Icons are artists whose work represents a legacy to, and a mark on, our culture. They have made a significant impact on their chosen art form. They remain influential and inspirational and continue to be admired for their work. Selected during their lifetime, they are world-class.

The Arts Foundation Icon Awards - Whakamana Hiranga, honours senior New Zealand artists for their extraordinary achievements.  These artists are recognised as leaders in their fields.  The Icon Award is the Arts Foundation's highest honour.

The Arts Foundation appointed Sir Eion and Jan, Lady Edgar as Patrons of the Icon Awards after Sir Eion's retirement as a Trustee in 2010 and following their remarkable $500,000 donation to the Foundation.

Sir Eion has long been a champion of the Icon Awards and says "too often our most celebrated artists have gone without recognition. The Icon Awards offer New Zealanders the opportunity to congratulate our most accomplished artists on their achievements and to celebrate their work with them. This is an important function for any developed society and one that Jan and I are proud to be associated with."

Icon Awards are limited to a living circle of 20.  Established in 2003, each Icon receives a medallion and pin.  The artist has the pin forever, while the medallion is presented to a successor at a future ceremony.

"Icon artists are celebrated as having reached the pinnacle of the creative arts of Aotearoa New Zealand and the medallions are the tangible evidence of their achievements. However, the medallions are more than precious bronze taonga or treasures.  The Icon medallions are imbued with a mauri or life force of their own as they represent artists of Aotearoa New Zealand who have gone before as Icons. The medallions are enriched as they are passed on from one Icon to the next, from the dead to the living, and the medallion is thus saturated with the mana of many artists. The mauri of each medallion grows with each passing between artists."
Elizabeth Ellis, Trustee

The Icon medallion and pin are designed by stone sculptor John Edgar.  John chose bronze for the medallions for its rich colour, strength and hardness, and for its long association with the history of medals and coinage.  Each medallion is made unique by the setting of pounamu at the centre.   New Zealand's nephrite jade (pounamu) is a most treasured resource, a unique stone from this land of stones.  The medallions are boxed in New Zealand matai, sourced from recycled timber from the central North Island.  The lapel pins are cast in silver and have dark green pounamu set in the centre.