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Prestigious Art Competition Remains In Whakatane

Prestigious Art Competition Remains In Whakatane

Winning the renowned Molly Morpeth Canaday Award is something hundreds of New Zealand artists strive to achieve each year.

Named after a Wellington-born expressionist painter who passed away in the early 1970s, the award celebrates artistic excellence, alternating each year between painting and drawing (2D), and 3D genres such as sculpture, ceramics and installations.

Following Molly’s death, her husband, Frank Canaday, established a series of art funds nationwide. Three decades on, most funds have dwindled or been re-directed into other art projects – except the one in Whakatāne where a $10,000 prize is offered by the local Molly Morpeth Canaday Trust each year.

“Entry numbers have grown over the years as the award has become quite established, explains Chairperson of the MMC Awards Organising Committee, Sue Whale. “All the artists, universities, art institutions and major art galleries know about it. It’s most definitely become a prestigious award – to have won the Molly Morpeth Canaday is a big plus for an artist’s CV, especially when they’re applying for an art-related job or a residency.”

In 2021 around 560 award entries were received. The top entries are put on public display by Arts Whakatāne and Te Kōputu a te whanga a Toi - Whakatāne Library and Exhibition Centre, over a two month period (February to April each year).


Professional Role

Organising such a big competition is no small feat, and takes around 20 hours of work each week, all year-round, by an awards co-ordinator. Volunteers have previously done it for a small koha but Sue says the time has come to make a change. Funding was recently sought to pay a suitably qualified individual – and BayTrust has agreed to grant $10,000 towards the role.

“The awards have grown substantially over the years and it’s a lot of work to do it professionally. We are very grateful for this funding because it allows us to pay what we deem to be the right amount of money for the right amount of time that is invested in this job.”

A further $10,000 has been committed by Whakatāne District Council to ensure the awards can continue in 2022 and beyond. Without the money, Sue feared the annual competition would come to an end.

“It was in danger if we couldn’t find the funding. We knew there would be other centers [elsewhere in New Zealand] who would be very keen to take it on. But we wanted it to stay here in Whakatāne so we were determined to secure funding for this role.


“BayTrust and the district council certainly feel it’s a great asset for the town also and we’re thankful for their support.”


On Display

Tauranga-based artist Lynette Fisher has been appointed to the new co-ordinator role and will be responsible for securing the sponsors and assembling the pre-judging panel and the main judge each year. “It’s quite a complex role… there are different tasks throughout the year including a lot of admin, marketing and promotion,” Sue explains.

Judges are appointed at least 12 months in advance. Liaising with all entrants and arranging for the top artworks to be sent to Whakatāne and displayed in the exhibition centre is a huge task, but one which greatly benefits the general public and New Zealand’s arts community.

“It’s definitely high quality art from around New Zealand. It gives artists an opportunity to show their work. So if you’re interested at all in art, come and see it. It’s one of the major exhibitions on the New Zealand arts calendar, no doubt.”


In addition to the main Molly Morpeth Canaday Award, smaller monetary prizes are also offered to the runners up (included highly commended and merit awards) as well as a Youth Art Award.


Next year’s 3D exhibition will be held at Te Kōputu a te whanga a Toi - Whakatāne Library and Exhibition Centre from Saturday 12th February until Saturday 9th April 2022.