Story: Awards and prizes

Page 3. Visual arts, music and theatre awards

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Visual arts awards

Since the late 1950s, annual national awards and competitions have been introduced for art forms other than literature, and for media. The Kelliher Art Prize, for ‘a realistic natural representation’ of a 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 2010 these awards included six overseas residencies and had a total value of over $275,000.

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, awarded every two years, aims to make contemporary art a more widely recognised and debated feature of cultural life.

Adam Portraiture 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 2020 the winning entry received $20,000. A public vote decided the People’s Choice, which was awarded $2,500. 

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 – 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 have included Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Jonathan Lemalu and Madeleine Pierard. In the 2010s the competition was held every two years. Auckland bass-baritone Joel Amosa, the 2018 winner, won $20,000, a scholarship worth $27,000, and international travel to the value of $3,000.

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 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 2019 the awards included prizes for the best classical, soul, pop, hip hop, Pacific, folk, country and jazz artist, along with many other categories.

Since 2010 the Taite Music Prize has been awarded annually for the outstanding New Zealand album of the past year. The prize is named for the late Dylan Taite, one of New Zealand's most respected music journalists.

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 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 was 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. Although Chapman Tripp ended its sponsorship of the national awards in 2015, a number of annual regional awards events continued to be held.

  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 20 June 2024)

Story by Mark Derby, published 22 Oct 2014, updated 1 Apr 2020