15 local artists nominated for inaugural National Capital Art Prize

Lottie Twyford 27 September 2021
Robert Stephens

Robert Stephens is a part of Canberra’s cultural fabric, and he wants more people to appreciate the national capital’s arts. Photo: National Capital Art Prize.

Fifteen budding and experienced artists from the ACT have been selected among the finalists for the inaugural National Capital Art Prize.

A panel of experts was tasked with narrowing down a huge field of more than 1000 submissions to only 121 finalists.

Established by Robert Stephens in March 2021, the National Capital Art Prize is a not-for-profit company aiming to support and showcase Australian artists, as well as promote Canberra as a cultural hub on par with Melbourne and Sydney.

The annual competition is distinct from other art competitions in a number of ways.

Firstly, entrants can paint any vision and any subject, whether it is portrait, landscape or abstract. There are also multiple prizes on offer so each category of paintings is judged separately.


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Having owned the Aarwun Gallery in Gold Creek for more than 22 years, director and founder Mr Stephens said he is proud to be “a part of the cultural fabric of Canberra”.

During the past few years in particular, he noticed things have become tougher for artists and wanted to do something to give them more exposure and the chance to compete in a major art prize.

He also wanted to position Canberra on par with Sydney and Melbourne.

“Being the centre of most other things, the capital was lacking a major art prize,” explained Mr Stephens.

So far, he is thrilled with the national response to the awards, and the astounding quality of the entries received.

“Some of Australia’s best-known artists have submitted works, with previous Archibald Prize winners and outstanding emerging artists among the finalists we announced,” said Mr Stephens.

He is also blown away by the sheer scale of the response – 1100 entries in its inaugural year – “which you can compare to the Archibald which got 900 entries,” he said.

“For a first effort, it was absolutely amazing and just reinforced the need for prizes of this nature.”


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As a not-for-profit organisation, all funds generated through partnerships and entry fees are used in the running of the National Capital Art Prize and are continuously reinvested in the prize to encourage artistic endeavour into the future.

Mr Stephens hopes that as the prize gains exposure, more sponsors and the ACT Government will come onboard.

“It’s one of the things in my life that I can say I’m really proud of getting off the ground,” he said.

The ACT community can support local artists by visiting the virtual gallery and voting for their preferred works in the people’s choice award before Thursday, 30 September, 2021.

The National Capital Art Prize is comprised of a $15,000 open prize; a $15,000 First Nations prize for Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander artists; $5000 landscape prize; $2500 student prize; a $2500 people’s choice award; and a $5000 art scholarship in conjunction with the Australian National University.

The 2021 National Capital Art Prize category winners will be announced in mid-October 2021, with a public exhibition in Canberra to follow, where people can also purchase the works.

For more information about the judges and the public exhibition, visit National Capital Art Prize.


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