The Winnipeg Arts Council Awards 2021 Winners
The Winnipeg Arts Council Awards celebrate the artists, arts administrators and patrons whose dedication makes Winnipeg a centre for cultural achievement. The Awards were suspended in 2020 due to Covid but have returned in 2021. Three awards recognizing promise, excellence and creativity, as well as two awards recognizing arts supporters are being presented this year:
RBC On the Rise Award: Tasha Spillett
Making a Mark Award: Divya Mehra
Making a Difference Award: Lisa Meeches
Outstanding Volunteer Award: Heather Cram
Arts Champion Award: Dr. Douglas MacEwan
"Though the community cannot gather in person to celebrate, it is important that we recognize these members of the arts community whose ongoing work has an impact on us all. Artists have played a key role throughout the pandemic, offering relief and hope for better days ahead. But they have always been a fundamental part of Winnipeg and they will continue to be when this time has become a distant memory."
- Carol A. Phillips, Executive Director, Winnipeg Arts Coucnil
We are pleased to honour this incredible group of individuals who continually strive for excellence and will do so in person when we are able. In the meantime, an online presentation will take place later in the summer.
RBC On the Rise Award: Tasha Spillett
The RBC On the Rise Award recognizes the demonstrated promise of an emerging, professional Winnipeg artist in any discipline.
Tasha Spillett draws her strength from both her Ininewak and Trinidadian bloodlines. She is an author, poet, new mother, celebrated educator and emerging scholar, but is most heart-tied to contributing to community-led work that centres land and water defence, and the protection of Indigenous women and girls.
Spillett’s debut graphic novel, Surviving the City, vol. 1 (illustrated by Natasha Donovan), was published by Highwater Press and won the Eileen McTavish Sykes Award for Best First Book by a Manitoba Author at the 2019 Manitoba Book Awards. Volume 2 of the series was shortlisted for four Manitoba Book Awards in 2021. Most recently her children’s book, I Sang You Down from the Stars (illustrated by Michaela Goade) debuted at no. 3 on the New York Times bestsellers list.
Spillett holds a master’s degree in Indigenous land-based education and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Saskatchewan, where she holds a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship. In her work as a doctoral student, she is weaving together her cultural identity and commitment to community to produce a body of research that amplifies Indigenous women’s demands for justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit People, and serves as a continuation of the resistance against the assault of colonialism.
Making a Mark Award: Divya Mehra
The Making a Mark award applauds an established professional Winnipeg artist in any discipline, who is receiving critical recognition for excellence in their art practice in Winnipeg and beyond. The award is graciously supported by Gail Asper, O.C., O.M., LL.D.
Known for her meticulous attention to the interaction of form, medium, and site, Divya Mehra’s work deals with her diasporic experiences and historical narratives. She incorporates found artifacts and readymade objects as active signifiers of resistance or as reminders of the difficult realities of displacement, loss, neutrality, and oppression. Mehra works in a multitude of forms, including sculpture, print, drawing, artist books, installation, advertising, performance, video, and film.
Mehra has presented numerous solo exhibitions nationally and internationally, including her most recent national touring exhibition, Afterlife of Colonialism, a reimagining of Power: It’s possible that the Sun has set on your Empire OR Why your voice does not matter: Portrait of an Imbalanced, and yet contemporary diasporic India vis-à-vis Colonial Red, Curry Sauce Yellow, and Paradise Green (2018 - 2020). Both the installation and its title evolved as the tour unfolded, culminating with an upcoming presentation at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa ON (2022), where it will enter the contemporary collection following the exhibition.
Mehra’s work has been exhibited, screened, and commissioned by Creative Time, New York, NY; MoMA PS1, New York, NY; The Queens Museum of Art, New York, NY; MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA; The Banff Centre, Banff, AB; CCA Wattis Institute, San Francisco, CA; Artspeak, Vancouver, BC; Night Gallery, Los Angeles, CA; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, ON; Consulate General of India in New York, NY; and the Embassy of Canada in Washington, Washington, D.C, among many others. Forthcoming exhibitions include Frieze London. Mehra has previously been shortlisted for both the Sobey Art Award (2017) and the Glenfiddich Art Award (2015) and was awarded the Wanda Koop Research Fund in 2020. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and is represented by Georgia Scherman Projects.
Making a Difference Award: Lisa Meeches, C.M., O.M., Anishinaabe Kwe from Treaty 1
The Making a Difference Award celebrates the contribution of an arts professional to the growth and development of the arts in any discipline in Winnipeg.
Lisa Meeches is one of the most dynamic and respected producers in the film industry. Lisa is Anishinaabe from Long Plain First Nation. After studying broadcasting in North Dakota, Lisa began her career in 1986 with the Native Media Network. She later began news reporting for Craig Broadcasting Systems in Manitoba and Alberta, where she established a liaison team who connected the newsroom with surrounding First Nations communities. Her journalism career recently came full circle with a Beyond Borders Media Award for her work on Taken as co-creator, executive producer, and host, for which Lisa has also been nominated for two Canadian Screen Awards (Best Factual Series, Best Cross Platform Project). Lisa is also an episode director on the series.
Lisa has produced numerous projects to critical acclaim including The Sharing Circle, Canada’s longest running Indigenous television series; the global sensation Ice Road Truckers; Tipi Tales, a Parent’s Choice award winning children’s series; and Elijah, a Gemini Award winning MOW. She Executive Produced the 4-time CSA nominee and 2-time winner We Were Children, which is widely praised by residential school survivors for its power to heal, while general audiences have been moved by its accurate and truthful portrayal of the impacts of Canada’s colonial past.
Prior to this project, Lisa traveled the country with her team interviewing residential school survivors about their experiences for the Legacy of Hope project. Recently Lisa served as Executive Producer for the National Missing Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry. Her work was honoured with two gold medals at the international Shorty Awards for excellence in social media. Eagle Vision has produced 10 feature films under her leadership including: Finality of Dusk, Diaspora, Night Raiders, Lovesick, Reasonable Doubt, Walk All Over Me, Blue State, and best picture nominated, Academy Award-winning feature film Capote. Lisa spent the past four years as Co-Executive Producer of the CBC/CW/Hulu series Burden of Truth which was just nominated for as best dramatic series at the CSA’s.
Lisa also devotes considerable time to other causes. Lisa has been critical to the success of the Manito Ahbee Festival since its inception 15 years ago where she has acted in the capacity of board chair on a volunteer basis until recently stepping down to assume the role of Executive Director. True to her heritage, Lisa is pipe carrier and medicine person, she is also a renowned champion fancy shawl dancer. Lisa is Executive Producer of Orange Daisy Project, a social action campaign in support of mental health for teen girls. Lisa was recently named to the Order of Canada and among her numerous other recognitions are: the 2007 National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Media & Communication, the 2009 YMCA-YWCA Woman of Distinction Award in the area of Creative Communications, the University of Manitoba's Excellence in Aboriginal Business Leadership Award, the Women in Film and Television 2009 Crystal Award for Mentorship, the Order of Manitoba, and she was even Ms. Chatelaine.
Heritage Bamboo Jacket by Anne Mulaire
Outstanding Volunteer Award: Heather Cram
The Outstanding Volunteer Award honours an individual who has demonstrated an exceptional commitment to volunteerism within the Winnipeg arts community. The award is graciously supported by David Christianson Wealth Advisors.
Known as a trailblazing landscape architect, Heather Cram has always tied her practice to the arts and devoted significant amounts of her own time and resources to making this connection. She chaired the Urban Idea Centre, an organization focused on the relationship between the arts and the built form, and was a longtime member of the Winnipeg Arts Council and its predecessor, the Winnipeg Arts Advisory Council. At the request of then-Mayor Glen Murray, Heather chaired the Mayor’s Task Force for Public Art in the early 2000s. It was her volunteer leadership and persistence that established public art in Winnipeg, established the City’s Public Art policy and made public art a valued requirement in urban design in our city.
Heather has been and continues to be a mentor, leader and visionary, inspiring generations of young professionals, students and aspiring landscape architects. She has long been associated with Spark Winnipeg, an organization which matches community organizations with professionals who provide services to those groups free of charge. Her love for Winnipeg has led her from chairing the Manitoba/Winnipeg Fort Rouge Community Revitalization program and sitting on numerous business development zone boards to the Women's Enterprise Centre and FortWhyte Alive. Heather has been awarded the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal and is a Fellow of the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects. The Manitoba Association of Landscape Architects granted her lifetime membership earlier this year.
Arts Champion: Dr. Douglas MacEwan
The Arts Champion award honours an individual, a business or a non-arts organization that has demonstrated sustained support to the arts in Winnipeg.
For over 50 years, Dr. Douglas MacEwan has subscribed, donated to and fundraised for many of Winnipeg’s arts organizations. He has led by example to communicate the importance and necessity of support to fellow patrons and as an active donor in his nineties, Dr. MacEwan will leave a legacy of generosity in the Winnipeg arts community.
Since he and his late wife, Elizabeth, arrived in Winnipeg in 1966, Dr. MacEwan has been a subscriber and donor to the WSO, RWB, Manitoba Opera and RMTC. In later years, he has regularly attended performances with his grandchildren as his guests to ensure future generations are introduced to and remain connected to the arts. He continues to make annual gifts to each of these organizations.
Dr. MacEwan played an important role in raising funds when the RWB built its home on Graham Avenue and later established a scholarship for the RWB’s Professional Division school. The MacEwan Scholarship is awarded to exceptional students in the Aspirant program, and is one of the very few endowment scholarships to provide enough funds to cover a student’s training fees and living expenses, with up to five years of continuous support. Through the MacEwan Fund, Dr. MacEwan has made it possible for over twenty aspiring and exceptionally talented young dancers to train, graduate, and move on to professional dancing careers, regardless of financial means. He takes a real interest in the MacEwan Scholarship recipients and without fail, attends all school events, performances and personally presents his scholarship to recipients. As further evidence of his generosity and support of young people, Dr. MacEwan has also created a similar, life changing scholarship endowment for students at the University of Manitoba, which awards scholarships to cover tuition, books and residence fees.
In 2020, as he approached his 96th birthday he undertook a remarkable fundraising feat: walking 96 kilometers, one kilometer a day, in time for his 96th birthday to raise $96,000 for Winnipeg’s four largest arts groups: the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Manitoba Opera, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre. He met his goal of 96 kilometers on birthday, November 11th of last year.
Dr. MacEwan believes that a thriving arts community is the bellwether of a healthy, flourishing city. His walk reminds Winnipeggers of our arts community and the contribution it makes to our way of life. Dr. MacEwan’s dedication and unwavering contributions remind Winnipeggers that they too, can make a profound difference to the arts and the community in which they live. He is truly a champion of the arts in Winnipeg.