Why an acquisitive art prize is a win for many

Including sponsored freight, a sponsored car wrapping deal, an artist’s residency and a pool of cash prizes, the Sunshine Coast Art Prize is a great opportunity for national exposure and networking.

With hundreds of art prizes offered across Australia, choosing which competition to enter is often confusing. While genre or a thematic match can be a good place to start, another consideration is the acquisitive nature of the prize.

‘As part of the collection, these artworks are often on display in their own rights as part of the wider exhibition program, well beyond the parameters of the Prize,’ said Samantha Jensen, acting Curator and Manager, Caloundra Regional Gallery.

Jensen is charged with curating the 16th edition of the Sunshine Coast Art Prize finalist exhibition later this year.

‘Because the Prize is judged independently each year, the Gallery has been consistently building a really diverse contemporary collection, and one with a growing national significance,’ she said.

The $25,000 Prize calls for artists working in two dimensions, however it not limited by theme. Jensen believes this open aspect of the national prize means that artists can enter their best work, rather than forcing the work.

Being shortlisted for the Prize has benefits that extend well beyond the winning entries. ‘For those finalists not represented [by galleries], being included increases their opportunity to be noticed, and even picked up by a commercial gallery. And given that the Prize is nationally recognised, it really helps in building prominence and collectability for those artists selected,’ Jensen explained.

The Sunshine Coast Art Prize’s partnership with International Art Services (IAS) ensures that freight to and from the artist’s studio to the gallery is sponsored, an attractive proposition for artists who may be considering entering the Prize.

‘That is really important, especially considering we are a national prize. The risk in sending artworks that may not be sold, or don’t win a prize, is a financial output not all artists can manage,’ said Jensen.

During the exhibition period the gallery offers a full program of workshops and talks, with the opportunity of paid travel and professional development offered to many finalists.

Aside from artists, it also opens up opportunities for philanthropists to get involved in the support of the arts community. ‘This financial support, such as the support we receive from our major sponsor Argon Law, enables us to continue to recognise and promote the value of the arts,’ she added.

Exposure beyond the gallery walls

Taking the Prize online last year as an outcome of the Coronavirus pandemic, meant that ‘finalists benefit from the national exposure, as we all spent more time in the virtual world,’ said Jensen, adding that it also created greater networking opportunities.

‘More so than in the last five years, we noticed that the finalists – Australia wide – were very connected online during the exhibition, and there was a lot more energy and conversation around our general [social media] posts.’

While many arts organisations and prizes had online platforms pre-pandemic, the buzz around the Prize’s virtual exhibition last year demonstrated the value that such platforms add to the physical exhibition.

Such exposure will continue in 2021, with a considered focus on producing digital content surround each of the finalists and forthcoming edition of the Prize.

On top of the money on the table, an artist’s residency is also offered, alongside the potential for selected finalists to have their artwork wrapped around an Art Car and driven around the Sunshine Coast during the exhibition, further expanding the reach of exposure.

Natalya Hughes, Gestural Body Painting. Winner, Sunshine Coast Art Prize 2020. Image courtesy of the Sunshine Coast Art Collection.

Jensen’s tips on entering

As with any prize that an artist might be considering entering, Jensen encouraged would-be entrants to research the prize first – its history of finalists, its criteria and its guidelines.

‘Particularly as the Sunshine Coast Art Prize is acquisitive, I would encourage artists to check out the Sunshine Coast Art Collection and have a think about how their work aligns with the collecting aims, and to ask if they see themselves as a good fit in that gallery collection,’ Jensen told ArtsHub.

‘On a super practical level, I would also stress to have all your image documentation in order prior to entering. When the panel sits to choose the finalists for the Prize, it is done based on those images submitted – not the actual works – so make sure you have a good, high resolution image with your application.’

She concluded: ‘For me, the Sunshine Coast Art Prize is really grounded in that knowledge that it is now a well-established prize and has a national profile. Plus, it is a really good reflection on the climate of contemporary Australian art – the feedback is that artists feel they are in good company alongside their peers and mentors.’

Key dates

  • Call for entries: 22 February to 10 May 2021
  • Finalists announced: 15 June 2021
  • Exhibition: 27 August to 10 October 2021

Prizes and supporters

  • Major Prize: $25,000 – funded by major sponsor Argon Law and Sunshine Coast Council;
  • Highly Commended Prize: $5,000 – sponsored by the De Deyne Family;
  • People’s Choice Prize: $2,500 – funded by the Caloundra Chamber of Commerce.  
  • Artist Residency Prize – sponsored by Montville Country Cabins Sunshine Coast Art Cars wrapped with selected finalist artworks – supported by Coastline BMW

Learn more about entering the Sunshine Coast Art Prize.

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