The Jury Art Prize’s ambitious opening
This story was submitted by a member of the regional arts sector: The Junction Co. We love sharing stories from the sector. If you want to find out how to submit your own stories, take a look at the submit your story page. We can’t wait to hear from you!
When you are trying to reach a broad audience in a town that never sleeps, what time should you hold an exhibition opening? For The Junction Co. the answer was clear – have it run for 24 hours!
Bringing a new creative vision for regional community of Port Hedland, in mid-2019 The Junction Co. took their provision of creative services to the next level, awarded management of the historic Courthouse Gallery+Studio on behalf of the Town of Port Hedland. Ambitious programming was established, and the gallery was set to quickly become a hive of activity. Not only would it serve as a hub for activating the Portside precinct, but it would host a diverse creative team working to advocate for, connect and empower artists across the Pilbara and state.
Akin with the rest of world, the pandemic state soon halted all plans and the team worked quickly to create a new program that ensured social distancing could be maintained, whilst creative practice and engagement with the arts could continue. For The Jury Art Prize 2020, what resulted was a drive by show, with works projected on iconic buildings across the town. Considered a resounding success by all, the exhibition engaged audiences that previously would have never come near the gallery and further cemented The Junction Co. as an innovative upcoming body within the town.
So, when it came to the 2021 Jury Art Prize, with that bar set so high, we were posed with creating an exhibition that pushed the boundaries one step further, whilst holding the high calibre of work at the heart of the experience. Port Hedland is a town that never sleeps. The constant rotation of day and night shift workers means that it has never prescribed to the traditional Monday to Friday work hours. So, when you are trying to reach as broad an audience as possible, what time do you plan an event for? It seems no matter when you would schedule it, a certain proportion of the community would not able to partake. The answer? A 24-hour exhibition opening.
From 3pm on Friday 11 June the physical doors of the gallery swung open, inviting the people who had started queuing to get the first peak at this year’s finalists.
At the same time, the virtual doors opened, meaning those at home could also take a metaphorical stroll through the gallery and purchase works. Community tours were held by staff members, giving locals and tourists an opportunity to learn more about select artists, their practice and their finalist work.
The Jury Art Prize opening event, 2021. Photo by Nur-Irdah Halik.
We crossed live to Regional Arts WA Network Coordinator Gemma Robins at Yagan Square where we chatted about the importance of highlighting the incredible creative practice occurring in our regions that often gets overlooked. Gemma was there to witness the first screening of The Jury Prize finalists on the digital tower, which can be seen every Saturday at 11am this month or at random intervals over the next year. This provides an invaluable opportunity for regional artists to have their practice shown in a bustling metropolitan space, some of whom have never shown there work outside of their local community.
Then the party rolled into cocktail hour, and the first announcement of the exhibition, the Patron Award was made. Maywokka Chapmans painting Untitled was awarded the prestigious prize that acknowledges a Hedland based artist who demonstrates the development of a unique and distinctive artistic style, with a connection to place within the work. The award supports the advancement of their practice and includes mentoring from the Junction Co. Chapman’s artwork captured the attention of all for its vibrant and complex use of colour, texture and form.
Maywokka Chapman, Untitled, acrylic on canvas, 2021. Winner of the Patrons Prize. Image courtesy of The Junction Co.
In continuing the celebrations, this time sporting delicious pizza, we announced the big one, the Judges’ Prize. Jacky Cheng’s Honour and Love was the standout winner, that demonstrated immense conceptual and technical ability. Her sincere and thoughtful methodologies shone through in a piece that captivated both judges and audience. It holds its own special place in the room, even amongst so many other outstanding works. As the party kicked on, works were selling in person and online, showcasing the diverse aesthetic preferences of our arts community. The exhibition, which allows entries from artists working in all mediums, ensured there was something for everyone to enjoy and connect with.
Jacky Cheng, Honour and Love, mixed media, 2021. Winner of The Judges Prize. Image courtesy of The Junction Co.
In the early morning hours, as most of the crowd had found their way home, a committed group of locals appeared. Travis Lilley, a Hedland finalist, gave us a glimpse into his practice as he conducted a live portrait sitting with the overnight security guard. Stargazing and storytelling even led to some attendees setting up camp beds under the trees and staying overnight, a brave endeavour in this unusually chilly Pilbara winter. At 4am Joel Guest, an emerging pianist, took his seat in the gallery and dazzled us all with his melodic practice. It was wonderful to give a platform to a young creative whose passion for his practice is evident in every key stroke.
What ensued next was a sign of a delightful morning to come. At 5am a candlelight morning meditation was held in the gallery space, followed by a yoga class from Port Hedland’s favourite instructor. Feeling centred and fresh, participants and the broader community were invited to a communal breakfast. The most delicious pastries filled us up, but not before squeezing in some fresh tropical fruit, yoghurt with muesli and banana bread desert cups. A Zoom call with Jacky Cheng provided the perfect accompaniment, where she provided behind the scenes insights in to the creation of her winning work, the meaning behind the piece, and what she would be using the prize money for in expanding her practice.
It wouldn’t be right to forget the young ones, so children of all ages were invited to participate in a Jury inspired drop-in art workshop under the trees. After viewing the exhibition they were invited to create their own interpretation of their favourite work or colour in some purpose-made colouring sheets of some of the finalist pieces. One child even gifted me her artwork to give back to the artist, displaying a beautiful circle of creative inspiration. As an exciting first for the gallery, we held an access tour, inviting those living with a disability or impairment to visit a sensory-safe gallery space. Certain artists were kind enough to let us engage with their work via touch and we provided a verbal descriptive tour of some of the highlights.
Regional Coordinator Rose Barton leads local children in special 2021 Jury Art Prize workshop. Photo by Nur-Irdah Halik.
For the penultimate prize we were delighted to announce Rosie Tarku King as the winner of the Kathy Donnelly Award. Recognising an emerging regional WA artist, the judges found Rosie’s work Desert Country to be evocative, creative and accomplished.
With weary but excited eyes, the team closed the doors at 3pm on Saturday. And while the online gallery remained open and the sales kept ticking over, we rested and dreamt of what the opening would look like next year.
So, was it a success? We invite you to be the jury.
The Jury Art Prize runs until 30 July 2021 at Courthouse Gallery+Studio, Port Hedland. Explore the finalists’ works and cast your vote for the Jury Prize (People’s Choice) online at thejunctionco.com.au/the-jury-art-prize-contest