2015. Liam Mugavin. Photography Samuel Shelley.​

At the time Mugavin was based in Adelaide, but once a few people approached him to do projects in Sydney after winning the award he decided to move his business and is now located in Sydney.

‘I can look back now and see that a lot of the steps I’ve taken in my practice since winning that award I wouldn’t have taken otherwise.’

‘It’s definitely worth it. It is really a good thing even if you’re not trying to win, it’s a good thing to push yourself to develop a piece and get your work out there.’

The Clarence Prize 2017 finalists’ exhibition will be held from 8 Sept – 8 Oct in the Barn at Rosny Farm. Entries close April 13.

For further information visit

About the author

Brooke Boland is a Melbourne-based freelance writer.