The idea of putting Alice Springs on the map by holding a national art competition was conceived in 1969, and in 1970 the first Alice Prize was born.
The brave group of volunteer administrators was led by businessman and MLA Bernie Kilgariff, who became the founding President of the Alice Springs Art Foundation Inc.
With prestigious judges, attractive prize money and free air freight, The Alice Prize was an enticing event.
A great response from artists, the media and the public ensured that Opening Night was not only the highlight of the Alice Springs social calendar, but a significant event on the national art scene.
In 1970 and 1971 selected works were toured interstate, and a film was made by Channel 7 in Adelaide.
By contrast to this promotional success, there were severe logistical problems for exhibiting the works.
For many years The Alice Prize was held in a corrugated iron shed, walls painstakingly masked by hundreds of metres of hessian. Later it shifted to the top floor of a commercial building, the basement of a government office, and the hospital Nurses’ Lounge – “interesting” locations.
Entries were in categories. The Alice Prize winner could come from any category. With no limit on the number of works, receiving, cataloguing, and hanging were mammoth tasks. The Art Foundation acquired the Alice Prize winner, and often additional works, to form the basis of a collection of national contemporary art.
Storage became an acute problem. Many works were lent to banks and various other foster homes. The Art Foundaton joined with other voices to lobby the government for a proper public art centre – efforts rewarded in 1984 with the completion of the Araluen Centre for Arts and Entertainment.
The Alice Prize, at long last, had a venue of suitable distinction and the Collection had a proper home.
Pre-selection began in 1990, together with bigger prize money and a residency in Alice Springs for the winner. Categories had already been abolished and artists restricted to one entry. The number of works went down; and sizes and prices went up.
By 2000, the Alice Prize Collection comprised over 140 works representing 30 years of Australian contemporary art. Looking at the collection now, the acquisitions seem easily justified. This was not always so at the time.
Controversy over the winner was, and still is, almost guaranteed, and often the subject of lively exchanges in the media.
Today, Alice Springs continues to be the vibrant centre of a thriving and diverse arts community . Bringing national contemporary art to the Centre continues to be the focus and foremost activity of the Alice Springs Art Foundation.