Eastern Open award winners announced at King’s Lynn Arts Centre

Norfolk artists have swept the board at Britain's largest open art competition, winning ten of the 12 prizes on offer.

This year's Eastern Open, held at King's Lynn Arts Centre, attracted 557 works by 280 artists from seven counties and had prize money totalling more than �4,000.

The winners were announced during a packed ceremony on Saturday afternoon when a selection of the works went on show at the King Street complex.

Celebrities Jessica Lack, arts writer for The Guardian, 20th century design expert and TV presenter Mark Hill and Yasmin Canvin, director of Fermynwoods Contemporary Art, were selectors for the exhibition, which features 106 works by 80 different artists.

The experts were joined by a lay panel, known as community choice, made up of local artists Sarah Greenacre, Susan Sexton and John Trower, who chose 65 pieces between them

Artist Susan Taylor and photographer Laura Genlloud, both from Norwich, were named best in show and shared the �2,000 prize money.

Susan's applauded work, Miseltoe, also earned her the WEG Purchase award.

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Four of the prizes went to west Norfolk entrants, including Garry Hobbs of Terrington St Clement who received the new �100 King's Lynn Arts Centre Friends' Newcomer Award, and Lynn's Andrew Schumann, who won a �50 voucher from Heritage Framing in Lynn.

Ben Stewart, from Denver near Downham Market, won both the �500 John Holmes Memorial Drawing Award and Greyfriars Art Space Exhibition.

There were also awards for Mike Harding of Norwich, Ron Sims of Coggleshall in Essex, Laurie Rudling of Norwich, Rachel Roft of Halesworth in Suffolk, and Attleborough-based artist Chris Gamble, who took home two prizes.

Saturday's presentation coincided with the official signing over of the Arts Centre to the volunteers who saved it from closure.

The centre had the rug pulled from under its feet two years ago when West Norfolk Council announced its closure as part of a number of cost-saving measures.

A huge campaign was launched to save it and the King's Lynn Arts Centre Trust was formed to take over the running of the complex, which includes a theatre.

On Friday, the trustees signed the lease for the centre with West Norfolk council's chief executive Ray Harding, marking a new chapter in its history.

There were cheers when chairman Alan Taylor announced the news and thanked all those involved, including the council, volunteers, Friends and staff.

'We are officially on our own two feet,' Mr Taylor, general manager of the EDP's sister publication the Lynn Free Press, told the crowd.

'We have some incredible exhibitions planned as well as plans to closely with the community to strengthen the role of art and education.'

The venue will receive grant funding from the borough council on a three-year rolling agreement, but the Friends will also need to raise funds.

Arts Centre director Liz Falconbridge added: 'We are a bit numb, but it's a very exciting challenge. We must especially thank the council which believed in us enough to invest in us.'

The Eastern Open exhibition will run in all four galleries the Arts Centre until May 19.

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