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2020 National Contemporary Art Award – suspended until 2021

8 May 2020


Waikato Museum regretfully announces that the 2020 National Contemporary Art Award has been cancelled due to the need to meet emergency conditions introduced by the New Zealand Government to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

The 21st running of the Award will now be held in 2021.

The National Contemporary Award is one of New Zealand’s most prestigious and richest art awards. It has launched the national and international careers of a number of New Zealand artists.  We are therefore conscious of the need to protect the standing and reputation of this premier national art competition for the sake of the arts community.  

The COVID-19 lockdown was introduced at a most critical period for the Award timetable and for artists wishing to enter the Award.  The call for entries coincided with the lockdown. This has affected entry numbers and created uncertainty over the ability to stage the Awards and exhibition of finalists (8 August - 15 November) to meet the excellent standards established over many years.  The decision to cancel the Award this year was only made after a close review of the situation to determine if any practical options were available.

We are investigating the possibilities of staging a virtual or ‘real’ retrospective exhibition showcasing the past 20 years of the Award – and we look forward to celebrating the Award’s 21st anniversary in 2021.

Please read the media announcement here.

About the National Contemporary Art Award

The National Contemporary Art Award brings the best in New Zealand contemporary art to Hamilton and the Waikato. Entries are drawn from across the country and from New Zealand citizens living overseas. 

The overall winner receives $20,000 from major sponsors Tompkins Wake and Chow:Hill Architects Ltd. The Hugo Charitable Trust sponsors the Hugo Award for the Runner-Up, with the recipient receiving $5,000, and two merit award winners receive $1,000 sponsored by Friends of Waikato Museum and Random Art Group.

Visitors to the exhibition are encouraged to cast their vote for the Campbell Smith Memorial People’s Choice Award before the exhibition closes. This award, worth $250, is sponsored by the Smith family as a tribute to the former Waikato Art Museum Director, artist, playwright and poet.

Every year a new judge is chosen with the credibility to select the finalists and the ultimate winner. Through elimination, it is the judge who curates the award, shaping the final exhibition as well as choosing a winner, runner-up and merit award winners. The finalists are selected by viewing photos or videos of the works and artists’ statements on a digital judging platform, with the entrants’ identities kept confidential. The winning works are then decided in situ at Waikato Museum.

The award was initiated in 2000 by the Waikato Society of Arts. It has always been held at Waikato Museum, which has managed the award since 2006. 

Follow the National Contemporary Art Award on Facebook and get updates first. 


Major Sponsors


Hugo Award

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Merit Awards

Random Art Group

Friends of Waikato Museum

People's Choice Award

Family of former Waikato Museum Director Campbell Smith