Bethany Kean of Badger’s Quay is standing in front of a series of mounted pages of text in the fourth floor gallery of The Rooms. She looks proud and a little incredulous.
One of those pages contains her short story, “The Prey,” which won a 2012 Arts and Letters Award for junior prose in the age 12 to 14 category.
Hanging just inches away is a winning entry from the senior non-fictional prose division, called “Collateral Damage,” by renowned writer Susan Rendell.
“This is just amazing,” says Kean, shaking her head.
This is the first time she has won an award like this.
This year is the 60th anniversary of the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts and Letters Awards, an annual celebration of the best of the province’s established and up-and-coming artists.
With prizes ranging from $1,000 for winners in the senior division to $250 for winners in the junior division, the awards cover 14 categories and both official languages; everything from poetry, dramatic script and non-fiction, to musical composition and visual art is recognized.
Also included is the Percy Janes First Novel Award. The $1,500 first prize went to Scott Bartlett for his manuscript, “Taking Stock.”
Hopefuls submit their pieces of art, writing or music each winter. Selected judges then choose finalists and winners, who are celebrated each spring with a gala event and an exhibition at The Rooms.
“The longevity of the awards speaks to the value of the arts in our province and the commitment of our artists,” says Tourism, Culture and Recreation Minister Derrick Dalley. “It’s great to be a partner with that, and it’s great for us, as a government, to support the Arts and Letters Awards. As is clear from the work here tonight, not only do we have a great blend of experience in this province, but we have tremendous talent in our younger people. I think our arts community is strong, vibrant and exciting, and that it’s going to continue.”
Recognized at ceremony
This year’s award winners were announced Saturday at a packed evening ceremony at The Rooms, on the third-floor mezzanine. The night was hosted by Mack Furlong of CBC Radio One’s popular program “Weekend Arts Magazine.”
Before Furlong took the stage, a crowd filled the fourth-floor gallery, where this year’s winning works are displayed along with a few carefully selected finalists.
Works by junior artists, such as Olga Trela’s, “Summer,” a close-up photograph of a boy and a woman which won in the junior visual art division, stand their ground alongside senior pieces, such as Jonathan Green’s intaglio “Tether to the Polestar,” which won in the senior visual art category.
Jason Sellars, The Rooms’ art gallery education and public programming officer, curated the show.
“This is the third year that the exhibition has been in the gallery,” he says. “Before that, it had been in the museum, and in the atrium. We wanted to give more prestige to the artist, so all the works are selected by a curator, and hung by our technical team. It’s really nice to hang the junior work in conversation with the senior work. Often, if they’re exhibited, our junior applicants seem to submit year after year, and they become seniors and they keep submitting. Christopher Pratt, for example, had his first exhibited work in the Arts and Letters, and that just goes to show that we’re really fostering the next generation.”
For many, winning an Arts and Letters Award is the perfect encouragement to begin a new project, or even a new career.
“Winning this year has basically been the catalyst that has pushed this script into what is now the very early stages of preproduction with my filmmaking partner and producer, Paula Gale,” says Darcy Fitzpatrick, who won one of two senior dramatic prizes. “It was just the shot in the arm I needed to take the leap and say, ‘This script is getting made. It’s going to be a movie.’”
Vicki Murphy, a blogger with the Huffington Post and popular author of motherblogger.ca, typically writes non-fiction. This year, she won in the senior short fiction category for her story “Growing Things.” “This is probably my first win of this kind, ever,” she says. “I might write more fiction, who knows. The prize money is a nice incentive.”
For others, an Arts and Letters Award establishes an already-launched career in the Newfoundland and Labrador arts community.
“Because they’ve been around so long, they’ve earned a reputation as the province’s proving grounds for local writers,” says author Chad Pelley, who also won in senior short fiction for his story, “Red.” “All of my favourite Newfoundland writers have won one of these things early in their career, so winning one feels like getting your members-only pass into the local writers’ club.”
“Awards and recognition from recognized organizations really helps us build our resumes and, in many cases, secure work and funding from other sources,” says musician Simon Miminis, whose composition, “Tango To Go,” a classical tango written for a string quartet, won one of five senior musical competition prizes. “So, needless to say, I’m pretty happy to be receiving this award.”
Honoured to judge
It’s even an exciting event for those who are selected to judge the awards, an honour in its own right.
“It’s wonderful, and frightening, to be on the flip side of these awards,” says poet Randy Drover, adjudicator in the junior poetry division. “There is certainly talent in the submissions we’ve read, and to get that talent recognized at a young age is one of the best things about these awards.”
Back in the gallery, family members have started to gather around Bethany Kean, hugging her and smiling up at her story.
“I write a fair bit,” she says, “but this is the first time I’ve ever entered this competition. I love to write, and to read, and now I’m definitely going to keep at it.”
The Arts and Letters Awards Exhibition runs from May 1-13 in the 4th-floor gallery at The Rooms. A complete list of winners is available on the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation’s Arts and Letters Awards webpage.