Why would anyone start an arts prize?

David: Julie, can you remind me how we got started with this?

Julie: I think that, for both of us, it grew out of a love of art. We spend a lot of time visiting artists in their studios, admiring their art and sometimes buying art. We’ve been blown away by the diversity and quality of Yukon art.

David: I remember about eight years ago going to Yukon Artists at Work, back when it was on Industrial Road. I was struck by a life-size portrait of someone who was a sculptor. The artist on duty came over and asked what I thought of it. After about 30 seconds, I realized that I was speaking to the subject of the painting! We talked about the painter whose work I was admiring, and also about the work of the sculptor I was speaking to, and how his work was evolving. It was one of those great Yukon moments when you connect with art and get to know the people who make it.

Julie: I was very much influenced by a story I read about a writer who received a generous gift from a complete stranger to help her focus on her writing. She is now a well-known Canadian author, but at the time she was working full-time and struggling to find time to finish her first novel. That’s a reality for many artists – they don’t have the luxury of focusing full-time on their art. I thought it would be great to help at least one person focus on creating art full-time for a while.

David: And then we started talking about how we could do this in a way that has a long-term impact. People in southern Canada have no idea about Yukon art – they imagine it involves soapstone carvings. So we wondered how we could design a prize that would help Yukon visual arts as a whole become better known.

Julie: Yes, the concept has grown. That’s why we reached out to three arts professionals from outside the Yukon to serve as jurors, who will come to Whitehorse and see the work of the six finalists in person. We want to increase awareness across Canada and internationally, so Yukon artists can get the recognition they deserve.

David: We’ve been at this for more than a year now. Has there been anything that surprised you?

Julie: We have had tremendous support from the volunteers on the Prize’s organizing committee. They helped me understand that we need to think long term, have a strategic vision, and not just get caught up in the activity of supporting the first year of the prize.

David: Yes, you and I have made the decision we need to be in this for the long haul. Making Yukon artists better known is not a short-term job. What has surprised me is how many different pieces there are to the project of awarding a prize. We have had a very hardworking organizing committee, and it has taken a lot of people to get us to this point.

Julie: The key is that we have talked to so many people in the arts community and beyond, who have generously shared ideas about what would work and what would be valued in the Yukon. They have started us on a good track.