Lieutenant-Governor’s Awards recognize the peak of artistic accomplishment
As I write this, it’s the day after the Lieutenant-Governor’s Awards for High Achievement in the Arts were handed out. Last night, three extremely deserving people were awarded the highest prize we have to offer to individuals of our province. The arts community came together to celebrate this occasion at a special event at the Governor’s Residence, a culmination of sorts of the work we all do throughout the year. On a personal note, this was also my formal introduction to several members of the community, whom I look forward to working with to help further the goals of the arts community as a whole. The hard work and dedication of the artsnb staff was also on full display, as each person contributed at some point or other to make this event as successful as it was. Much credit is owed to them for making such an event possible.
The laureates inspired us with their acceptance speeches, each one showing us, with a humble heart, the strength of character that has driven them forth in their art.
I believe that in witnessing each of these unique artists, chosen by their peers to be singled out and recognized for their bodies of work and contributions to the artistic landscape of our province, we were all able to take away a certain affirmation that all art – regardless of impact, acclaim or reach – matters. These are artists who, by their own admission, have not always had the success to make a decent living of wages from their practice; and yet they persisted.
In thinking about that, I relate it to all the creative people I see in my own local community. The New Brunswick arts scene, for as long as I have been a part of it, has not just taken many steps forward but leaps and bounds. We will soon have a multi-million dollar extension added to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, giving us one of the country’s most spectacular visual art establishments. Theater New Brunswick recently opened the doors to their brand new studio theater, so even more productions can be held throughout the year. We’ve seen Shivering Songs, Sappyfest in Sackville and Woodstock’s Dooryard Arts Festival, each become beloved annual traditions, drawing hundreds of people a year to see what primarily consists of top quality regional musical talent. Silver Wave Film Festival celebrates its 15th year this coming weekend, and FICFA in Moncton is nearing 30 years of bringing top quality francophone films to New Brunswick. And establishments such as Charlotte Street Arts Center, Gallery Connexion, the Saint John Arts Center and up North the Edmundston Center for Arts, continue to be important in supporting the arts community and giving artists a place to work and show. And the list goes on. Keeping us afloat of all the other cultural events that happen in our province are Grid City Magazine and ArtsLinkNB, just to name a couple.
It seems that often enough, humble beginnings mixed with big ideas will often spark the rawest movements in art. There is another movement growing in Fredericton whose roots are humble, but whose creative energy is second to none. The Shifty Bits Cult, a collective of musicians and artists from the area, has been leaving their mark on the arts scene for a few years now. Starting it all was the very first Shifty Bits Circus, a music festival held in the old Gallery Connexion space at 440 York street. For two days, the unassuming space was taken over by a group of young, ambitious people ready to blow everyone’s minds. They had seen the need for things to be shaken up, and took it upon themselves to create something unique. The weekend featured some of the most eclectic music and art Fredericton had seen for quite a while, and a distinctive feeling of energy surrounding it all convinced those in attendance that something special was happening. The Shifty Bits Circus has grown year after year (this past summer marked the 4th installment), and the group has headed up other initiatives such as community forums (Open Arts Gatherings), a “Fredericton’s Mine” mixtape, and pop-up art installations (shiftwork).
As a volunteer, sometimes participating musician, and forever an audience member, I have seen the level of hard work and dedication this group puts into all of their artistic endeavours. While I of course hope with all my heart that they can continue with these projects and be profitable with them, there is an image ingrained in my head of the morning after the first Shifty Bits Circus was over. As I helped a friend collect his gear from the venue, we walked out to find the organizers sitting up against the brick wall of Gallery Connexion, counting their coins and exclaiming that they had actually managed to break even on the weekend. Forget profit; the fact that they were able to pour blood and sweat and their own money into creating an unforgettable weekend for a hundred or so in attendance and just barely scrape up enough pennies to recover the costs was a success in itself. I’m sure that even if they hadn’t reached a break-even point it wouldn’t have mattered, because from their efforts a moment was created.
While the celebrating of three artists who are at the apex of their careers and collecting the highest honours their province has to give may not seem to have much in immediate relation with a grassroots collective still near the beginning of its artistic endeavours, if we go a little further back I think we can start to make the connections. One can’t help but think that in each of the beginnings of their careers – when Jules Boudreau was cutting his teeth in writing for his first theater troupe; Jacques Savoie was singing original songs with his band Beausoleil-Broussard; and Thaddeus Holownia was putting together art exhibits with the Order of the Broom collective in Toronto – each one of them must have felt that same energy and connection between their art and the public. Ideally, that’s a feeling that would never go away in art. It’s the energy that keeps the drive to create alive. Our LGA laureates have helped pave the way for future generations to create art and influence culture in this province. The next generation is here, and the people I’ve mentioned are just one example of many who are making waves and shaping the artistic landscape here in New Brunswick and beyond. The future is bright, and we should all be very excited to have our part in it.