School arts competition unearths budding artists

Published 04 July 2019

575 artworks from 41 schools are in the running for a bag of prizes in this year’s University of New England Schools Acquisitive Art Prize (UNESAP), the largest art prize of its kind in Australia.

Each year, entries pour into the New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM) from infants, primary and high school students around the northwest and northern NSW region. Around 15 finalists are chosen for exhibition in each school-level category and prizes are awarded to winners and runners-up.

Competition founder and UNE School of Education teacher Dr Frances Alter said the selection process to choose finalist pieces for the ‘Let’s Hang It!’ exhibition takes the panel of four judges around three hours.

“We try to make sure there’s a good cross-section of different media, such as collage, photography and watercolour. We look for originality and experimental works, or something that expresses a point of view in a unique way,” Frances says.

The competition began in 2006 as a way of promoting art as a worthy talent and skill deserving of recognition alongside other well-acknowledged and awarded skills, like sport and academic success.

“Art really does need an audience. This is taking art out of the school, bringing it into the community and saying art has value in the community while also showing children art is recognised as a talent.”

The students get to appreciate their work in a new light, as their pieces are professionally framed in the gallery and share gallery space alongside renowned artists.

Frances, an artist and art teacher by background, is proud of what the competition has achieved for students in the region over its 14 year history.

“I’ve looked at the data and something like ten times the national average of past winners and finalists from this competition have gone into art-based degrees. Quite a few have also gone on to be professional artists.”

Frances says the competition is an important partnership between the sponsor, University of New England, NERAM, schools and the community. It encourages art in schools, supports and acknowledges local schools big and small, and their teachers, and promotes broader appreciation for artistic talent in the community.

The ‘Let’s Hang It’ exhibition will officially open at 6pm, Friday 2 August with special guest and Walcha artist Myf Gullifer, where all prize winners will be announced.

The exhibition will then be on display until Sunday 18 August.

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