Regional arts get a boost with a record prize pool 

Flying Arts Alliance announces a massive increase in support and sponsorship for its annual signature event, the Queensland Regional Arts Awards.

Founded in 1971 by renowned artist and entrepreneur, Mervyn Moriarty, Flying Arts Alliance (FAA) has a rich and impressive history of taking art out into regional and rural Queensland. Unique within Australia, both for its longevity and its variety of arts-based ventures, FAA is highly respected for arts touring as well as offering training and development opportunities to those living in remote areas. Additionally, FAA runs a prestigious annual signature event, the Queensland Regional Arts Awards (QRAAs), open to Queensland artists who live outside the Brisbane metropolitan area.

Recently retired Queensland Court of Appeal judge, the Honourable Anthe Philippides, who has been the Chair of FAA since 2022, believes that the arts are absolutely vital for humanity. She says: ‘No matter what career one pursues, we can all learn from the broader perspective an arts education brings – I think the arts are essential for all students.’  

She tells ArtsHub: ‘It struck me that Flying Arts with its 50-year legacy in regional arts is an extraordinary accomplishment. I feel keenly the responsibility as someone to whom the baton has been handed to make sure that it is well-placed to continue for another 50 years.’

Her passion for the arts in general has clearly inspired Philippides to work tirelessly with her committee to increase the annual pool of money available to artists for the QRAA, elevating the awards to one of the most valuable in Australia for regional artists. In just over a year, FAA has been able to increase the total prize pool from $40,000 last year to an impressive $140,000 in 2023, with all the sponsorship prize money going directly to artists. Modestly, she states: ‘We really just went out and told the story of Flying Arts and why it is unique. And when people hear that story, they can sense something quite authentic at the heart of what Flying Arts is. And I think that authenticity has remained through the 50 years of stewardship by many dedicated people.’  

The legacy of Mervyn Moriarty

Mervyn Moriarty was clearly an extraordinary human being and artist, well-known and loved by many across regional Queensland. Himself an established and recognised painter, particularly as a colourist, he also had the gift of being a marvellous teacher and loved sharing his knowledge of how to paint. His vision in setting up Flying Arts was to support rural, regional and remote arts communities to enrich their cultural lives while assisting to launch careers. He famously took flying lessons in order to establish a flying arts school to provide art lessons across remote Queensland and flew more than 400,000 kilometres between 1971 and 1983 to deliver art education.

His long-term partner and fellow artist, Prue Acton, remembers Moriarty as great painter, the recipient of many awards and someone who was undeterred by any obstacles. She tells ArtsHub: ‘What Merv recognised was a huge need for creative endeavour in regional and remote Queensland. And he loved travelling, giving workshops and organising local exhibitions.’ 

She continues: ‘He also encouraged a high standard of local artistic achievement and was instrumental in helping Queensland artists to be recognised and have careers.’

Philippides adds:[Moriarty] was tireless in his efforts to set up Flying Arts and his commitment to regional arts is legendary. It’s beyond extraordinary. He was so committed to regional Queenslanders having access to the arts.’

The Queensland Regional Arts Awards

The QRAAs were created by FAA in 2010 as a visual arts prize and exhibition for established and emerging artists living in regional and remote Queensland. The awards provide a high-profile opportunity for artists to showcase their work, reaching new audiences outside their locality.

The QRAAs feature diverse visual arts categories that respond to a selected theme and this year the theme is ‘Perspective’, inviting artists to consider the concept in all its many facets, viewpoints and nuances.    

There are 10 award categories, which include the ‘Art for Life’ Award with a total prize pool of $40,000 and The Mervyn Moriarty Landscape Award with a pool of $28,900. Additionally, there are prize pools of $15,000 each for the First Nations Artist Award, Remote Artist Award, Emerging Artist Award and Environmental Art Award. All awards include a non-acquisitive cash component, but also offer valuable in-kind professional development opportunities. These include solo and potential touring exhibitions, plus possible residencies, showcases or editorials. 

Kellie O’Dempsey. Image: Supplied.

Philippides says: ‘The prize pool for the 2023 QRAAs properly recognises the amazingly talented established and emerging Queensland artists living outside the Brisbane City Council area and their importance to our community.’  

Entries are now open and close on 6 October, with finalists announced on 16 October and their artworks displayed at the Judith Wright Arts Centre in Brisbane from 24 to 29 November. Winners will be announced at a Gala Reception on 24 November.

What it means to artists and the regions

The opportunities for award-winners are many and diverse.

Rosella Namok was the winner of the First Nations Artist Award in 2022 with her huge sculptural piece. Additionally, five of her paintings on canvas will be included in a collaborative project with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra in Cairns in September. 

An experimental performative artist working in mixed media, Kellie O’Dempsey was the winner of last year’s QRAA ‘Art for Life’ Award, with her work, Wish you were here.

This was her first application to the QRAAs, but her background with Flying Arts includes delivering workshops and mentoring emerging artists. 

She tells ArtsHub: ‘We have this amazing cultural diversity in regional Queensland and the great thing about Flying Arts is that it has brought a lot of practical skills to the regions to develop artistic practice. We now have a very high calibre of artwork coming out of the regions, and I am also a strong advocate for touring the excellence of art in the regions.’ 

Winning the award was important for Dempsey, not just because of the always welcome cash component, but because it opened up many other avenues for her. She cites being offered a wonderful residency in the Torres Strait on Thursday Island as part of her prize and also the opportunity for a write-up in the much-lauded Artist Profile. She says: ‘That’s a really exciting thing for an artist to have a write-up about their practice and have it published, especially in Artist Profile. I was very lucky.’       

Additionally, she has accepted representation by the prestigious Jan Manton Gallery and adds: ‘I am excited to be associated with such an interesting range of artists represented by Jan Manton. It’s a great opportunity for me.’

Moreover, she believes: ‘The increase of $100,000 in sponsorships for the awards will help really raise the calibre and number of applications for the awards and is a big boost for Flying Arts and regional Queensland.’  

More information on the Flying Arts Alliance and Queensland Regional Arts Awards.

Suzannah Conway is an experienced arts administrator, having been CEO of Opera Queensland, the Brisbane Riverfestival and the Centenary of Federation celebrations for Queensland. She is a freelance arts writer and has been writing reviews and articles for over 20 years, regularly reviewing classical music, opera and musical theatre in particular for The Australian and Limelight magazine as well as other journals. Most recently she was Arts Hub's Brisbane-based Arts Feature Writer.