Celebration Excellence in Arts in Wood Buffalo
Each year Arts Council Wood Buffalo highlights the richness of our growing arts scene and celebrates the achievements of local artists through the Wood Buffalo Excellence in Arts Awards (or the “Buffys” for short). Over the past four years, the awards have established a signature midnight themed event drawing inspiration from different art movements including 1910s Circus, 1920s Speakeasy, 1960s Andy Warhol pop art, and 1950s Beat Generation. The theme creates an engaging ambiance and immersive environment for interactive performances and arts education. Guests are treated to works of art by local artists in all artistic disciplines, some of which are created specifically for the arts awards and based on that year’s theme. There is never a dull moment at the Buffys!
To date, Arts Council Wood Buffalo has used the arts awards to support the arts community through almost 100 paid performances, 47 commissioned artworks, recognizing over 176 nominees and awarding 41 recipients, and utilizing 54 volunteers. These numbers do not include support dispersed in the community for marketing, venue and support staff, additional service providers and contractors, and community partnerships.
Located at the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts, the awards have grown from a two-part evening in the theatre to expand into multiple locations within SECPA and Holy Trinity High School, now including a preshow, main show awards ceremony peppered with exciting performances, and an after party. With the location expansion comes more opportunity for creative engagement with guests, including improvisation and multiple performances at one time. The performances vary every year, ranging from live music, comedy, group choreographed artworks, live theatrical performances, live painting, visual art exhibitions, literary expression, and storytelling, none of which disappoint. Mychela, who performed at the inaugural Arts Awards, said, “it’s such an amazing night at the Arts Awards! The moment you walk through the front door until the last words are spoken, it is a [fantastic] night and a great event for our city. The amount of talent in this town is [brilliant] and always warms my heart, from theatre, visual art, musical, and dance. I’m always blown away by each and every performance.”
Diana Moser, Program Manager with Arts Council Wood Buffalo, first thought of the idea of an arts awards showcase back in 2015, and brought it to life the following year. “The goal of the Arts Awards,” she says, “from the moment I had the idea 5 years ago, was to take the time to recognize the arts. I know there are those who don’t believe in awards, or don’t think they need recognition for doing their jobs, but this is a community that needs to see and celebrate these people. Artists should not ever think that what they do isn’t worth being showcased, or isn’t valued, especially in the place they make their home.”
Taking a look behind the scenes, the awards are constructed like a true theatrical performance, with a full production crew, rehearsals, minute by minute schedule, and a live video feed. Performers, who have been chosen to perform through an artist call process, sit in the dressing room of the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts awaiting their cue. They have been rehearsing for months, preparing for their 5-minute slot. Cory Huber, also known as the rapper Hubris, has been a part of the Arts Awards since their inception. He says, ”performing at the Buffys is often the highlight of my year. It gives me an opportunity to write a totally original piece of music based on the theme of the event and perform it in front of an audience of supportive artists and friends. I have no doubt that performing at the Buffys has opened up new opportunities for my artistic career and has definitely pushed my art into avenues that I never would have explored otherwise. This year I look forward to collaborating with In Motion on a piece about artificial intelligence and its impact on the human experience.”
The program also builds awareness of the incredible contribution artists make to Wood Buffalo. A local artist handcrafts each award, providing further investment in our creative economy. In the past, the award pieces themselves have been beautiful wooden boxes, handmade drums, and finely crafted necklaces. The Buffys invest in the future of our growing arts community by supporting our most exceptional artists. The recognition received by each nominee and award recipient will raise their profile, build their portfolio, and allow them to compete and thrive as an artist within our community and beyond the borders of Wood Buffalo. Michelle Thorne, who received the Theatre Award and Creative Collaboration Award in 2016, went on to complete her Master of Fine Arts in Directing (for Theatre), from the university of British Columbia in Vancouver. She says that “receiving the Buffys was a huge reassurance of my own abilities to do a little bit of good in this world through the art of theatre. Recognition from ACWB and the arts community as a whole is rewarding both professionally and personally. An artist’s life is a tough one. It is incredible and rewarding, but it can also be unpredictable and sometimes grueling. We are often contract workers and do not receive annual bonuses and five year plaques. Recognition of this nature is vital as a reminder to the artist of their significance to the quality of life in the community who are directly impacted by their work.”
Recipient of the Literary Award in 2018, Dawn Booth says that “my poetry writing changed when I moved to Fort McMurray because our community grants us with many beautiful opportunities to be published. My words went from my personal journal to publications because I was challenged to write and take the time to do it. I was also surrounded by people who - like me - enjoyed writing poetry and stories. I found a network of [artists] that I could connect with. A network where I could talk about my own poetry, and learn about others. Receiving a Buffy is an award I will forever cherish because it means people are celebrating literary arts. And if I helped in that celebration, it means we are, and we are continuing, to connect with one another.”
Awards acknowledge the effort and dedication artists put toward their career and affirms their work as capable of being held to a high standard of quality. But the Buffys don’t stop with the artists in our community, they also recognize Arts Administration, Arts Education, Creative Collaboration, Arts Champions, and Lifetime Achievements. The Buffys are presented to artists, cultural leaders, and businesses in recognition of artistic excellence, artistic leadership, and contribution to the arts. Arts Educators are remarkable people who inspire the children and youth in our community and foster these artists’ development, creating the art professionals of tomorrow. And Arts Administrators – consider where performing artists would be without the tech and admin support, visual artists without curators, arts events without organizers, musicians without producers, and all the administrators that make the arts possible.
The Arts Champion Award recipient is chosen by the ACWB volunteer Board of Directors, and was created to celebrate an individual, small business, corporation, social profit, or foundation who has strengthened arts and culture in Wood Buffalo through their support and commitment to the sector in the past year. This support can be advocacy, hiring local artists, offering skills and expertise, providing space for the arts, and/or financial. Alan Roberts, Director of Keyano Theatre & Arts Centre, who received the Arts Champion Award in 2017, says the he “was very honored to be the recipient of the Arts Champion award. The arts play such a major role in everybody’s lives, that many don’t realize that it is almost second nature to be involved in one way or another. I feel it is really this community that are the champions and I am so fortunate to be a part of it.” In 2018, the Lifetime Achievement Award was created to celebrate individuals who have provided long-standing and significant achievements of an artist over the course of an entire career. This typically includes artistic practice and achievement, recognition by peers, and the artist’s contribution to the local and broader artistic community.
Another kind of arts champion that deserves a standing ovation are the Buffy volunteers! Alan Reeve has volunteered at the Buffys since the very first year, and says “I enjoy helping with the Buffys because I see and talk to many of the attendees.” These wonderful community members are arts enthusiasts and supporters without whom we could not have the event.
The Buffys are a large undertaking, but a job that the ACWB staff does happily. “An event of this magnitude requires all hands on deck, says ACWB Executive Director Liana Wheeldon. “Our staff is often planning the next year’s Buffys during the tear-down of the current year’s event! The execution timeline spans eight months to the ‘night of’ and includes research into the theme, artist calls, contracts, and design work. We are so grateful to the sponsors that invest in our creative economy and the creative professionals that make the magic happen. I am inspired every year by the breadth of talent brought together for this showcase – nominees, performers, exhibitors, and the incredible staff that I am fortunate enough to call ‘my team’.”
Arts Council Wood Buffalo is a charitable organization that is proud to host a showcase event that sparks creative connections, spotlights artistic excellence, and supports vibrant artistic growth throughout our diverse region. We are honoured to celebrate outstanding artists and visionary supporters, showing that our arts community is truly one of the best things about Wood Buffalo!