Ottawa art lovers will have a chance to toast some of the city’s most promising talents next week. The Council for the Arts in Ottawa (CAO) gets set to host its annual Cocktail for the Arts on Feb. 12. The event will feature the announcement of various Ottawa-based artists’ awards that focus on artistic achievements in a city not often lauded for welcoming creative ingenuity.
Among several prizes up for grabs is the high profile Mid-Career Artist award. This year will mark the eighth time that the title has been awarded. The prize is meant to encourage successful artists residing in Ottawa to stay in Ottawa, says CAO executive director, Peter Honeywell.
Honeywell says that in Ottawa, the spotlight tends to be on emerging artists who pique the attention of the arts community, but that period of interest is often shortlived.
“If they continue their career, they hit a plateau of artistic development and often they’re not encouraged,” Honeywell says, “We’ve seen for a number of years that when people reach that level, they sometimes look at other cities and other opportunities.”
Honeywell says the COA doesn’t want talented or career artists to consider Ottawa a jumping off point to larger, more arts-oriented cities like Toronto or Montreal.
“We’re trying to recognize them here at the local level and to encourage them to stay here and continue to work in the arts,” he says.
And according to the COA, there’s a market for awards like this in Ottawa. Stars of the performing, visual and media arts have claimed the prize of $5,000 in the past.
Generally speaking, Honeywell says the winner is usually an established artist with an innovative approach and a sustained practice. They are also usually professionals with a lot to offer to the city’s arts scene.
Cindy Stelmackowich, an Ottawa-based artist, curator and professor whose work focuses primarily on themes of medicine and anatomical science, was the 2009 recipient of the award. Stelmackowich says it’s becoming easier and easier to participate in art projects across Canada while still remaining stationed in one city, for that reason she’s never been very tempted to leave Ottawa.
“Curators and galleries can … correspond quite effectively from far distances these days, making living in a smaller city possible to engage with the larger contemporary art community.”
For Stelmackowich, this award was the exact kind of acknowledgement she needed from the Ottawa arts community in 2009.
“It gave me the confidence to pursue new artistic projects that built on what I had been experimenting with.”
For Honeywell and the COA, awards like this are crucial for both celebrating and sustaining a thriving arts community in the city.
Initially, a panel of three judges will select three finalists to be revealed at their February arts affair. The finalist and eighth winner of the award will be revealed at a sit down dinner event at the end of April.