In 2020, at the height of the pandemic in Australia, and while searching for things to help rebuild my own creative Universe, I had an idea. What if there was a natural history art prize that required entrants to create a work of art that explored their local prehistoric story. It was an idea consistent with a narrative I’ve promoted across many years that wherever we are, we need to know more about the organisms that once lived where we now live.
From that simple idea, the Dinosaur University Mary Anning Art Prize was born. Fast forward to 2023, where we’ve just run it for its fourth year. This year, we received close to 300 amazing entries of young people doing just that. Along the way, the project has garnered the support of the S.A. Science Teachers’ Association, Inspiring S.A., Childrens’ University, the State Library of South Australia, the Flinders University Palaeontology Society, and the University of Adelaide Palaeontologists.
Judges for the award comprise internationally renowned palaeontologists and palaeo-artists Dr Kailah Thorn, Brian Choo, Katrina Kenny, and Dr Elizabeth Reed, along with myself.
This year, we held a day of creative art workshops at the State Library of South Australia, supported by Inspiring S.A. The workshop saw around a hundred young people get to work on their art surrounded by palaeo artists and palaeontologists from Flinders University Palaeontology Society, and the University of Adelaide Palaeontologists. Workshop attendants and Art Prize Entrants who are part of the Children’s University programme are eligible for several hours to be credited to their Children’s University passports.
During this year’s Science Alive, a special space was created that gave young artists the opportunity to see entries from this year’s competition, create their own palaeo-art with help from a palaeontologist, and have their photo taken as Mary Anning, alongside Mary’s best friend, her dog, Tray.
Amongst all of this, of course, the highlight is the entries themselves. This year, with close to 300 entries across the 3 age ranges, we have again seen some wonderful artwork from young people. We have again seen young people make the effort to learn about and share the prehistoric stories of our place here in South Australia.
Had we established an art competition where we simply asked entrants to create a work of art that tells any prehistoric story, we would also have gotten hundreds of wonderful entries. It’s almost certain we’d have been sent lots of art telling a story about such dinosaurs as T.rex and Triceratops. The absolute delight for we who work in the local palaeontology space, is in seeing our stories being told. Stories of the first big life in the Ediacara Biota. Of our own megafauna. Of the plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs that once swam in the shallow, inland sea that covered much of South Australia during the Age of Dinosaurs.
Check out this year's winning entries here.
It has long been my view that we better know who we are when we better know the stories that come from the place where we live. Across the past four years, the Dinosaur University Mary Anning Art Prize has shown itself to be an effective vehicle through which to engage young people in our stories, and to have them being the one creating art that tells those stories.
Given the last 4 years, in looking toward 2024, we think there is an opportunity to keep growing this art award, and in having it as an increasingly central part of how we get young people across South Australia and beyond to connect to our stories.
What’s also very cool is that there are a range of other things happening in this space. You learn more about the Ediacara Biota in the Flinders Ranges 360VR, free to download, from the University of South Australia as part of Project Live - https://www.projectlive.org.au/360-flinders-ranges
We’re always looking for opportunities to partner with organisations who might be able to help expand the scope of the Dinosaur University Mary Anning Art Prize. Contact the team at SASTA if you think that could be you, and your organisation.
In 2020, palaeontologists from Flinders University and the University of Adelaide got together to share our local prehistoric stories through “The Great South Australian Fossil Debate”, hosted by singing palaeontologist, Professor Flint - https://www.sasta.asn.au/blog/2020/10/16/the_great_south_australian_fossil_debate
For more information about the Prof, and his songs about our local prehistoric animals, head to… https://linktr.ee/ProfessorFlint
Finally, while there are many organisations and individuals who have helped us get this to where it now is, I would personally like to thank Kate, Tegan and the remarkable team at SASTA for their belief in this idea, and in so enthusiastically leaping in to help it grow. For instantly seeing the merit of such a simple idea, and of running with it. As this project continues over the years, I can see that there will literally be thousands of young South Australians who will get to know our stories, and share them with their friends and families.
Creative Director, HeapsGood Productions