Prizes & awards
Prizes & awards
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The UK boasts literally hundreds of visual arts competitions annually. a-ns research reveals that art competitions make up around 36% of all openly offered opportunities for visual artists, and have an average value of £14,000.1
Although prizes and awards are important because they provide artists with no strings cash, they also offer a seal of approval from curators and other influential people and are one of the ways in which emerging talent is validated and its quality defined.
Winning a prize can have the function of easing an artists transition from one position to another within the art world from commercial gallery, teaching positions, publicly-funded exhibition, research fellowships, museum shows, international recognition, public grants, scholarships and back again to prizes.
1 Research carried out in 2006 using data from Opportunity listings between 2003-2005 as part of Art Work Analysed.
Prizes by competition
A prize or award from an open exhibition or competition can focus attention and raise an artists profile in a way that a regular exhibition can never do. Even submitting provides an opportunity for the work to be seriously looked at by an expert panel, and thus the possibility of being selected for the future projects those people are involved in.
Open prizes such as ING Discerning Eye, the various Jerwood Prizes, the Mark Tanner Sculpture Award, and New Contemporaries are featured in Nina Maddens Tour.
A number of prizes, such as the Artsway Open, offer the winner a professional development package including support towards a solo show which can be an important step for artists on the path to wider recognition.
The long-established John Moores Painting Prize aims to showcase the best new paintings produced in the UK and attracts a broad spectrum of artists vying for the £25,000 first prize.
With probably about half of UK artists working as painters, selection for this competition is highly valued. Work is selected anonymously from an open submission by the jury, which in 2011 included Gary Hume, Sir Norman Rosenthal and Goshka Macuga.
Some open exhibitions such as New Contemporaries have no actual prize winner but due to their highly competitive application process and recognised status for identifying rising stars, just being selected for inclusion can have a profile-raising effect.
Awards by nomination
Although many prizes and awards are allocated through an open submission process, a significant number are only open to artists who have been nominated by someone. This could be seen to reinforce the fortress-like gates to success in the contemporary arts scene and be perceived as secretive and elitist.
However, such awards carry kudos and undoubtedly are a stepping-stone to critical acclaim, more exhibitions and commissions. New awards such as the Maxmara Art Prize for Women and The Jarman Award are featured in Manick Govindas Tour as well as established ones like the Turner Prize, The Arts Foundation and the Hamlyn Awards.
The Paul Hamlyn Foundations awards scheme, set up in 1993, is probably the most respected and valued award in the UK with awards of £45,000 to artists spread over three years. Since 1993, the Foundation has invested nearly £2m in individual awards to artists using a changing panel of nominators and judges.
It is deliberately low-key providing artists with support at a critical juncture in their careers. It affords the artist freedom to be creative and open ended. There is no pressure to produce new work or an exhibition. Supporting five artists each year means that the Foundation can help both the much-neglected artist as well as the young guns.
Mature artists such as Gustav Metzger, Brian Catling, Phyllida Barlow and Horace Ove are all awards recipients. Other artists such as Olivia Plender, Bedwyr Williams and Phil Collins won the Hamlyn Award when they were around thirty years old.
Many of the awardees eventually turn up on the Turner shortlist Tomma Abts, Phil Collins, Jeremy Deller, Mike Nelson, Zarina Bhimji and Yinka Shonibare, to name a few were all winners of a Hamlyn Award long before being picked up by the Turner Prize.
Trusts and foundations
Few trusts make grants to individuals, hence the development of prizes and specific awards for artists linked directly to other institutions.
One reason is that trusts fear they will not be able to cope with the large number of applications they would receive from individuals. Another is that in theory at least it is less risky to give money to a legally constituted organisation with a board of directors or a committee to take responsibility for it.
One way to circumvent this rule is for the individual artist is to set up a limited company through which to apply for funds. In 2002, the Baring Foundation awarded £5,000 to Pigment Explosion for a visual arts project involving Bengali elders and school children.
Pigment Explosion is a one-person company set up by artist Sanchita Islam. As a result, she has been able to access funding that would not be available to her as an individual.
Setting up a company is a straightforward and not very expensive business. This may not suit everybody, but it can dramatically increase the range of funding opportunities available.
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As a subscriber, youll be able to explore at your leisure a stimulating range of features and profiles of key artists, projects and organisations and associated articles from a-n Magazine, providing insights into the grant-giving of various charitable trusts and foundations and the way they are supporting artists practice through prizes, awards and grants.
First published: a-n.co.uk March 2008, updated August 2011
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