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The 2020 Arts Foundation Icon Award Whakamana Hiranga Recipients Announced

The Arts Foundation Te Tumu Toi announce the 2020 Arts Foundation Icon Award Whakamana Hiranga recipients. Three exceptional artists join a living circle of twenty of New Zealand’s most significant artists for their extraordinary lifetime achievements and mark on the arts.

Established in 2003, Whakamana Hiranga – the Icon Awards – are the Arts Foundation’s highest honour and recognise the remarkable impact each artist has had on their practice, community, and the cultural landscape of Aotearoa. This year – 2020 – marks a total of forty-one artists honoured as Icons since the beginning of the awards. Twenty are living, and twenty-one have passed on.

“The brave and brilliant Icon Whakamana Hiranga recipients have paved the way for those who dare to dedicate their lives to the arts,” says The Arts Foundation Chair, Garth Gallaway, “We acknowledge and celebrate their immense legacies and pioneering spirit. Though each of their paths has been unique, together they have shaped and enriched who we are as a nation. They are our storytellers.”

2020 Arts Foundation Icon Award Whakamana Hiranga Recipients

  • Dr Sandy Adsett MNZM, MMVA – Visual artist and Māori art educator
  • Joy Cowley ONZ DCNZM OBE – Novelist and writer
  • Sam Neill DCNZM OBE – Actor, writer, producer and director

Of the recognition Sam Neill DCNZM OBE says, “In New Zealand we often like to think of ourselves as a country where sport defines us. I never felt like that. I thought I was lucky to live in a country deeply, profoundly enriched by its artists. Its poets, its painters and sculptors, its musicians, its dancers and novelists and playwrights. And of course its filmmakers and actors, its carvers and tattooists and weavers. Its comedians. Its historians. They sang for us. All these many people, and more, helped me to understand where I lived, where I came from, why I loved my country. All that beauty and harmony, the darkness and the light, the ridiculous and the splendid. They still do. They nourish me.”

“In my lifetime I have seen how critically important the arts have been in defining the way the world understands us. In 2003 I was very honoured to accept the Icon award on behalf of my friend, the great artist Ralph Hotere, who was unwell. And now - one for me. I cannot but feel this is some extraordinary fluke. But to be in the company of all these distinguished New Zealanders, these artists like Ralph, makes me extraordinarily heartened, and very touched indeed,” said Sam.

The 2020 Icon Whakamana Hiranga recipients were selected by an independent selection panel, including Arts Foundation Laureate Anne Noble, Arts Foundation Laureate Elizabeth Knox, Arts Foundation Laureate Sir Derek Lardelli, Dame Jenny Gibbs and Arts Foundation board members Warwick Freeman and Desna Whaanga-Schollum. 

Icons are awarded based on the below criteria: 

  • Reached or are working at the peak of their careers
  • Been demonstrably dynamic and influential in their field
  • Made a major contribution to the artistic and cultural life of Aotearoa and our understanding of ourselves as New Zealanders
  • Made a major contribution to their own art form – and possibly also to others
  • Produced a significant and distinguished body of work, of outstanding quality and excellence
  • An international standing or reputation (or in the case of an art form unique to Aotearoa, have demonstrated a mastery in their discipline equivalent to world standards)
  • Taken work of Aotearoa to the world and brought the world’s attention back to Aotearoa by demonstrating what is remarkable and special about us – and are therefore representative of this country and its people and our hopes and achievements as a nation

Each Icon receives a bronze medallion set with pounamu and a pin designed by sculptor John Edgar. The recipient is given the pin, while the medallion passes on to a future Icon at the time of their death.

Previous Icons have included the likes of Billy Apple, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Diggeress Rangituatahi Te Kanawa, Ralph Hotere and Margaret Mahy.

Sir Eion and Lady Jan Edgar are the Founding Patrons of the Icon Awards, following Sir Eion’s retirement as a Trustee of the Foundation in 2010 and their extraordinary $500,000 gift to the Arts Foundation. Sir Eion has long been a champion of Whakamana Hiranga and says "The Icon Awards offer New Zealanders the opportunity to congratulate our most accomplished artists on their achievements and to celebrate their work. This is an important function for any developed society and one with which Jan and I are proud to be associated."

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