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News / December 13, 2018

New Award to Recognize Canada’s Outstanding Small Galleries

The Naomi and John Lacey Incubator Prize, created in association with the National Gallery of Canada, will reward the small, often artist-run, galleries that have taken big risks in developing national art talent
An installation view of William Robinson's "Duet" at Truck in Calgary in early 2018. The gallery is one of many smaller, artist-run centres that help develop art talent in Canada. Photo: Facebook / Truck. An installation view of William Robinson's "Duet" at Truck in Calgary in early 2018. The gallery is one of many smaller, artist-run centres that help develop art talent in Canada. Photo: Facebook / Truck.

Brian Jungen. Geoffrey Farmer. Nadia Myre. Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller.

These are just a few of the internationally renowned artists who had some of their earliest solo exhibitions at small artist-run centres in Canada.

For instance, Brian Jungen, who won the first Sobey Art Award in 2002, had his first solo show at Calgary’s Truck in 1997. For Geoffrey Farmer, who represented Canada at the 2017 Venice Biennale, it was at Vancouver’s Or Gallery in 1996. For Nadia Myre, whose work is permanently on view at the new Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris, one of her first shows was at Montreal’s Oboro in 1992. For Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, who won an award for Canada at Venice in 2001, it was Edmonton’s Latitude 53 in 1989.

Now, the National Gallery of Canada—which has collected works by all of these artists in the years since their first tiny exhibitions—is helping develop a prize which will recognize the hard work that the nation’s smaller galleries do in developing and sustaining artistic talent.

The Naomi and John Lacey Art Incubator Prize, created in association with the National Gallery of Canada, was announced last week at the gallery. It is still in development in terms of finer details. But at this point it looks like, starting in 2019, it would award $50,000 every two years to a smaller or artist-run gallery in Canada. (Criteria for “small” would be that it has an annual budget of $300,000 or less.) The nomination process is still in development and will be announced later.

“Artist-run centres and other small galleries take on the risk of showing emerging artists,” says Ann Thomas, interim chief curator of the National Gallery of Canada. “So this is a nice way of developing the ecosystem…. We owe them a debt of gratitude, and I like the idea of that strata being recognized with a prize.”

The idea for the prize is also driven in large part by Calgary philanthropist John Lacey, who has donated $1.3 million toward making this award happen. John Lacey, along with his late wife Naomi Lacey, have been crucial in keeping the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra financially stable. Lacey is also a board member at Contemporary Calgary, and is a big believer in engaging communities through art.

“Instead of bringing people to the art or people to the music,” Lacey told Calgary Arts Development earlier this year, “maybe it’s time we start bringing music or art to the people. I would like to see far more involvement at locations where people are all the time.”

To that point, it’s likely that the prize award ceremony would take place in the community where the winning gallery is situated—and draw more attention to the artists in that community as well.

More concrete details on the Naomi and John Lacey Art Incubator Prize will be released by the National Gallery of Canada as that information is firmed up in early 2019.

Leah Sandals

Leah Sandals is a writer and editor of white settler Canadian (Irish and Ashkenazi) descent. She is also news and special sections editor at Canadian Art and has written for the Toronto Star, National Post and Globe and Mail, among other publications. Sandals welcomes tips, corrections and comments anytime at leah@canadianart.ca.