Celebrating Australian arts and creativity – Australia Council announces 2020 Awards recipients

Australia Council Awards 2020Musician Deborah Conway AM, author Margaret Wild and visual artist Brook Andrew were among eight artists to receive top honours at last night’s 2020 Australia Council Awards.

These prestigious national awards recognise Australian artists who have made an outstanding contribution to their art forms, and to the cultural life of the nation.

Community arts and cultural development leaders Kath Duncan (established leader) and Autumn Skuthorpe (emerging leader) received accolades for their exceptional work. They were joined by leading artists Michelle Ryan (Dance), Tommy Murphy (Theatre) and r e a (Emerging and Experimental Arts).

Australia Council CEO Adrian Collette AM said the event was a lively celebration of Australian arts and creativity, which included performances from Deborah Conway and dancers from Restless Dance Theatre.

“It is a privilege to recognise eight remarkable artists who have each demonstrated artistry and distinction in their respective art forms. The diversity of the award recipients reflects the vibrancy of Australian arts, and the capacity of creativity to connect us,” Mr Collette said.

This year’s awards took place at Sydney’s Eternity Playhouse. The event was hosted by Australia Council CEO Adrian Collette AM and Chair Sam Walsh AO, and attended by Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts the Hon Paul Fletcher MP, Australia Council Board members, members of the art sector and broader public.

For more information, visit: www.australiacouncil.gov.au for details.

Image: Left to right (front row) Kath Duncan, Autumn Skuthurpe, Michelle Ryan, Margaret Wild (back row) Deborah Conway AM, Adrian Collette AM, r e a, Brook Andrew, Sam Walsh AO, Paul Fletcher MP, Tommy Murphy – courtesy of the Australia Council

2020 Australia Council Awards Recipients:

Margaret Wild – Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature:
Margaret Wild is one of Australia’s most highly respected picture-book creators. She has published over seventy books for young people which have been translated, read and loved across the world. Her work explores themes such as identity, death, homelessness, friendship and bullying – through nuanced characters and captivating stories. Her seminal work, Fox, illustrated by Ron Brooks, was considered an Australian Classic the moment it was published. It won the CBCA book of the year, the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards for a Children’s Book, as well as Germany’s most prestigious prize for children’s literature in 2004.

Deborah Conway AM – Australia Council Don Banks Music Award:
Deborah has been a significant and eloquent contributor to the Australian music scene for over 30 years. Her career began in the early 1980’s when she co-founded the fiercely independent post punk band Do Re Mi. By 1988, Rolling Stone had named Deborah as Australian Singer of The Year. Deborah launched her own record label Intercorps in 2004 alongside long time collaborator Willy Zeigler. This label launched a series of innovative models of audience engagement. In 2008 she began the role of Artistic Director for the Queensland Music Festival. In this role, Deborah commissioned 20 new works and presented over 300 musical events to more than 350,000 people throughout Queensland. Her song Alive and Brilliant was inducted into the National Film & Sound Archive Hall of Fame in 2016.

Brook Andrew – Australia Council Visual Arts Award:
Brook Andrew is one of Australia’s most distinguished artists and his contribution to contemporary visual arts in Australia and globally is significant. He is the first Indigenous artist/curator to be appointed as the artistic director of the Biennale of Sydney. His reinterpretation of colonial and modern histories and his sharp focus on showing us alternative perspectives was showcased in his career survey exhibition, The Right to Offend is Sacred, at the National Gallery of Victoria in 2017. Brook’s interdisciplinary and collaborative practice encompasses photography, video, neon, text, collage, printmaking, assemblage, sculpture, painting and installation. His fascination with archival materials and strong interest in process is central to his practice. His research into Wiradjuri culture, racial identities, contemporary consumer culture, media and colonial histories gives him a uniquely Australian voice in critical global discussions.

r e a – Australia Council Award for Emerging and Experimental Arts:
r e a is a Gamilaraay/Wailwan/Biripi artist from NSW, who examines the bonds between our bodies and our politics, our memories, our place and our futures. They work with photography, digital media and moving images, connecting people and their stories through time and technology. Recently, r e a was part of the Big Anxiety festival’s Empathy clinic, inviting audiences to experience new forms of listening, reflection and meditation through story telling. A curator, cultural educator, arts worker and artist, r e a has studied extensively across art and the sciences in both Australia and New York, and has been recognised with a Fulbright scholarship, a Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarship, and an Australia Council New Media Arts Fellowship. r e a’s personal practice has been exhibited across Australia, Canada and the UK. It showcases cutting edge contemporary expressions of First Nations identity to a range of audiences.

Michelle Ryan – Australia Council Award for Dance:
Michelle has worked as a performer, choreographer and artistic director during her 25 year career in the arts. She uses her lived experience of disability to inform all her artwork, with humour, warmth and searing honesty. In 2005, Michelle began working with DanceNorth and helped to found Splintergroup, and in 2013 she was appointed Artistic Director of Restless Dance Theatre. In 2015 Michelle was inducted into the South Australian Woman’s Honour Roll. Her autobiographic solo show: Intimacy won the 2015 Australian Dance Award for Independent Dance and Michelle was also awarded the Adelaide Critics Circle Award for her performance. Michelle’s work is defined by her engagement with dancers, and her commitment to showcasing humanity, emotion and individual experiences. As artistic director of Restless, Michelle has grown the scope of audience engagement, touring works nationally and internationally. Intimate Space is played at the Seoul Street Arts Festival in October 2019.

Tommy Murphy – Australia Council Award for Theatre:
For the past 20 years, Tommy has been drawing the attention of theatre makers and theatre audiences alike with his creation of the kind of deeply nuanced characters who both challenge and clarify what we share as people. As an emerging artist he won the ACT Young Playwrights Award in 1996, and the following year he received the Sydney Theatre Company’s Young Playwright’s Award. Now Tommy devotes considerable time to supporting young artists, quietly nurturing and empowering a new generation of Australian playwrights. Tommy’s contribution to the Australian theatrical cannon is wide ranging – from illuminating the experience of 90 year old Gwen in the existential comedy Gwen in Purgatory; to an internationally acclaimed adaptation of Peter Pan. He has explored the lives of the very public Packer family and of Mary-Ellen Field and Mark Colvin’s friendship, as well as the universal coming of age journey in Saturn’s Return. From 2004 to 2006, Tommy was a resident playwright at Griffin Theatre Company where he wrote Strangers in Between and his now iconic and multi-award-winning adaptation of Holding The Man – widely recognised as a seminal work of Australian theatre.

Kath Duncan – Australia Council Ros Bower Award for Community Arts and Cultural Development:
Kath Duncan has worked extensively across the arts sector, celebrating and embracing the importance of difference. She has been a key part of arts and disability programs including Quippings and Art of Difference. She appeared on the TV program No Limits, and was lead the ARC Linkage Research project The Last Avant Garde in partnership with Arts Access Victoria and with the Universities of Melbourne and Sydney. She is a writer, a director, a provocateur, a visual artist, a comedian, a producer, a journalist, a radio presenter, a researcher and more – whatever she can be to explore new ideas. Her work has also provided voice and strength to others. She has helped to develop a well-spring of talent in the kind of inclusive way that sees artists of all descriptions find their story, their practice and their community. Much of Kath’s art is steeped in her own lived experience. Her art is truthful, raucously funny, discombobulating and piercingly blunt. She uses her work to share her knowledge that the lived experience of disability is a source of deep and abiding pride. In 2010, Kath cofounded Quippings, a diverse and inclusive independent cabaret ensemble and platform which has revolutionised pathways into the disability arts and independent arts scenes, nurturing hundreds of young and emerging intersectional disabled artists to develop skills across artistic domains from performance to production.

Autumn Skuthorpe – Australia Council Kirk Robson Award for Community Arts and Cultural Development: Autumn Skuthorpe is an experienced performer, artist, arts worker and administrator driven by community arts engagement and development. Her work spans music, film, cultural events, ZINES, youth arts leadership and mentoring, visual arts and performance. Since the age of 12, Autumn Skuthorpe has lived in the Central Queensland city of Mackay with her family. Her regional base informs her approach to art making with community in a range of settings and contexts. Since 2006 Autumn has worked with Crossroad Arts in a range of multi-faceted capacities. For members of Mackay and the surrounding region who identify as disabled, Autumn’s presence has been pivotal. She has and continues to work with these community members to spark exciting, new and varied forms of creative participation. Her tireless efforts and deep respect for people has resulted in meaningful and contemporary expressions of what it means to be human. Autumn has also founded several artist collectives, coordinated festivals, as well as exhibiting and performing her own work. She has been a representative in many forums and festivals, and in 2019 was selected for Australia Council’s own Future Leaders program.