Story: Awards and prizes

Page 3. Visual arts, music and theatre awards

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Visual arts awards

From the late 1950s annual national awards and competitions have been introduced for various art forms in addition to literature, and for media. The Kelliher Art Prize, for ‘a realistic natural representation’ of a typical New Zealand landscape, was first contested at the Auckland City Gallery in 1956 and thereafter was an annual event in the Academy Gallery until 1970. 1 The privately sponsored National Bank Art Awards were held from 1958 to 1980, and the Benson & Hedges Art Awards from 1969 until the 1980s.

Wallace Art Awards

The Wallace Arts Trust was founded by philanthropist Sir James Wallace to promote New Zealand contemporary visual art, including printmaking, photography and video. Its activities include the annual Wallace Art Awards, first awarded in 1992. In 2014 these awards included four overseas residencies and various prizes amounting to over $190,000, including a People’s Choice award of $500.

Walters Prize

The $50,000 Walters Prize is awarded for an outstanding work of contemporary New Zealand visual art produced and exhibited during the previous two years. Named in honour of the late New Zealand artist Gordon Walters, the Prize was established in 2002 by Erika and Robin Congreve and Dame Jenny Gibbs, working with Auckland Art Gallery. The Walters Prize, held every two years, aims to make contemporary art a more widely recognised and debated feature of cultural life.

Adam Portrait Award

Wellington arts philanthropists Dennis and Verna Adam sponsored many arts awards and institutions through their Adam Foundation. These include New Zealand’s premier portrait competition, the Adam Portraiture Award, run annually by Wellington’s New Zealand Portrait Gallery. In 2014 the winning entry received $20,000 and became part of the gallery’s permanent collection. A public vote decided the People’s Prize. 

Singing awards

When the first annual Mobil Song Quest was held in 1956, more than 1,300 people entered nationwide. At their local radio station, they each sang a song in their preferred genre – whether country and western, pop or classical. These were broadcast nationally to determine the winner. Later the competition focused on opera, and winners included the sopranos Malvina Major and Kiri Te Kanawa, both of whom went on to have very successful careers.

In 2005 the competition’s sponsor changed and it became the Lexus Song Quest. Competitors had to perform a wide-ranging classical repertoire in three languages. Overall winners, who each received $10,000 plus a $15,000 study scholarship and international airfares, have included Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Jonathan Lemalu and Madeleine Pierard. The five runners-up in each contest received smaller prizes.

Recorded music awards

The first awards for New Zealand recorded music were co-founded in 1965 by the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation (NZBC) and the soap-powder manufacturer Reckitt and Colman. These awards, named after the company’s anti-dandruff shampoo, were called the Loxene Golden Disc Awards. An expert panel selected 10 (later 12) songs, and the public voted for their favourite. A number of compilation albums of winners and finalists were released.

From 1978 these awards were administered by the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (later Recorded Music NZ), and named for a succession of commercial sponsors. From 2004 the main sponsor was Vodafone New Zealand. In 2014 the awards included prizes for the best classical, folk, jazz, country, Pacific and children’s music albums, among many others.

Awards drama

The Chapman Tripp theatre award ceremonies have frequently been known for spontaneity and flamboyance. The event’s invitation specifies ‘Dress: formal or outrageous’. The MCs for the ceremony have sometimes departed unexpectedly from the script, providing memorable dramatic and comic moments. Two MCs once unashamedly promoted their own forthcoming show, and another subtly sent up awards shows in general.

Theatre awards

New Zealand has been relatively slow to introduce lasting awards for theatre practitioners. In 1992 a group of Wellington theatre critics convinced law firm Chapman Tripp to sponsor the first such awards evening. For the first six years the awards went mainly to Wellington theatre productions, but they later became a nationwide competition. A category unchanged since 1992 is for a Significant Contribution to Theatre, a special tribute to a lifetime contribution and commitment.

  1. Quoted in ‘Art awards.’ An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock, originally published in 1966, (last accessed 28 April 2014). Back
How to cite this page:

Mark Derby, 'Awards and prizes - Visual arts, music and theatre awards', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 29 March 2020)

Story by Mark Derby, published 22 Oct 2014, updated 9 Aug 2016