Sunday, 18 March 2012

Do Awards Really Matter?

Charles Lewton-Brain basks in the sunshine- exuberantly.  Photo courtesy of the Canada Council for the Arts.

Congratulations are in order!  Charles Lewton-Brain, metal wizard of Alberta, is the 2012 winner of the Saidye Bronfman Award for Excellence in Contemporary Craft a.k.a. one of the eight Governor General's Awards in Visual and Media Arts.   Charles stands out not only for his superb technical skills and innovative sense of design but for his extraordinary creativity and ability to stay true to his artistic vision while being able to help so many in his field.  He is a rare combination of talent and character and truly deserves this award that thankfully comes with a $25,000 cheque and a high profile exhibition.  Nobody would dispute that the Bronfman matters. My personal e-mail to Charles said that I was proud of him and that "sometimes the jury gets it right."  His gracious response was, "Thank you, nice to have shared moments with you."

Unfortunately, there are times when things go awry.  Any award is subject to a cocktail of variables.  Everything from who takes the time to be a nominator, what gene pool are they fishing in, who are the finalists competing with each other, and how in a practice as diverse as contemporary fine craft do you compare apples with oranges?  And then there are the politics and inter-relations of the individuals serving on the jury.  Being a juror isn't easy at the best of times.

Newfoundland and Labrador has not yet produced a Bronfman winner.  We've come close with Michael Massie who made it to a short-list of five finalists.  Maybe, it is time he should be nominated again.  Last year's winner and Charles Lewton-Brain are both metal artists.  Massie works in both stone and silver and is now a more senior artist than he was during his first nomination.

Do awards really matter?  Jason Holley just found out that he has won the People Choice's Award from the Artist Project in Toronto.  No doubt that will influence his next body of work.  We are surrounded with so many awards in so many areas.  Some are a piece of paper alone but the package of nominating letters are moving testimonials that point to a career that has made a difference.  I know when I won the award for Cultural Leadership in the Atlantic Region the nominating letters from my immediate community meant a whole lot more to me than the trophy.  It was like being able to attend my own funereal and listen to the eulogy.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Gloria,

    Thank you for the lovely words! It might be noted that this was my 10th nomination, and that after serving on the jury a couple of years ago I decided not to worry about it-that I was unlikely to get it-so quite a surprise when I got that late October phone call!

    It has been noted that to get a Canada council grant the success rate was 1 in 25 for visual arts, 1 in 10 for Craft, and that painters give up after 7 rejections, craftspeople after 3. But it is very important to fail, to put pressure on the system (and sometimes you get lucky), because they measure whether they should keep a program (such as craft grants) by the pressure (ie how many people are trying). If you don't have enough pressure then a program can be cut. It is essential to apply without expectations simply to keep the pressure up. You might get lucky. As well, it is important to talk to your program officer, to send them trial proposals for their comments to refine them -they are on your side and actually want you to win - use them.

    Finally, in this particular competion (the Bronfman) there is a component of service. And for me, (as was told to me by various people involved in the process) the best part was this, the question was posed was "if this person had not existed would the field be the same?", and the answer in my case was no. Which is really nice.