When artist Tony Albert relocated to Sydney from Brisbane 10 years ago, FBi was the first media outlet to reach out and make him feel welcome. Since then, the two-time Archibald Prize finalist has been a guest on the community radio station’s weekly arts program, and has generously contributed original artworks for the station’s biennial visual art auctions.

“FBi is a genuinely supportive, on-the-ground community that [aligns] philosophically with my own lifestyle, so I’m always very keen to be involved with the auction,” Albert tells Broadsheet.

Since the country went into lockdown in April, Albert has been living with family in Brisbane, reluctant to return to Sydney until Queensland opens its borders to interstate travellers. And while he’s created a bespoke artwork for the auction, it was from a dining room table, rather than his usual studio space in Carriageworks.

Now in its fourth year, the biennial FBi art auction attracts some of the biggest names in the Australian art world, along with some of the industry’s most exciting emerging artists. Artists who have contributed works to this year’s auction include Lindy Lee, who will have a major solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art later this year; former Venice Biennale Australian representative Mike Parr; Reg Mombassa; Ken Done; Janet Laurence, whose recent MCA survey was a resounding success; Archibald and Sulman Prize finalist Jason Phu; multidisciplinary artist Abdul Abdullah; and Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship winner Tom Polo.

Emerging artists include Wiradjuri conceptual artist and 2020 Wyndham Art Prize-winner Amala Groom, who will donate her commission to an Aboriginal family whose son was killed by police; and Korean-Australian Hyun Lee, who has submitted a large, arresting archival print titled Girl on Fire.

In previous years the auction has been staged as a physical exhibition at the National Art School, AGNSW and MCA. Given current venue capacity restrictions, this year the exhibition is going digital for the first time – and FBi managing director Nikki Brogan couldn’t be happier.

“We’re quite excited about exploring the digital format. The artworks we’re featuring will be accessible to more of our audience who aren’t based in the inner city,” Brogan tells Broadsheet, pointing out that the station has an audience of 580,000 across Sydney, but a far larger digital footprint nationwide.

From 10am on June 15 listeners can start bidding in a silent auction for the 70 artworks, which range from oil on canvas to etchings and sculpture, with reserves beginning at $100 and going up to $3000. The auction will run for a fortnight, and proceeds from the auction go to the artists themselves, with a percentage to FBi to raise the critical funds that keep the station running.

“It’s a great way for our community to engage with artworks, whether they’re emerging collectors, first-time buyers, gallerists or people who know exactly who they’re looking for. It really means this is a new opportunity for our audience,” says Brogan.

Albert’s contribution is a large, minimalist work of ink and acrylic on paper, featuring the southern cross and the words “I want to believe” written across it – with “lie” highlighted.

“As an artist, sometimes it’s easier just to pull something out of the stockroom – which is not a criticism – but I feel the people who are at these auctions want to be there [for] FBi. So if you do something especially for it, you get a better outcome,” says Albert.

Since its launch in 2003 FBi has been a staunch supporter of Sydney’s music, arts and cultural industries, with programs such as weekly arts show Canvas, and its culture guide pointing people to upcoming gigs and events.

“It’s about mobilising our community to engage with what’s going on in Sydney and to use this important time for anyone who can to support the arts more generally,” says Brogan. “The uncertainty ahead for the sector [means] there’s a whole bunch of galleries closed at the moment; stages have gone dark, mics switched off. But we’re still broadcasting 24/7 and we’re still connecting with an audience who care for and want to engage with what’s going on in their city. That’s something we’re really excited to be able to continue.”

The FBi Radio Digital Art Auction runs from Monday 15 June to Friday 26 June on fbiradio.com/artauction.