"Why does the world of the arts need yet another prize?" you might ask yourself. Well, I'd like to make clear straight away that the new Genesis Prize is not intended as yet another beano to celebrate the triumphs of the great and good. Yes, the Genesis Prize is designed to recognise achievement, but its specific aim is to recognise an individual who excels at enabling other people to excel.
We tend to think of a young artist struggling alone in a garret or a studio, but - like almost any profession you could name - art is largely a collaborative enterprise. Artists need people around them to provide support and inspiration and to channel their work to the public. A key aim of the London-based Genesis Foundation, which I established in 2001, is to provide emerging talents with access to experts who can give guidance while opening the way to new opportunities.
The Genesis Foundation believes that its £25,000 award, which we announced on Tuesday, is the first and only prize to recognise individuals who give others the confidence and inspiration to achieve artistic excellence in their chosen field. What's more - unusually for an award of this value - its remit extends beyond a specific art form.
The idea for the prize came to me during last year's celebrations for the 10th anniversary of the Genesis Foundation. We nurture young talent by working with advisers and partner organisations, developing schemes and programmes that help young artists develop their potential. In the course of 2011, as I looked back over the last 10 years and met up with all the contributors to the Foundation's work, the importance of the mentor's role shone out. In our lives, nearly all of us have benefited from access to a trusted person who happily assumes the responsibility of generously and unselfishly providing ideas and counsel. In that respect, successful artists are just like us.
The six people shortlisted for the Genesis Prize provide mentorship to young artists every day of their working lives. In keeping with the Genesis Foundation's commitment to art in all its diversity, they are active in different fields: theatre, opera, fine art, video, experimental music, sound art, video and more. All of them combine unswerving dedication with an entrepreneurial approach to furthering the cause and careers of deserving young artists. Significantly, we stipulated that the judging process should take account of a short statement from each contender, describing how he or she would 'invest' the £25,000 prize money. We want this prize to have further implications and I especially hope that it will trigger debate on the whole theme of mentoring in the artistic world, encouraging a culture that recognises and promotes the pivotal role of the mentor.
After much discussion, the judging panel decided on the winner of the inaugural Genesis Prize: Hamish Dunbar. Four years ago he opened Café Oto in Hackney, East London to provide a home for non-mainstream new music. Hamish's entrepreneurial courage in founding the venue, set in a disused Hackney warehouse, is paired with exceptional creativity in bringing artists together to form new relationships. Still more than that, he has created a new audience for avant-garde music. With his £25,000 prize, he will launch an Associate Artists Programme that will provide a platform for championing emerging musicians. As he says, "We hope that through this work we can help give experimental music the profile it deserves and develop the careers of some of the UK's most exciting musicians."
Hamish understands that, with a mentor, a young artist has both a springboard for experimentation and an essential safety net. For its continuing vitality, art needs to take risks - and who better to take those risks than the young? In the years to come, I hope the Genesis Prize will play a growing role in ensuring that those risks pay off - for both the artist and the public.
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