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National Contemporary Art Award cancelled for 2020

2019 Award winner Ayesha Green with Nana's Birthday (A Big Breath). Collection of Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga o Waikato.

Waikato Museum has cancelled the 21st running of the National Contemporary Art Award, one of New Zealand’s leading art competitions offering among the richest rewards for individual artworks each year.

Low entry numbers due to the COVID-19 lockdown, an inability to extend the entry timetable, and doubts over exhibition staging and standards if COVID-19 social restrictions persist have been cited as reasons for the decision.

Waikato Museum Director Cherie Meecham says: “This has been a most difficult decision forced on us by current conditions and the need to protect the standing and reputation of this premier national art competition. It’s disappointing for all concerned including the award sponsors and the arts community.

“We are now investigating other ideas for this year – such as a real or virtual retrospective exhibition showcasing the past 20 years of the award – and we look forward to celebrating the award’s 21st anniversary in 2021.”

Major sponsors Tompkins Wake, one of New Zealand’s leading law firms, and nationally-renowned architectural firm, Chow:Hill Architects, who have co-sponsored the Award since 2014 and 2015 respectively, say they support Waikato Museum’s decision and remain committed to supporting the Award when it returns next year.

The recently-announced judge for the 2020 National Contemporary Art Award, The Dowse Art Museum Director Karl Chitham, has also confirmed his availability to judge the Award in 2021.

Ms Meecham says the lockdown period, now into its seventh week, came at a most critical period for the Award timetable with entries officially due to close on Wednesday next week - the earliest date on which the country might return to Alert Level 2.

“Award entries to date are much lower than in previous years as artists have been unable to obtain materials and access to their studios. Supporting businesses such as framers and fabricators have been closed, and there is uncertainty regarding travel and freight movements in the medium term,” she says.

“We suspended entries on Wednesday this week in order to review whether there were any practical options available for running the Award, and all artists who have entered or sought an extension will be individually notified of our decision by email today.”

“This is an Award that has launched the national and international careers of a number of New Zealand artists and so we are very conscious of the need to protect its status. We are unwilling to mount an exhibition that doesn’t match the incredible standards of previous years.”

Ms Meecham says if travel, gathering and social distancing restrictions persist until August, it would make it difficult for both judge and artists, and the wider public, to attend the award ceremony and exhibition.

Information about the National Contemporary Art Award and its history can be found on the Waikato Museum’s website here.

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