If music, films, and plays bring joy to people and are instruments of change in society, shouldn’t the best and the brightest be recognized and feted for their artistic contributions and achievements?
The Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards do just that with a party that lasts all weekend. This year’s festivities began on May 28 as Canada’s parliamentarians met the award winners at a reception in Centre Block on Parliament Hill.
The next evening, the laureates received a medal from Gov. Gen. David Johnston. They also got a cash award of $25,000 and dinner with Johnston and wife Sharon at the GG’s residence. Then on May 30, the winners were entertained at the gala show at the National Arts Centre.
In his address at the awards ceremony, Johnston talked about why the awards were well-deserved.
“You have stirred our souls, drawn us out in dazzling performances, shared your visions with us through your talent, your creativity, your art,” he said.
“You make films, theatre, television and music. Your creations have earned international praise because of their originality, intensity, and relevance. Your work affects us so deeply. It matters to Canada and to Canadians, and to audiences around the world.”
Five artists received the country’s highest honour for lifetime artistic achievement: composer, conductor, and artistic director Walter Boudreau; film and stage director Atom Egoyan; actress and director Diana Leblanc; singer and songwriter Sarah McLachlan; and R.H. Thomson, actor, director, producer, and arts advocate.
“As an artist in this country I am truly humbled by this award,” Egoyan said in his acceptance speech.
“These eyes are looking at a distinguished crowd in a country my grandparents could never have dreamt of. A unique country, Canada, where we have certainly seen darkness but continue to forge an era of tolerance, respect, and mutual understanding.”
In her speech, Leblanc said she knew at a very young age that she “wanted to be someone who did things that made people say it was so beautiful.”
“So I started with dance and found my way into words; the National Theatre School in 1960 where I started my life-long friendship with Mark Henry, and I learned that words danced en pointe for me. And as the song says, ‘Words are all I have to steal your heart away.'”
Singer and songwriter Sarah McLachlan explained that she had been bullied as a child and had only wanted to be accepted.
“As a kid growing up in Nova Scotia I was bullied and I didn’t fit in. A lot of time I was left to fend for myself so music became my saviour. It was the one thing I knew I was good at and in it I saw that I had value,” she said.
In addition her own music, McLachlan talked about her work with Lilith Fair and how satisfying it has been to promote women in music.
Upon receiving his lifetime achievement award, Thomson noted the marks that actors leave on the minds of the audience long after they are gone.
“Jean-Marc and Atom and Walter will leave a series of zeros and ones. And these zeros and ones will be reconstructed over and over again in the flickering shadows of life that tell stories of people and will be reconstructed in sounds that please the soul and the ear,” he said.
In addition to the artist awards, the Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for Voluntarism in the Performing Arts was given to Michael M. Koerner for his philanthropy over the last 50 years.
Koerner talked about how important it is for people to support the arts in Canada since the government doesn’t provide much funding.
“The life of the creative artists in Canada is not a bed of roses. If our cultural life is to be richer, have stronger Canadian roots, we must support our artistic creators fairly and appropriately,” he said. “I’m proud of having played a role in supporting Canadian creativity.”
The 2015 National Arts Centre Award went to filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée for his many films, including the award-winning “Dallas Buyers Club” starring Matthew McConaughey that won 69 awards and three Oscars, and “Wild,” starring Reese Witherspoon. Both movies were based on true stories.
Vallée summed up his feelings: “I came from a humble family, no art, no books, a bible, a dictionary, and here I am today. Art knocked at my door, and I’m grateful.”
The gala at the National Arts Centre was hosted by actor Colm Feore. Short films of each recipient, prepared by the National Film Board of Canada, were shown along with a strong lineup of entertainment.
Not bad for a country that supposedly isn’t sure of its national identity.