Ten artists deemed the most worthy in New Zealand were given awards totalling $360,000 last night.

The Arts Foundation grant was distributed at the first annual national Macquarie Private Wealth New Zealand Arts Awards held at the Viaduct Events Centre in Auckland.

Five $50,000 Laureate Awards went to musician Whirimako Black, photographer Fiona Pardington, writer Emily Perkins, filmmaker Leanne Pooley and choreographer/director Lemi Ponifasio.

Musician/artist Sam Hamilton, photographer Ben Cauchi and playwright Eli Kent received $25,000 New Generation Awards.

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Pardington's brother, Neil, received the $25,000 Marti Friedlander Photographic Award and was inaugural recipient of the $10,000 Mallinson Rendel Award was David Elliot.

Arts Foundation executive director Simon Bowden said last night's awards were one of their most ambitious projects and were a celebration of philanthropic support for the arts.

By the end of the year, the foundation will have donated $3.5 million to 130 artists from all genres.

Founding trustee Sir Ronald Scott said: "Our goal is to drive home a widened public awareness of our nation's capabilities and reasons for pride not merely in domains of sport ... but to ensure high achievers in the world of art and culture who call themselves Kiwis also deserve acclaim, esteem and to be the subject of collective national pride."

- Staff reporter