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We are delighted to announce Spectrum’s competition, The Spectrum Art Prize. This is a new national award which celebrates the exciting work produced by artists on the autistic spectrum. The award is open to all UK adults (aged 18 and above) and we encourage autistic artists to apply, working in any medium, from animation to sculpture and the whole myriad of forms in between – reflecting the creativity, diversity and excellence of artists with autism.

Spectrum has a long tradition working with the visual arts. As an organisation we have always believed that art can pay an invaluable part in creating a profound and lasting dialogue between the individuals we work with, and the outside world. Some of the work that has been produced through our Art Arc project has been of an extremely high calibre. For this reason we feel that the Art Prize will help elevate the abundant wealth of talent that so often goes unrecognised to a national audience.

Our commitment to using art as a therapeutic tool has received significant endorsement through a series of high profile auctions that have featured work form some of the World’s most prestigious contemporary artists including Damien Hirst, Chris Levine, Gerald Laing and Charming Baker. In 2012 The Saatchi Gallery, one of the World’s leading museums for contemporary art, held an auction exclusively for Spectrum’s arts initiatives raising over £75,000. This money is then put into a trust to benefit those in our care, and once more we are looking to raise autism awareness and funds to keep adding to this trust.

In keeping with the prize’s national aspiration, the open submission will be judged by an expert panel lead by curator and art historian Sacha Craddock, as well as Turner Prize winning artist Mark Wallinger (2007), Richard Billingham (nominated 2001) and Charming Baker. We are fortunate to have the advisory support from Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, one of the world’s leading experts in understanding autism and other similar neurological conditions. The selection panel is completed by Mary Simpson, CEO of Spectrum and a passionate advocate for the arts nationally within autism services. The prize will also be supported by Paget PR, one of the country’s leading agencies working specifically in the arts and culture sectors.


I believe that art can create a powerful and meaningful dialogue to those who feel socially isolated, lonely or different from those around them. The Spectrum Art Prize is an opportunity for artists with autism to share their unique world view, as well their hopes and perceptions of life

Mary Simpson CEO, Spectrum


A first prize of £10,000 will be awarded to the overall winner, as well as invaluable professional mentoring, curatorial and PR support, with 5 runners-up also receiving an award of £1,000 each.

The aim is to provide both a platform and a professional network for these remarkable artists, enabling them to generate opportunities that might otherwise be closed or difficult to access. Living with autism creates challenges but also a unique perspective on the world and The Spectrum Art Prize will initiate an ongoing legacy to articulate and define their own life experiences.

 We will be extremely grateful to all those that join us in promoting this competition. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that The Spectrum Art Prize receives the maximum exposure it deserves and that anyone who feels that they can contribute to the process and celebration, will be warmly welcomed.

As an open competition the SPECTRUM art prize encourages a truly unimagined relation to the work itself, where artwork rather than curatorial presumption will dictate the selection. An 'open' exhibition celebrates the ability of an artwork to triumph over context and expectation. This may seem simple but in fact such a principle allows a greater level of openness and surprise. With no predetermined expectation for work the selectors of the SPECTRUM prize recognise the fantastic level of work done across the country by an immense range of artists, amateurs, part timers and workshop attendees.

An exhibition that emerges out of selection from open submission is precious, because it fights the unspoken sense that all 'experts' agree on what constitutes quality. The artistic image seldom has the opportunity to function outside preconceived expectations of authorship and origins. In contrast, the open exhibition allows an element of surprise and discovery and newness to sneak through. It gives artists a greater level of opportunity for it the artwork precedes them. It gives work a chance to be seen equally.

As Chair of the open competition New Contemporaries, which has been going, one way or another, for 50 years, I celebrate the fact that it remains an open call. The same principles apply to Spectrum's open submission: with a framework that is clear and accessible and experienced judges who regard the work above all else without pre selection or knowing anything about the entrants.

A pre-selection, anyway, presupposes an unspoken, agreed attitude to art, whereas the shortlist of work that selectors reserve begins to provide a virtual body, a raw language, a context that can be built upon. Of course there are prevailing, general notions of what is good or bad, but the image, object or concept does, when let loose, have an amazing ability to establish its autonomy.

The good selector - led by what's actually there rather than what he or she wants to see - will allow the artwork to emerge without trying to impose a plan or follow a trend. The resulting open exhibition will have a very different quality than a curated group project. A curator might feel that a whole world of options is open to them, but the open exhibition comes out of the context of itself, the pool is already there.

The open competition allows a three-dimensional sense of possibility.

The process of selection - shadowing the creative process itself - combines knowledge and risk, concentration and vision, and allows the slightest shift in nuance and approach to shine through.

Copyright Sacha Craddock June 2016

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