Artists have travelled to Antarctica from the earliest explorations, with photographers Herbert Ponting and Frank Hurley perhaps the best known.
New Zealand has supported artists in Antarctica since the beginnings of its involvement in 1956. In the early days of the New Zealand Antarctic programme most artists were either commissioned or NZ Defence Force artists.
In 1996 a resolution was passed at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) that recommended the promotion of understanding and appreciation of the values of Antarctica, in particular its scientific, aesthetic and wilderness values, through… the contribution of writers, artists and musicians. Later that year, the education strategy approved by the Board of Antarctica New Zealand affirmed the role artists could play in supporting the overall aims of the Antarctic Treaty. So, in each subsequent season two or three New Zealand artists have travelled to spend some time on the Ice through the Artists to Antarctica Programme, established in partnership with Creative New Zealand.
Under this partnership Antarctica New Zealand provided administrative and logistical support, and Creative New Zealand financial support. The programme encouraged New Zealand artists in all disciplines to explore Antarctica through their work, thus increasing New Zealanders' understanding of Antarctica's value and global importance. Antarctica New Zealand has catered for a wide variety of arts, ranging from visual artists of various media (painters, ceramicists, photographers, sculptors, choreographers, jewellers, designers) through to writers and composers. These artists were awarded the title of Antarctic Arts Fellows. The first recipients were the painter Nigel Brown and writer Chris Orsman who travelled with Invited Artist Bill Manhire, in the 1997/98 season.
Since 2008 Antarctica New Zealand has run an invitation-only arts fellowship and was selected by expert panel targeting high profile, senior New Zealand artists.
This programme is currently under review.