Arts Council honours outstanding artists

Published on April 28, 2014

As a child in Stephenville Crossing, Jordan Bennett had a special magnet on his parents’ fridge that he’d use to hang his best pieces of art.
“A little artist did this,” was printed on the front of the magnet.

Bennett’s mom, Melita Bennett, wondered Saturday night if it was his heart or his magnet that inspired him to become the accomplished artist he is today.

“He always wondered what he would do … but he kept coming back to his art. It’s what he loved the most. We would always say to him, ‘Jordan, follow your heart,’” she told the audience at the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council’s Arts Awards, held at the Clarenville Arts Centre.

Her son — who won the award for Emerging Artist of the Year in 2011 — won the BMO Bank of Montreal Artist of the Year award this time around, and his mother accepted it on his behalf, since Bennett is currently in Australia. He is the artist in residence at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, where he and his wife, Amy Malbeuf, are collaborating on a new body of work for exhibition. The exhibit will open later this week.

“Receiving this award at this stage in my career means so much,” Bennett told The Telegram Sunday morning. “It is an honour to know that even though I am young in my career, my artistic practice is being recognized by my peers and that what I’m creating and conveying within my work is reaching an audience spanning the island, Canada, the U.S.A. and internationally.”

Bennett is a multi-disciplinary artist working in sculpture, painting, performance, installation and digital media, inspired by themes from his Mi’kmaq heritage. He has recently branched out into film, and is working with the National Film Board and imagiNATIVE on a project that will include a short film and interactive sculptural installation around ice fishing.

“Most of us, including myself, take it for granted the connection that we have with the land, the sea and our environment,” Bennett explained.

“I just really wanted to let people in so they can see and experience my perspective,” Bennett said.

Filmmaker Stephen Dunn took home the NLAC’s award for CBC Emerging Artist of the Year, having been nominated alongside visual artist Michael Gough and dancer Candice Pike. Though he’s a recent university graduate, he has already produced, directed and written more than 15 films, and was named by Roger Ebert in 2009 as a filmmaker to watch. Last fall, Dunn won CBC’s national “Short Film Face Off” for “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me,” starring Gordon Pinsent.

“It’s an an incredible honour to be recognized at home for an award as prestigious as this,” Dunn said. “It’s quite amazing to see such a fabulous celebration of our talent exhibited in such a beautiful way.

“This sounds cliché, but I hate that there are winners for these kinds of things.”

Dunn has recently moved back to St. John’s and said he has been invited to job shadow on the set of “Republic of Doyle” when the show starts filming again. He is hoping to start shooting his first feature film, which he describes as a “coming-of-age body horror film” called “Closet Monster,” this summer.

“It’s a coming-of-age story about a young man coming to terms with his sexuality in NF. I’m really excited for it,” he said. “I’m just so excited at the prospect of coming home and using my past and my experience here to fuel a career in the arts.”

The NLAC presented a total of six awards to local artists Saturday night. Along with Bennett and Dunn, awards went to filmmaker Barbara Doran for Cox and Palmer Arts Achievement (the other nominees were filmmaker Rosemary House and musician Pamela Morgan); Jason Ross Sellars of The Rooms for Memorial University Arts in Education (Chris Short and Darren White were also nominated), and Marlene Cahill was presented with the award for Patron of the Arts.

St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival founding director Noreen Golfman and Newfoundland Travelling Theatre Co. founder Dudley Cox were inducted into the Fortis Properties Arts Hall of Honour.

“I’m not usually speechless, but it’s a little overwhelming, really,” Golfman told The Telegram after the show. “Even though it’s an individual award, I know this is part of a whole community doing this with me. That’s why these things happen here.”

Each of the award winners was presented with a mezzotint by local artist Scott Goudie, and some of the winners received a cash prize.

Nominations for the awards are submitted by the arts community, organizations and the public, and NLAC members vote by secret ballot to select the finalists and winners.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury