Your intrepid #artcriticfromhell is torn over this year’s incarnation of the St. Catharines Art Awards. This isn’t because I was not nominated (there isn’t a Troublemaker Award – yet – and our long suffering Editor / Publisher of The Sound is, in fact, nominated, for our sins). No, this is because in the Established Artist Award, there are among the nominees three very fine, equally deserving artists (Clelia Scala, Geoff Farnsworth and Colin Anthes) and all three merit the Award. This speaks not just to my subjectivity, ahem, but also to the depth of the cultural community here in St. Catharines. Such richness manifests in several other categories, such as in the Making A Difference Category, where curator Emma German AND Willow Arts Community are among the octet of nominees.
Hopefully, you’re familiar with how the “St. Catharines Arts Awards recognize and celebrate excellence in all areas of artistic creation. The Arts Awards seek to increase the visibility of St. Catharines’ artists and cultural industries, honour cultural leaders and their achievements, and cultivate financial and volunteer support for the arts sector.” The municipality “will recognize recipients of the City of St. Catharines Arts Awards on Friday, May 3, 2019 at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre.” Tickets for the evening, which often includes performances in various formats, have been on sale since March 1, 2019.
Perhaps you saw Geoff Farnsworth’s most recent exhibition of his paintings in Niagara, at the NAC: perhaps one of the most popular painters in the region, his work is often portraiture-based, and allows for us to see ourselves, sometimes literally, in his work, but also the denizens and locales of our community reflected therein, too. Anthes is both an artist and an educator; Scala is a long time volunteer with NAC as well as someone who’s puppetry / mask works expand and engage viewers – and those whom employ them in performances – in new and exciting ways.
There are other names that hopefully are familiar to you (Wayne Corlis or Mark Elliott or Danielle Wilson) but if not, there are succinct biographies and introductions found here. After all, the Arts Awards are not just an opportunity to celebrate those whose work we appreciate and value, but to discover others in disciplines that perhaps we’re not as familiar with, and to find new and exciting artists of various stripes.
I’m just offering a taste here: visit St. Catharines Culture on FB (@StCathCulture) for more images, links and updates about the respective nominees for 2019. Appreciate seeing cultural creators and supporters you’ve enjoyed garnering wider appreciation, and make a list of new ones to explore and enjoy.
The evening of the Arts Awards will feature a variety of performers, as has been a staple of past years. Patricia Vanstone, artistic director of the Norm Foster Theatre Festival (and the recipient of the Established Artist Award in 2018) will be the host for the 2019 gala, and throughout the Arts Awards ceremony Jessica Wilson (the 2018 Emerging Artist Award recipient) will be performing intermittently.
But featured performers / performances will include the PK Hummingbird Steel Orchestra – Patrick Nunes and Kay Charles (Arts in Education Nominee), The Chorus Niagara Children’s Choir (the director of the choir, Amanda Nelli, is nominated in theArts in Education category), Ola Kiermacz (also an Emerging Artist Nominee), Juliet Dunn (Making A Difference Nominee) and, rounding out the group, Willow Arts Comunity. They’ll be presenting excerpts from Songs from the Willow with Queenz, Tobrox “Bea” Soltes and Ayaz Anis, accompanied by Mark Roe and Paul Koshty.
But what I also want to speak about here – arguably must highlight here – is the wider relevance of one of 2019’s nominees, in a way that was not, perhaps, evident when the announcements were originally made not very long ago. This is also a factor that, though it begins with one of the groups praised this year, resonates across other current and many past nominees and winners.
Willow Arts Community is nominated in the Making A Difference Category: but, unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, you’ll have heard of Brock University’s ‘plans’ regarding the future of Rodman Hall Art Centre (we broke this story at The Sound, but it has bubbled up to the national stage, despite the efforts of some…). In speaking to Canadian Art, Willow Arts was powerful in their factually based response to Brock’s ‘plan’: “Over the past six months, 120 artists with lived experience of mental health/addictions entered Rodman Hall’s iconic red door, many for the first time. This number grows daily and reflects the growing need for community-based services for people in the Niagara region.”
The loss of the RHAC site would harm some of the most vulnerable in this region; Willow Arts will survive, there is no doubt of that, but one must wonder at the blinders at play, when others are unable, or unwilling – to acknowledge the value of something, and only think in ‘misinformed’ financial ‘costs.’
To expand this argument: Emma German‘s curatorial year long project Up Close and In Motion was focused upon, and presented in, Rodman Hall’s collection and space; history, on both a regional and national level was intrinsic to her series of exhibitions. Without Rodman Hall, none of that would have happened. So many past winners (Derek Knight, Marcie Bronson, Peter Vietgen, Brittany Brooks, Peter Partridge, Rosemary Hale, Carolyn Wren – whom has a major retrospective of her work opening at RHAC this Summer, and so I’ll end there with many more I could cite) have been able to accomplish what they have in this community due to, or through, Rodman Hall. The evidence is overwhelming, as to RHAC’s value, and we see that again, this year, in Willow Arts being nominated in the Making A Difference Category.
I’ve offered only a glimpse, a teaser, if you will, of the people and groups that are being recognized by their nominations in the 2019 St. Catharines Arts Awards. More information can be found at the St. Catharines Culture FB page; and I would remind that their works and actions are meritous of celebration and recognition all year round.
The St. Catharines Arts Awards will take place on Friday, May 3rd, at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines. Tickets can be purchased here.
Bart Gazzola (also known as #artcriticfromhell) is an arts writer/critic who has published with Magenta Magazine, Canadian Art, New Art Gazette, Galleries West, PrairieSeen, Long Exposure and BlackFlash (where he was Editorial Chair for 3 years). He is Assistant Editor at thesound.rocks and a frequent contributor to various cultural spaces in Niagara.