2021 Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards Winners Announced

Celebrating excellence in the performing arts and provide direct financial support to artists and organisations, Andrew Myer AM, Chairman, Sidney Myer Fund has announced the winners of the 2021 Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards.

The Award recipients are: Facilitator prizes: Australian Digital Concert Hall (Music, Vic) and Erin Milne (Producing, Vic); Group awards: All the Queens Men (Performance, Vic); Blakdance (Dance, Qld); and Speak Percussion (Music, Vic); Individual awards: Clare Watson (Artistic Director, WA); James Berlyn (Artistic Director, WA); and Jenny M Thomas (Music, Vic).

In announcing the winners, Andrew Myer AM has praised each of them for their creative leadership, generosity and contribution to the community.

“The last couple of years have placed enormous pressure on everyone working in the performing arts. While venues are now open, the pressure and risks for artists and companies are still very real,” said Mr Myer AM.

“It is my great hope that these Awards go some way to support those producing works of excellence, who have been able to innovate and experiment in their art form and who connect very strongly with communities around the country.’’

The Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards support eight prizes of $25,000 each for Individuals, Groups and Facilitators across the country. Since 2020, the Awards have increased in number from three to eight in recognition of the devastation wrought on the performing arts by the pandemic.

The 2021 Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards Recipients are:


Erin Milne (VIC)
Erin is an outstanding leader working with independent artists in alternative models. She has deep experience working in organisations, government and private enterprise, and is sought after for her leadership and sector development initiative. While a typical pathway pursuing leadership roles in large organisations is within her reach, she has taken a courageous leap, committing to long-term experimentation of new potential futures. Her producing model is intuitive, non-hierarchical, generous, and resolutely artist-led. It is a counter to our dominating institutions and the mechanisms, economic models and slow pace of change associated with them.

Through her company, Bureau of Works, she is focused on creating strategic opportunities for artists; supporting artists in the creation of new work and exploratory form; and developing contexts that foster risk taking and ambition. She is interested in projects that encompass radical empathy, collaborative teams, good humour and a sense of adventure? and works closely with artists to realise the environment, resources and partners they need to achieve their best work.

Australian Digital Concert Hall (VIC)
While it was obvious to everyone that the pandemic would shut down performing arts, two individuals in Melbourne quickly acted upon that observation, despite having no resources themselves beyond a deep commitment to the sector in which they worked. Co-Directors Chris Howlett and Adele Schonhardt mobilised all their contacts and within 10 days had launched Melbourne Digital Concert Hall (now Australian Digital Concert Hall), live-streaming classical music from the Atheneum Theatre.

The whole country quickly came on board, as the pandemic lockdowns spread and persisted. Soon ADCH was bringing in audiences around the world: those who were new to the artform, willing to take a chance on such accessibly priced tickets; those who were never able to attend capital city concert halls due to family/work commitments, remote/regional locations, or ill health. Audiences were introduced to interstate musicians previously unknown to them, expanding the reach and profile of Australian performers.

As of today, ADCH has returned $1.6 million to 2000 Australian musicians and arts workers, presenting over 400 concerts. A headline neatly summarised their achievement: “They Saved Classical Music in Melbourne Now They’re Going National.”


Blakdance (QLD)
Blakdance is a national industry organisation for First Nation contemporary dancers and choreographers. What makes Blakdance’s contribution so significant is the multi-dimensionality of its operations. With a dedicated small team delivering peak body, advocacy, and production services, Blakdance has quickly credentialed itself to speak articulately on all aspects of Australia’s arts sector’s operations and structures.

Led by Merindah Donnelly, Blakdance is challenging artists and audiences to cement Queensland’s position on the world’s cultural map. Merindah and Blakdance advocate for the development of the small-to-medium Indigenous dance sector. “Any type of dance in Australia sits within the context of 100,000 years of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dance continuum and Queensland is home to the highest critical mass of First Nations choreographers nationally,” says Merindah.

Speak Percussion (VIC)
For the past 21 years, Speak Percussion has been at the forefront of new music, nationally and worldwide. It has shaped the sound of 21st century Australian percussion music and has placed music performance practice firmly within a multi-disciplinary form. Speak Percussion is world-renowned for its experimental and contemporary classical art music output and is a foundational company in the nascent discipline of Post Instrumental Practice.

Speak Percussion is recognised as one of Australia’s highest quality music organisations described as “virtuosic and adventurous” by the New York Times. It has commissioned over 170 new works many of which involve collaborations across the breadth of the Australian creative arts sector with film festivals, theatre makers, choreographers, writers, visual artists, museums, galleries, sound artists, media tech start-ups, recording studios and education institutions among others.

All the Queens Men (VIC)
All The Queens Men is an independent arts organisation founded by award-winning performance artists Tristan Meecham and Bec Reid. Over the past decade, ATQM has built meaningful and extensive relationships throughout the health, arts, and community sectors to create a thrilling body of work, which has been presented at festivals and arts venues globally. This has consolidated the company’s reputation as one of Australia’s most exciting, community-focused arts organisations.

ATQM started its journey with the riotous, public spectacle, Fun Run, presented as part of the Next Wave festival in Melbourne (2010). Fun Run brought together many elements that define ATQM’s creative practice: a performance event created in collaboration with diverse citizens that reflects the city, community, and context in which it is shared. Since its premiere, Fun Run has been presented around the world – from Ansan to Sydney, Taipei to Kuopio, Hong Kong to Galway. Over 5,000 people have been involved in the making and performing of Fun Run, and it has been seen by an estimated 100,000 people.


Clare Watson (WA)
Five years ago, Clare went to Perth to become Artistic Director of Black Swan State Theatre Company. In her first three years, she was the only female Artistic Director of any major theatre company in Australia. Her arrival energised the company into one that presents relevant, contemporary and cutting-edge work. This has led to critical acclaim and national and international touring opportunities. Her ability to support and celebrate the best in others is second to none. She is warm, tenacious and highly collaborative. Inclusive practice and fostering safe and respectful working environments to create theatre of the highest calibre are her passion and strength.

A Helpmann nominee, a Greenroom Award winner, a PAWA winner, a slew of five-star reviews and night after night of standing ovations speak to her talent. She is a true artist, a proper theatre animal, she pushes her own comfort and challenges herself at every turn, creating bold, exciting experiences while being capable of subtlety and nuance.

James Berlyn (WA)
James is a performing artist/maker of more than thirty-five years’ experience. His award-winning one-on-one theatre work & installation TAWDRY HEARTBURN’S MANIC CURES (2009) has been seen at major festivals across the country including Perth Festival, Sydney Festival, Brisbane Festival, Ten Days on the Island, WOMAD, Enlighten, Adelaide Cabaret Festival, and in North America and South Africa.

He is the instigator and co-founder of Proximity Festival, Australia’s first festival of one-on-one performance. He was a co-founding director of Tracksuit, Western Australia’s adult disability performance group.

He is currently the Artistic Director of Western Australian Youth Theatre Company. Under his four years at WAYTCo, the company has trebled its membership and has spearheaded diversity and inclusion initiatives that have seen the company become increasingly relevant in the lives of many LGBTQI+, BIPOC, and neuro diverse young Western Australians. WAYTCo is now seen as a hub for emerging artists.

Jenny M Thomas (VIC)
Jenny is a trailblazer in Australian music. Creating what amounts to a new genre of art-folk, she bounded onto the scene with breathtaking confidence, singing and playing the violin at the same time. No one else in Australia was doing this.

Abandoning her career as a classical orchestral violist and South Indian Carnatic violin soloist, Jenny began working with traditional Australian folk songs instead. Unconcerned that Australian folk music was unfashionable, she rearranged old songs that recounted the lives of her forebears with courageous innovation. The release of her first album, Farewell To Old England Forever, gave the folk music scene an exciting shake up.

With references to Indian, Scandinavian and Irish music traditions, she had defiantly struck out on her own. Using the broad expressive and technical palette that her rigorous classical training had provided; she explored the deeper themes underlying these old songs of Australia. She changed the way Australians listened to their history.

The Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards were established in 1984 by the Trustees of the Sidney Myer Fund to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Sidney Myer, a passionate advocate and great friend to the arts.The Trustees of the Sidney Myer Fund believe that artistic and cultural achievement should be recognised and rewarded. It has awarded over $4 million in the Awards’ 39 years.

The national Awards are determined by a Judging Committee that this year was constituted by: Alison Beare (SA), Wendy Martin (WA), Kyle Page (Qld), Brian Ritchie (Tas) and Emily Sexton (Vic). The Committee is chaired by Andrew Myer AM (Chairman, Sidney Myer Fund) who does not vote.

The Judging Committee recognises past achievements but also gives consideration to the potential of an individual or group to continue their contribution to Australian society through the performing arts. For more information, visit: www.myerfoundation.org.au for details.

Image: SILENCE by Karul Projects – produced by BlakDance at the Brisbane Powerhouse for 2020 Brisbane Festival – photo by Simon Woods