CANBERRA region sculpture-lovers are breathing a collective sigh of relief with news that winemaker Graeme Shaw has joined with the newly-rebranded Belco Arts Centre to present a new, professionalised sculpture prize.
The new biennial “Sculpture@Shaw” will feature a prize pool of $25,000 – made up of the $15,000 Sculpture@Shaw prize, the $5000 Cellar Door prize for smaller works, a $3000 Emerging Artist prize, and $2000 People’s Choice Award.
It’s a particular relief because its forebear, “Sculpture in the Paddock”, which ran in the bucolic grounds of the National Trust’s Cooma Cottage from 2013-2017, and became one of the springtime glories of the region, is no more.
Annually in September, art lovers and community members were seen stomping around the paddocks to look at the art, while students from Yass and Canberra and indigenous pupils aged 10 and 16 from across the state exhibited art inside Cooma Cottage.
Opening night attendances ranged from 200-500 and Binalong artist Peter Minson created a sculpted glass prize, while the organisers envisioned creating a rural version of “Sculpture by the Sea”. A local consortium purchased the 2014 Sculpture in the Paddock work, “Roundabout Sheep”, by local artist Roger Buckman, and had it installed on Yass’s main street.
But when, in 2017, the organisation was incorporated, a new committee took over with new ideas, and shifted the event to a larger paddock at Shaw Wines in Murrumbateman, purportedly to give more room for art, entertainment, wine and food that would attract up to three times the visitors annually.
Shaw told “CityNews” that he had been a fan of the Yass event from the outset, starting out six to seven years ago by buying from Sculpture in the Paddock, and he’d get there early to snaffle up pieces he liked, including a pushbike sculpture by Buckman.
“I liked the idea of having a few pieces around the cellar door, then when we were approached by the Yass committee, we jumped at the chance and saw it as a way of attracting more Canberrans,” he says.
“We found that people who came here with their young kids and dogs were calling their mates to tell them to come, and even coming back the next weekend.”
But the event would run at Shaw for one season only in 2018, and after committee members claimed that the paddock was too large and only two large sculptures had been sold, they pulled out, promising a new Riverbank sculpture festival in Yass in March 2020, which never eventuated.
Happily, during the 2019 sculpture hiatus, Yass sculptor Al Phemister, one of the founders of Sculpture in the Paddock, introduced Shaw to Monika McInerney, artistic director and Co-CEO of Belco Arts.
It was a match made in heaven.
“Once we sat down and discussed it, we decided what was needed was a professional approach,” Shaw said, and Belco Arts had the knowhow.
Also, chatting to some of the visiting sculptors in 2018, Shaw had discovered how costly it was to do the moving and installation, so he said, “Let’s make certain we have an installation prize for all the finalists.”
Belco Arts, so renamed to give a sense of its outreach in the community beyond inner Belconnen, is making that happen and McInerney says, “the biggest thing we’ve done is institute a bursary of $1,000 to each artist shortlisted for the final exhibition, to contribute to the costs incurred. It’s a way to honour all the artists.”
“We believe that sculpture prizes are really important,” she adds. “They’re relevant to people and bind communities together across the region.”
A former judge at Cooma Cottage, she is plainly thrilled that it’s staying in the region in Murrumbateman, which she sees as “a great location, where the sculptures will be comfortable.”
“The Shaws are really committed to the arts and have quite a big art collection of their own,” she says. “Graeme is running with it and doing a major investment, but it’s not his area of expertise and he needs us to manage it and put together the judges.”
Talking of which, Shaw says he’s been asked if he’d like to be on the selection committee and he wouldn’t mind.
“I would come from a totally different perspective, it’s often good to have a layman’s opinion… like in wine shows, where you have a list of judges who are wine masters then you have a pretty good retailer who knows what the public wants – it’s a perfect mix.”
“Sculpture@Shaw” will run at Shaw Wines, Murrumbateman from September 5 to September 20. Entries are open to artists across Australia and are due to sculptureatshaw.com.au by midnight on May 29.