The awards are a closed application process, with participation in the scheme each year by invitation only.

Artists are invited to apply for the awards after being nominated. The nominators change each year and are either artists themselves or recognised professionals in related fields, such as museum and gallery directors, curators, journalists, teachers, musicians and programmers.

Each nominator puts forward the names of up to five artists who live and practice in the UK. Each artist is then informed of their nomination and asked if they would like to submit an application that includes biographical details, examples of their work, evidence of financial need and a statement explaining how an award would help them. Artists who do not live and work in the UK, or are in full-time undergraduate or funded postgraduate education, are not eligible to apply.

The identities of each year’s nominators and nominees remain confidential throughout the process. Artists are not told who nominated them, unless they are selected to receive an award.

Applications are considered by two panels of judges, one for each art form. The visual arts panel is chaired by Jane Hamlyn, Chair of Paul Hamlyn Foundation, and the composers panel is chaired by music journalist and broadcaster Kevin Le Gendre. Panel members change every year, and include at least one artist (often a previous recipient) as well as respected individuals from similar professional backgrounds to the nominators. Judges are not told if artists have been nominated previously.

The visual arts judging panel meets to review all applications and select five recipients. The composers panel select a shortlist in their own time and then come together to choose the five recipients.

The names of the nominated or shortlisted artists are not made public. This reflects the Foundation’s wish to reduce as much as possible the sense of disappointment for those who are not shortlisted or selected. Applicants are informed of the outcome of the judging in the autumn, and the recipients of the awards are announced at a reception in November each year.

In light of the ongoing pandemic, the normal process of selecting the award recipients was put to one side in 2020 and 2021. In 2020, every eligible artist nominated for the awards – over 100 in total – received £10,000. In 2021, the awards used the confidential nomination and selection process that we have used for decades, with a simplified model to alleviate the application burden on nominated artists, making 40 awards at £25,000. Given the changes we made in 2020 and 2021, the artists who received an award in these years are still considered eligible for a future award. In 2022, we returned to the usual Awards process, making awards to five visual artists and five composers.