A Pre-Selector’s Purview – February 2016
For a small town, Alice Springs seems to have a disproportionately high number of artists. I became aware of this when working for the NT Writers’ Centre in Darwin and gained a sense of Alice’s strong, active writing community. As anthologies of Alice writers continued to find publication, I wondered ‘why are there no concurrent anthologies of Darwin writing?’. Aside from disproportionate numbers, this also said something about the cohesion and mobilising force of Alice’s arts community.
The Alice Prize continues in this vein, managed and nurtured by the Alice Springs Art Foundation in partnership with the Araluen Arts Centre as host venue. Darwin by contrast doesn’t have its own art foundation which, in the current ‘find your own’ funding climate towards greater corporate and philanthropic support, wouldn’t be such a bad idea. The Alice Springs Art Foundation began in the 1970’s, fuelled by the ‘idea of putting Alice Springs on the map by holding a national art competition’.
I have known about the Alice Prize for some time though have never seen the exhibition and, until last February, never had the opportunity to sit on its preselection panel, which was a thrill – a necessarily drawn-out thrill over 2 days and around 450 entries.
With co-preselectors Raymond Arnold and Edwina Circuitt, we witnessed a diverse array of art: from big names to lesser-known names and names that will no doubt get bigger with the platform of Alice Prize finalist selection. The Prize is very open in terms of medium which helps to keep it current and in step with contemporary practice. This year there is a relatively low number of entrants from Central/Western Desert Aboriginal artists who in many ways since 1970 have also put Alice on the map. A predominance of this work, however, given it’s a national award, might also seem parochial.
As pre-selectors I think we were fairly rigorous, that through the tweaks and tussle of our deliberations, we feel confident in giving Mr Saines (Director, QAG | GOMA) an exciting and high-calibre finalist exhibition to judge in the symbolic heart of the nation.
Maurice O’Riordan, March 2016