In 1958, the Muswellbrook Municipal Council, acting on the recommendation of its Cultural and Recreational Advisory Committee established the ‘Festival of the Valley Art Prize’ – the acquisitive prize that is today known as the Muswellbrook Art Prize – with an objective “to foster the interest in and understanding of art in the Upper Hunter Valley area and to play a part, however modest, in the promotion of art and the encouragement of artists generally, throughout Australia, the prize winning works to form the nucleus of a Muswellbrook Municipal Council Collection.”
From the two winning works in 1958, Death of Voss by Thomas Gleghorn (winner of the Muswellbrook Art Prize) and Rock Patterns by Viola Bromley (winner of the Muswellbrook Local Art Prize) the Muswellbrook Shire Art Collection, as it is now known, has grown to become an excellent cross-section of modern and contemporary Australian Art from the Post War period of the 20th Century and now the first two decades of the 21st Century.
Great Australian artists such as David Aspden, Judy Cassab, Pro Hart, Dale Frank, Richard Larter, Janet Laurence, Margot Lewers, Elwyn Lynn, Bea Maddock, Reg Mombassa, Mike Parr, Brett Whiteley and Fred Williams are represented in the Muswellbrook Shire Art Collection along with many significant regional and emerging artists.
Acquisitive prizes which include the Muswellbrook Art Prize and Muswellbrook Photographic Award are not the only way in which the Muswellbrook Shire Art Collection has grown since 1958. There are various ways in which the Council collects art.
Donations can come from a variety of sources, including the artist themselves, collectors, commercial art dealers, associated groups (such as the Muswellbrook and Districts Camera Club) or via a bequest. The Arts Centre has been a participating institution in the Commonwealth Government’s Cultural Gifts Program since 2005 allowing donors to gain a tax concession under the Australian Taxation Incentives for the Arts. Some donors use this program while others donate works outright. Collectors also place works with the Collection on a loan basis. Works can also be purchased by the Council for inclusion in the Collection.
An important aspect of both the Muswellbrook Shire and Max Watters Collections is the inclusion of local artists’ works. The Shire Art Collection has accumulated some of the best of the locals output. An acquisitive prize was attached to the Muswellbrook Local Art Prize from 1958 to 1979, while in recent years the Council’s purchasing program has tended to focus on artists from the Hunter Valley with an emphasis on those from the Upper Hunter Region.
Selected works from the Shire Collection are displayed periodically as part of the annual exhibition program.