Katoomba High Year 8 class wins top prize at Blue Fringe Art and Literature Awards

For the first time in its 28-year history, the Blue Fringe Art and Literature Festival's overall visual art prize was won by a youth entry - a sculpture titled "Together" created by the Katoomba High School Year 8 ceramics class.

The awards presentation was held at the Katoomba Community Centre on October 31 with Macquarie MP Susan Templeman and Blue Mountains mayor Mark Greenhill among the special guests.

The Blue Fringe Festival celebrates the creativity of people with a lived experience of mental illness and aims to create positive conversations around mental illness and the benefits of creativity to support good mental health. Recent years have seen the festival focus on engaging young people of high school age in conversations around how creativity can have a positive effect on mental well-being and resilience.

The 2020 festival featured more than 100 entries from local artists, writers and crafts people in the categories of art, sculpture, textiles, photography, poetry and short stories, 18 of which were youth submissions. The Katoomba High sculpture won the overall visual art award, the youth sculpture award and the Packer's Prize which saw the work take pride of place on the cover of the Blue Fringe 2020 Collected Works book.

The sculpture is a collaborative artwork by Year 8 ceramics class featuring a collection of individual ceramic figures crowded together wearing face masks and sprouting banksia sprigs.

"It is a response to the angst and mayhem brought by the bushfires and virus" said Melissa Grahovac, Head Teacher of Creative and Performing Arts at Katoomba High School.

"Art is a uniting force and making these sculptures together was a cathartic experience."

The overall visual art prize was sponsored by Blue Mountains City Council and awarded by Colin Berryman, Program Leader Community Development at Blue Mountains City Council. When awarding the prize, Mr Berryman said: "I like it for its humour, symbolism and uniqueness. We are all enduring the aftermath of the fires and the ordeal of COVID. These events have accentuated our common humanity, but 'we are all in this together' cuts both ways: we support each other but our individual experience is subsumed. Also, I get the impression you could arrange them any way you would want, and that would be fun."

The literature category was judged by Peter Minter of Varuna Writer's House who said: "I was deeply impressed by the quality of the writing across both the adult and youth categories, especially for the honesty and vitality with which all the authors brought to life the reality of living with mental illness, from the intensity of the pain and heartbreak to moments of strength, grace and resilience. Indeed, if one of the central tasks of literature and art is to help us truly understand one another, every piece has done so in a way that inspires insight and admiration. They all truly deserve equal commendation. I sincerely congratulate the authors and hope they keep writing."

In yet another first for the event, the people's choice and artist's choice awards were decided by online voting this year. The winner of both awards was a self-portrait photograph by Graham Lonard, a well-loved community member and mental health advocate from the Hawkesbury, entitled "Spring Smiles" featuring his sculptured rainbow beard.

The Blue Fringe 2020 Virtual Gallery, Virtual Book and Awards Presentations can be viewed online at www.bluefringe.org.au. The Collected Works book and selected art pieces are also available for sale on the website.