Arts and Letters celebration recognizes provincial talent

Danette Dooley
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Awards

Almost $50,000 in cash prizes was shared among 70 emerging and established writers, musicians and visual artists Saturday evening during the 58th Annual Arts and Letters Awards ceremony at The Rooms in St. John's.

Established by the provincial government in 1952, the awards celebrate the artists' accomplishments, not only through cash but through an adjudication process and with the publication or exhibition of their work.

Arts and Letters Committee chairwoman Elayne Greeley celebrates with 17-year-old Tom Niles of Happy Valle-Goose Bay. The teenager took home an award for his dramatic script "War and Hemp Fuel". - Photo by Danette Dooley/ Special to The Telegram

Almost $50,000 in cash prizes was shared among 70 emerging and established writers, musicians and visual artists Saturday evening during the 58th Annual Arts and Letters Awards ceremony at The Rooms in St. John's.

Established by the provincial government in 1952, the awards celebrate the artists' accomplishments, not only through cash but through an adjudication process and with the publication or exhibition of their work.

More than 900 artists from around the province entered this year's program, which included French literary awards.

Among the highlights of the evening were musical performances by winners Darren Browne of St. John's (accompanied by Duane Andrews), Brittany Bishop of Cupids and Scotty Hann of Stephenville.

Sean Panting and Willow Kean left the audience hanging when they brought a portion of St. John's native Justin Simms' winning dramatic script "The Infinity Plays" to the stage.

When accepting his award, 17-year-old Tom Niles of Happy Valley-Goose Bay beckoned his mother Martha MacDonald to the stage.

The duo performed a section of his dramatic script "War and Hemp Fuel."

The teen charmed the audience with his wit and engaging stage presence.

The ceremony also gave many writers an opportunity to read from their work.

For the first time, this year's exhibition, which included the work of both visual artists and writers, was mounted in The Rooms Art Gallery.

The unique display of art included everything from abstract pieces to images of flowers, butterflies, boats, oceans, dogs, people and landscapes created with oil, acrylic, pastel, glass, charcoal and a variety of other art mediums.

Susan Duff's eye-catching hooked rug "Trinity Mussels" was one of several pieces made from recycled material. Duff worked more than a dozen mussel shells into the piece.

Local author Bernice Morgan has been involved with the awards program for more than 50 years.

"This is the most beautifully hung exhibit I've ever seen. It's a people's exhibit and (The Rooms) is where it should be hung," Morgan said during a tour of the exhibit.

Reading some of the writing on the wall brought Morgan back to her own start as an author.

"The first feedback I ever got was from the Arts and Letters. The first money I ever got for writing was 51 years ago. I got $50 for second prize in short story. I bought a tree out of it," Morgan said.

David Blackwood, Scott Goudie, Sheilagh O'Leary, Rae Perlin, Helen Fogwill Porter, Lisa Moore and Kevin Major are among thousands of other artists who have won awards through the years.

The senior division, which offers prizes of $1,000, has been in existence since the start of the program.

The junior division, which offers prizes of $250, was introduced in 1982.

More awards will be up for grabs next year when the musical composition category broadens to include music, song and sound, said committee chair Elayne Greeley.

Sixteen-year-old Victoria Walsh of North Harbour was one of 10 poets recognized in the junior poetry category.

It's her second consecutive win.

"Coming here and getting to see the talent that we have here has been great. You don't get to see that when you live in rural Newfoundland," Victoria said.

Fourteen-year-old Mikaela Clark-Gardner of St. John's and 15-year-old Maggie Way of St. Lawrence were among the other winners in the junior prose category.

The teenagers met at an art camp a few years ago and enjoyed meeting other writers during a reception following the awards ceremony.

It's Mikaela's first time entering the program.

Maggie, who was accepting her third arts and letters award, said the judge's comments are invaluable.

"It's always awesome to get feedback about your stories."

Melanie Oates of Fermeuse said she, "felt like she was floating" when she received word that she'd won the Percy Janes First Novel Award.

Introduced into the program in 2000, the $1,500 award is for the best unpublished novel-length manuscript.

"I was so excited. It's my first time entering. ... I just entered for the adjudication. I never expected to win," the 22-year-old said.

A third-year English major at Memorial University, Oates' "major dream" is to find a publisher for the novel "Hanging from the Ceiling."

Sandra Martland was awarded the David C. Saxon Humanitarian Essay Award in the senior division, while Jamie Lewis took the prize in the junior division.

Speaking at the ceremony, Culture Minister Terry French gave accolades to a past premier for establishing the awards program.

"I'm not a guy who hands out compliments to the late Joey Smallwood very often. Obviously, we come from different political backgrounds. But, I have to say, this is probably one of his greatest creations," French said.

For a full list of winners, visit

www.gov.nl.ca/artsandletters



telegram@thetelegram.com danette@nl.rogers.com

Organizations: The Infinity

Geographic location: St. John's, Happy Valley, Goose Bay North Harbour Newfoundland Fermeuse

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