Like most community events, the 1770 Art Show had a humble beginning. Initiated in 1993, the Captain Cook 1770 Festival did not include an Art Show until around 2003. The first Art Show was displayed in a small marquee on the Festival grounds, exhibiting the work of the local artistic community over the two-day Festival. Prizes, sponsored by local businesses, were given based on votes from Festival attendees. Drawings, painting, prints, sculpture and textiles have been exhibited throughout the Art Show’s history.
As the popularity of the Show and the number of entries grew, it became apparent that a larger, more secure venue was needed. Consequently, the Show was moved to the meeting room of the Ocean Beach Resort, now Sandcastles 1770 Resort, where it was held for a number of years. The large hessian-covered display frames — designed and built by the Agnes Water Lions Club — completely filled the space inside. Attendees spilled out onto the parking lot after viewing the artwork to hear the award presentations. School children were invited to enter their artwork as well. Opening Night was held on the Friday before the Festival, and the Show was open for viewing on Saturday and Sunday. The largest public space at the time, the meeting room continued to be utilized as the venue for the Art Show for several years.
Shortly after the first Show, early organizers approached a major sponsor to provide a large cash prize for the first and second place overall winners. The first major sponsor was Queensland Alumina Ltd., based in Gladstone. The partnership between the Art Show and QAL continued for a total of seven years. With the commitment of a major sponsor, entries to the Show grew even more, and the Show started to attract the attention of artists over a greater area. Local businesses have been the backbone of the Art Show since the beginning, providing cash prizes for each section winner. Local businesses continue to be the main source of prize money for the Art Show, many of which have continued their support for years.
Early on, the town newspaper, The Coastal Rag, instigated a competition for artists to compete for a cash prize and the opportunity to have their artwork featured on the cover of the annual Art Show Programme. This competition evolved into the Programme Cover Competition for Agnes Water State School students only. In 2015, the competition was open to AWSS students along with students from the Discovery Christian College. In 2016, the Programme Cover Competition began to be rotated throughout schools in the local area. Only students from one area's school are invited to compete each year to have their work of art chosen for the cover of the Art Show Programme, and to win a voucher for $100 worth of art supplies.
The Agnes Water Community Centre was completed in late 2011. Due to delays in the construction, the Agnes Water State School graciously agreed to hold the Art Show in the then-new School Hall in 2011. For the first time, the Show had room to spread out and display the artworks in a spacious, open venue. Organisers decided to extend the opening hours so that Festival goers, school children and the general public would have more time to view the show. Opening Night was changed to the Wednesday before the Festival weekend, allowing the Show to be open for four days, instead of just two. Also in 2011 and for the first time, a major exhibition from the local Agnes Water Quilting and Textile Group (AWQTG) was displayed in conjunction with the Art show. A People’s Choice Award, voted on exclusively by Opening Night attendees, was implemented in 2011, and has always been sponsored by a local business. In addition, the Show includes a door prize, drawn on Opening Night, sponsored by local and out-of-town businesses. The Agnes Water Community Centre now provides a permanent, spacious and accommodating venue for subsequent Art Shows and AWQTG exhibits.
In 2014, the Art Show introduced two new awards: The Member of Parliament Award for Excellence in Quilting and Textiles, and the Large Canvas School Project (LCSP). The MP award was established in 2013 to recognise the expertise and talent of this separate, non-competitive exhibit, held in conjunction with the Art Show. The current local MP, Mr. Stephen Bennett, readily committed to this award. The Large Canvas School Project invites schools within an ever-expanding radius of Agnes Water, including Agnes Water State School, Bernarby, Bororen, Discovery Coast Christian College, Lowmead, Miriam Vale, Rosedale and Wartburg to take part in creating an interpretive work of art based on an annual theme, created on a large canvas supplied by the Art Show. Each canvas is displayed at the Art Show. While not a competition, an award is presented to each participating school. This project provides many school children with their first experience of taking part in and viewing a gallery-style art display, and encourages on-going student involvement with and participation in the visual arts. In 2016, plans are in place to expand the LCSP to include a sister school, the SDS Anak Bangsa Cerdas (ABC) Elementary School in Java. Local and out-of-town businesses alike have sponsored the LCSP.
The Captain Cook 1770 Festival now attracts in excess of 4,500 people each year. As the Festival has grown, so has the Art Show, providing a venue for art and artists not only locally, but nationally and internationally. Each year the number of Art Show entries have increased across all art prize sections. The majority of the entries come from within a 500 kilometre radius, an area that extends from Brisbane to Townsville and out past Blackwater to the west.
The Art Show has become an important event in the art community of the Wide Bay area and the central coast of Queensland. From that small exhibit in a marquee on the Festival grounds, to a widely recognized art event, the 1770 Art Show looks forward to many more years of community and cultural commitment.