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PICA receives major gift to establish the Judy Wheeler Commission

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The Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA) has announced that it has received a major donation that will support a new decade long commissioning program for Australian visual artists.

A gift of $300,000 from Tom, Genevieve and Jamie Simpson will establish the Judy Wheeler Commission, a new 10-year site-specific commissioning program at PICA in memory of the late Judy Wheeler.

This significant gift, the largest in PICA’s history, will fund an annual commission of site-specific work by an Australian visual artist that responds physically or conceptually to the architecture and history of the PICA building and its site and embodies PICA’s spirit of risk and experimentation.

“We are incredibly grateful for the Simpson family’s leadership, trust and inspirational generosity. This is a significant milestone for PICA that demonstrates the value we hold in the community and the bold plans we have for the future. The Judy Wheeler Commission will provide high-profile opportunities for Australian contemporary artists to create ambitious and accessible new site-responsive works befitting PICA’s iconic status. We hope the Simpson family’s gift will inspire others to think big – they are a shining example of how arts philanthropy makes extraordinary things possible.” says PICA Chair, Mark Clapham.

Judy Wheeler was born in 1954 and grew up in Gosford, New South Wales. She spent a year at the National Institute of Dramatic Art, obtained a teaching diploma at Sydney Teachers College, and a BA from Flinders University. She later worked as a town councillor and a bookshop owner. Throughout her life she was an enduring lover and supporter of the arts. For several years she funded Western Australia’s T.A.G. Hungerford literary award, and through her patronage of the visual arts she amassed a substantial collection of Australian prints and paintings. She passed away in 2010 after a long illness. She is survived by her husband Jamie Simpson and her children Tom and Genevieve.

Through the Judy Wheeler Commission, PICA’s ambition is to activate spaces that visitors enter and move through when they visit the PICA building, including its entrance lobby, foyer and stair wells. It is envisaged that each commission will be installed for up to a one-year period, commencing January 2023.

“Relative to other galleries, PICA has always stood out to me for its efficiency. It thus seemed to have the greatest potential to make the donation go a long way. I was also drawn to PICA’s proposal that the donation be used to establish an annual commission. This arrangement should benefit not only those members of the community who are interested in the arts, but also Australian artists themselves, including emerging artists and artists from minority backgrounds. And, in addition to my late mother’s passion for the arts, this donation felt appropriate given that COVID has hurt Australia’s cultural sector far more than most other areas of the economy. I’m really looking forward to seeing what eventuates from this commission, especially ten years from now when there’s a substantial body of work to look back on.” says Tom Simpson.

The commission will be awarded each year through a competitive process, which includes an annual open callout for artwork proposals. Applications will be assessed by a selection panel comprising a PICA representative and independent industry experts. A shortlist of three submissions will be recommended by the panel and the final selection will be made by PICA.

This opportunity is open to all Australian based visual artists, at any stage of their career and whose mediums might include, but not be limited to, painting, sculpture, sound and video.

PICA is committed to ensuring a diverse representation of artists across the 10 years of the program and strongly encourages identifying artists to apply, including those that are Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD), Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, living with a disability, or part of the LGBTQI+ community.

“Commissioning new work is one of the best ways we can support artists. It often enables the next big step in an artistic practice and those all-important career-enhancing moments. The Judy Wheeler Commission will directly support Australian visual artists to create significant new site-specific work within a much-loved building at the heart of the Perth Cultural Centre and on Whadjuk Noongar country. I’m excited about how the program will welcome and attract visitors to PICA, while contributing to a new understanding of its site, architecture, history and potential.” says PICA Director, Amy Barrett-Lennard.

The inaugural recipient of the Judy Wheeler Commission will be announced in July.

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