News & Commentary, Stage

Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards for 2016 announced

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The Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards are now entering their 34th year and to date have awarded over $3.5 million to artists, administrators and arts companies around the country. The chair of the awards and Myer family elder, Carrillo Gantner, says that when the awards were established there were fewer awards for the performing artist while there were (and still are) far more awards around for visual artists and writers.

“I like to think that we have encouraged others, such as the Australia Council and others to establish their own performing arts award,” Gantner told Daily Review before tonight’s award announcement in Myer home town of Melbourne hosted by Gantner (“I’m just the barrel girl”) and a former Myer award recipient, Yaron Lifschitz.

The awards are judged by a different panel every year whose small jury of senior arts practitioners have complete discretion to award them to whomever they want. They choose – or indeed can add to –  a field of nominees who generally need to be established – but not too established – artists with about seven to 15 years experience behind them with still a whole more career time to give to the arts. They can be nominated by others or can nominate themselves. Self-nomination is not encouraged however. “It shows a lack of imagination,” says Gantner.

Relative degrees of difficulty help too. “We have sympathy for those who are doing what they are doing in difficult environments. For example, we realise it’s tougher for someone creating work in rural Tasmania than it might be in metropolitan Sydney or Melbourne.”

Gantner says what has also made the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards distinctive is that the winners get a large cash prize to do with what they want.

“They bring honour and glory but it’s accompanied by a very big cheque which makes them different to the Helpmanns and other critics’ prizes.”

The winners for the 2016 Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards announced tonight were  Gavin Webber, co-artistic director, The Farm, (Qld), Individual Award, $60,000; Australian Theatre for Young People, (NSW), Group Award, $90,000 and Kathy Burns, artistic director, Barkly Regional Arts, (NT), Facilitator’s Prize, $25,000.

*Gavin Webber is co-Artistic Director of THE FARM with Grayson Millwood. They create physical performances that show the fragility and strength of the human condition. THE FARM has toured internationally and nationally to critical acclaim. Webber spent the majority of his early performance career with Meryl Tankard ADT and Belgian company Ultima Vez.

Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) exists to connect with young people to help find their voice and together, inspire all Australians. ATYP believe that an involvement in theatre builds better people – theatre develops confidence, creativity and community. It challenges our community to reflect on and better understand ourselves and the society of which we are a part.

ATYP work with all levels of the arts industry, from the most celebrated national companies to the smallest youth theatres. ATYP supports young people from their first theatre experience to their first professional production.

Kathy Burns is Artistic Director, Barkly Regional Arts (BRA). Since 2011 she has been working in very remote Indigenous communities implementing arts programs ranging from music, film, visual arts, dance and theatre for all ages. As the Artistic Director, Kathy creates all program projects across the multi-arts organisation, ensuring quality engagement and innovative opportunities for the community and service organisations to be involved.

“The Sidney Myer Fund is delighted to recognise the invaluable contribution that each of these wonderful winners makes to the arts in Australia and to the wider community. It is the dynamic and tireless work of these, and indeed so many other artists perusing their visions that greatly enriches our lives and helps build a more cohesive Australian society. I congratulate each of them,” Gantner, also the chairman of the Sidney Myer Fund, said in his speech.

This year’s judging committee was chaired by Gantner and included Iain Grandage, Louise Herron AM, Lindy Hume, Andrew Ross and Noel Staunton.

[box]Featured image: ATYP’s production of Spring Awakening[/box]

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