The National Portrait Gallery has announced sweeping changes to its 2024 prize season, making entry more accessible for artists. Entry fees have been removed for both the Darling Portrait Prize and the National Photographic Portrait Prize. Additionally, finalists for both prizes will be paid a $1200 artist fee and a $1000 copyright and licensing fee. The Gallery will also cover finalists’ freight expenses and a travel allowance for the exhibition launches.

The biennial Darling Portrait Prize, which accepts recent portrait paintings, was established in 2020 to honour the Portrait Gallery’s founding patron L Gordon Darling.
The annual National Photographic Portrait Prize, meanwhile, returns for its 17th year in 2024. It’s described by the gallery as “a powerful visual record of the year that was – a celebration of identity, both collective and individual.”

Gallery director Bree Pickering says the changes align with the introduction of the government’s Revive National Cultural Policy earlier this year. Revive outlines a five-year plan that aims to transform the creative sector. One of its five pillars – titled “Centrality of the Artist” – focuses on better supporting Australian artists as workers.

“The tenets of Revive are really excellent and aligned with a lot of the work that’s already happening in the cultural sector, but I think in particular the pillar that looks at artists and respects their work sends quite a strong message to cultural institutions to be looking at how they’re paying artists,” says Pickering.

She adds that the new accessibility measures are standard for most traditional gallery exhibitions, but historically haven’t been applied to prize exhibitions. This might be because prizes are often community-based, crowdfunded and steeped in a gallery’s history, leading to a sort of conservatism around the prize’s structure.

Resources and funding also influence an organisation’s approach to prizes. But working towards levelling the playing field for artists is a priority for Pickering, who made similar changes at the Murray Art Museum in Albury while director there in 2018.

“Even a $50 application fee, when you’ve got other priorities, can be a barrier,” Pickering says. “What’s so important about the prizes for institutions is that they are a sort of democratic process and they bring work forward to institutions that they may not have seen otherwise. Making that process more accessible to more people should give us a wider variety of work to look at and further democratise the process.”

While the gallery is largely focused on portraits of Australians and individuals who have made a significant contribution to Australian life, the prizes celebrate portraiture more broadly.

“It can be your neighbour or your friend who is significant to you. It doesn’t have to have that broader context. It brings the nature of portraiture – and the dialogue around the nature of portraiture – into a more dynamic space for us as an institution,” Pickering says.

She points to the Archibald Prize as an example of the cultural value and significance of art prizes, and the DPP has brought candid, intimate scenes to the fore, highlighting personal issues that resonate with wider audiences.

Last year’s finalists, for example, included the late Sydney artist Filippa Buttitta’s painting her surgeon, Dr Charlie Teo, operating on an aggressive brain tumour in her own brain, while Tasmanian artist Nicholas Hopwood painted his daughter Josephine in an expression of his hopes and anxieties about the world we’re leaving for future generations.

“What we see in our prizes is that audiences, beyond your more core art audience, really engage with the concept of a prize. Sharing work with as many people as possible is really important and whichever mechanism we need to use to do that, I think we should.”

The 2024 Darling Portrait Prize winner will be awarded $75,000, with finalists for both prizes being exhibited at the Gallery from June next year. The winner of the 2024 National Photographic Portrait Prize, meanwhile, will receive a $30,000 cash prize and $20,000 worth of photographic equipment.

Broadsheet is a proud media partner of National Portrait Gallery. Entry for the Darling Portrait Prize is open now until Wednesday January 31, 2024 while entry for the National Photographic Portrait Prize is open now until Wednesday February 7, 2024.