Free prize entry acknowledges artists’ contribution

Deakin University’s Contemporary Small Sculpture Award encourages life-long creative learning, and a $15,000 career boost.

Established in 2009 the Deakin University Art Gallery’s Contemporary Small Sculpture Award is one of the oldest small sculpture prizes in Australia. It is currently readying for its next edition, and is calling for entries.

What sets Deakin’s Award out from other sculpture prizes is that it doesn’t charge an entry fee.

Leanne Willis, Deakin’s Senior Manager Art Collection and Galleries, says, ‘I do feel very strongly that the Award should stay without an entry fee; it’s something we are proud of. It is an important acknowledgement of the contribution that the artist has made in the first place.’

She adds that it also removes any barriers to entry, making it a truly national prize. ‘It is important for a prize based at a university to have that range of career perspectives, and to support both ends of the spectrum from emerging to established – it’s a key pillar of ours, “life-long learning” and it doesn’t matter when you start your creative learning journey.’

The Award receives around 300 entries each year, with 40 finalists selected for exhibition.

What is the appeal of small sculpture?

Deakin University has a very broad, established collection of large outdoor sculptures across its four campuses. ‘When we established the Contemporary Small Sculpture Award back in 2009, it was about establishing linkages with our Collection’s strengths – which includes sculptures – but to do it in a way that was more accessible, both to artists and to people viewing the collection,’ says Willis.

‘By keeping the Award to a certain dimension, 70 centimetres, that has enabled us to have a broad range of representation from a wide range of different media, and a wide range of artists all in the one place,’ she adds.

Willis describes the Award as ‘a wonderful snapshot of contemporary Australian sculpture’.

‘Each year we have a different judging panel, so that ensures the exhibition always has a different look, and works are selected [with a view to] keeping that dialogue around sculpture fresh.’

While the size and weight dimensions are pretty rigid, Willis says that artists can let loose with regards to the materials they use, keeping the Award ambitious both conceptually and aesthetically.

‘The media is very broad; last year’s winning work by Scotty So, Surburbkin in Red, 01 (2022), was made from one of those $2 bags from the “reject shop”, with other sculptures that year covering everything from bronze, to wood, to glass.’

She continues: ‘We have even had sculptures made from pasta in the past, and another from bone. We want people who come and see the exhibition to get a broad understanding of what contemporary sculpture entails, and can be.’

While the small scale of these artworks alleviates some financial burden, Willis says the scale also helps reduce freight costs. ‘What we found interesting, during the pandemic, was that a lot of artists were unable to get to their studios, so artists were working with materials that were accessible at home and with different media. That experimentation continues.’

 ‘Acquisitive’ means so much more at Deakin

The winning artwork will enter the University Collection, with a healthy $15,000 awarded to the artist/collective who created it.

While most art collecting institutions only have the capacity to have less than 10% of their artworks on display, Willis says that at Deakin they ‘aim for 50% on display across every campus, so that students, staff and anyone on campus, can experience work by contemporary Australian artists’.

‘It comes back to that accessibility,’ she explains. ‘And on top of being seen, these works are referenced in research, or loaned for other exhibitions.’

When asked about the difference between small sculptures and maquettes, Willis says that, in some ways, the objects are interchangeable as either small sculptures or as small-scaled maquettes for larger sculptures.

The Award celebrates ‘well-resolved small sculptures in their own right,’ she explains to ArtsHub.

But some of the artworks could quite easily work at a larger scale. In fact, Willis notes that some small sculptures do go on to become larger works and a number of past finalists have been offered commissions to upscale their Award entries. For others, however, ‘from an engineering point of view, they wouldn’t translate’, she says.

Entries for the Award are submitted online, again ‘keeping it accessible’.

Need to know

There is no cost to enter, and entries are made online. Only one entry is allowed per artist, as an individual or joint entrant.

Artworks can be any medium, but have to be free-standing, no more than 70 centimetres in any dimension, and under 30 kilograms in weight. They must also have been made in the 12 months prior to entry.

Entries open:  Monday 24 April 2023
Entries close: Midnight Friday 23 June 2023
Artists notified of selection: Friday 21 July 2023
Exhibition of finalists: Wednesday 23 August to Friday 13 October 2023, at Deakin’s Burwood campus in Melbourne.

Deakin University Art Gallery’s Contemporary Small Sculpture Award is organised by the Art Collection and Galleries Unit at Deakin University, Victoria. The Award is judged by Leanne Willis, along with two external judges, one of whom is an artist.

Additional to the acquisitive award of $15,000, a non-acquisitive cash People’s Choice is also awarded.

For more information, or to request being added to the Award mailing list, please email

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina