Art and Society Feature: The John Byrne Award

award entry by Conor McAllister

An Edinburgh-based art award’s deadline is 31st of January 2020 with the award ceremony taking place on the 7th of March, 2020. 

The John Byrne Award want to create opportunities for a larger, more diverse pool of applicants to contribute with an entry, and thus expand the conversation on various social topics and issues.

The John Byrne Award, a project of The Iris Initiative, describes itself as “an amalgamation of a community and exhibition, but above all else putting an emphasis on community and social values that inspire a deeper understanding of one’s actions and beliefs”. 

 The Iris Intiative CEO Niall Dolan states: “I started as a part-time organiser for The John Byrne Award in 2013, back when it was a competition for sixth years in a handful of high schools in and around Edinburgh. I applied for the job because I liked the ethos and trusted the people who ran The John Byrne Award.”

Jade Stein, Manager of The John Byrne Award believes Edinburgh is the ideal environment for creativity and social engagement. 

She said: “Edinburgh is a city in which creative expression is praised, celebrated and encouraged. The John Byrne Award offers a fully inclusive, open platform, embracing creativity in all its forms, just as communities in Edinburgh do.”

The John Byrne Award team

The award focuses on artistic talent and with the goal of shining a light on different social and cultural issues and how to understand or overcome them.

Stein added: “Our mission is to create Scotland’s most inclusive, creative arts platform and encourage the questioning and development of values appropriate to our age.

“Rapid changes to our society and technology pose pressing ethical and moral questions. We hope that the creative entries on our platform start conversations that change attitudes and behaviours for the better.”

Rachel Cairns, the award’s Digital Marketing Executive, reveals that her personal motivations for joining the team were its inclusive nature and forward thinking:


“I love that The John Byrne Award provides space for constructive discussion and for fostering understanding – something which I think will become increasingly important over the next few years.”

The award focuses on the importance of curiosity and emphasis on the local community as anyone over 16 years of age living in Scotland can apply.

The annual award is £7,500 while the quarterly prize is £500. 

This September’s winner is Natalie Arle-Toyne, prolific actress, singer, teacher and writer based in Scotland.

Arle-Toyne has recently leaped from an interpretive to a creative artist in her ongoing work on a new play with working title My Broken Finger.

You can see a segment of the entry here:

Arle-Toyne explained her motivation for applying for The John Byrne Award.

She said: “I love the ethos of the John Byrne award.  It is an open space – any creative medium can apply, and the driving force behind it is to make us think, to ask questions and encourage conversation about our local and global world. “

Natalie Arle-Toyne press photo

Her winning entry Is my broken finger the same as your broken leg? takes a perceptive look at the way we experience pain in our modern world and opens up a conversation about tolerance and understanding. 

Arle-Toyne added: “I was taught that one person’s pain is as significant as another person’s pain. 


“It has been a question that has fueled a few of my creative endeavours of late… It’s a complex question – it’s not a simple yes or no…The John Byrne Award offers a safe space – even though it is online for all to see – and it asked me to be brave with my work and to throw those questions out there.”

For more information about the John Byrne Award, and their upcoming deadlines, click here (to view their Facebook Page)

Access their social media pages (connect to their Twitter page).