8 November 2023

For 40 years, a group of Canberrans has been quietly helping artists. Here's why they do it

| Genevieve Jacobs
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CAPO Fellowship winner Paul Summerfield (centre) with CAPO patrons and NPG director Bree Pickering and their Excellencies the Governor General and Mrs Hurley. Photos: Hilary Wardhaugh.

Sustaining yourself as an artist is only a dream for most creatives, who piece together jobs and grants to make ends meet and produce their work.

But for 40 years, the Capital Arts Patrons Organisation (CAPO) has been supporting Canberra artists with grants from local business owners and philanthropists, enabling some of our most gifted creatives to make new work, create exhibitions, travel for their work or just pay the bills for a looming project.

They’ve made a major difference to many lives, something CAPO president Penny Jurkiewicz reflects on as their auction gala and birthday celebrations approach this Friday (10 November).

“The awards and fellowships we give are a leg-up for so many artists and, in some cases, an opportunity to diverge from their normal path and try something new with that bit of money”, she told Region at the annual fellowship and awards announcement, held this year at Government House.

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Among the recipients were Eliot Bastianon, whose work has veered from traditional furniture making to a far more eclectic approach involving electroplating commercial water pipes with copper and watching what grows.

He won the Rosalie Gascoigne award, honouring the late Canberra artist, acknowledged as one of our 20th-century greats.

“Usually, the commercial process of electroplating is about smooth, clean surfaces,” Eliot explains.

“I’ve turned it on its head by taking these neat industrial units and returning them to minerals, to elements, to unexpected growths. It’s a bit like re-wilding the copper.”

Eliot will use his prize money for a forthcoming group exhibition at the Canberra Museum and Gallery, planned for early 2024.

“I was incredibly honoured and a bit flustered, to be honest. When I got the call to let me know, I wasn’t expecting it at all. Arts funding is a tough and competitive field, and there’s never enough money to go around, so I submitted not thinking I would get anything at all”, he says.

Major fellowship winner Paul Summerfield was also surprised and delighted with the recognition of a long and productive career in the ACT. A digital artist, he calls himself a jack of all trades who uses his computer to work anywhere and at speed.

His current project is a children’s graphic novel being produced with writer Isobelle Carmody as part of the Little Fur series.

“I’ll be using the grant to work on [the novel],” he says, reflecting the reality for many working artists.

“I keep plugging away at my practice, so I’m really excited to be receiving this award. It gives me a boost to keep working throughout the year.”

Many Canberra businesses and philanthropists support CAPO’s 22 different awards, grants and scholarships. Melita Flynn from Capital Chemist says her company would rather support artists than spend money on advertising.

“It’s the response we get that’s so wonderful,” she says.

“It might be as little as $1000 or as much as $20,000, but the reward is in what people tell us about the results for their work when they have that bit of help.”

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CAPO will roll out the red carpet for its annual auction on Friday, this year being held at Albert Hall. Their Excellencies the Governor General and Mrs Hurley will attend and tickets are still available.

Penny Jurkiewicz says patronage has grown significantly and many of those attending the auction and gala will be longtime supporters who continue to give, year on year.

The last word on why businesses would support artists’ grants goes to Roger Tall of the Tall Foundation. “Why not?”, he says “I enjoy seeing the results and following up. It’s fun!”

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