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St. Albert Mayor's Celebration of the Arts salutes six artists

The honoured artists are Diane Gwilliam, Melanie Gall, Max Quilliam, Amanda Penner, Grace Forestier and Shannon Vance.

St. Albert Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts is the city’s equivalent to the Oscars. Last Thursday it named six recipients in an intimate ceremony held on the Arden Theatre stage. 

Prior to Mayor Cathy Heron presenting the awards, host Elizabeth Wilkie, director of community services, celebrated artistic achievement and spoke about the arts role in creating emotional impact, developing critical thinking and building conversations. 

This year the coveted awards were a series of delicate Indigenous beadwork sewn to represent Alberta’s provincial flower, the wild rose. The beadwork was created by Proud Wednesday, a sister duo who grew up in St. Albert. In a statement they said “we are excited to share in the town’s belief that acknowledging artists and the efforts they put forth to create a better world is important.” 

The city’s strong artist creators were celebrated in the following categories: emerging artist, mid-career artists, excellence in arts teaching, youth artist and lifetime achievement. Eighteen artists in diverse disciplines were nominated. 

Diane Gwilliam, a community builder, mentor, teacher and accomplished potter received the Lifetime Achievement Award. A member of St. Albert Potters Guild for four decades, and an employee within the former Cultural Services Department, Gwilliam served in a variety of visual arts roles for 30 years. Gwilliam also received the 2011 Excellence in Arts Teaching Award. 

Her varied roles included teaching pottery, managing art studios, coordinating the Celebration Gardens and all the visual arts for the International Children’s Festival of the Arts. Essentially, the soft-spoken potter worked quietly and diligently behind the scenes making sure visitors would enjoy an optimum arts experience. 

Following the event, Gwilliam stated the people she worked with gave her the most joy. 

“For the most part, it was people like Troy (Funk), Tamsin (Brooks) and Deirdre (Allen). I got to watch people learn, grow and shine when they achieve. Now, how can you not love that — watching people succeed? They were my everyday family, so it was hard to retire. They are still part of my life.” 

Melanie Gall, a singer-songwriter, published author and music historian, scooped the Mid-Career Artist award. In the past two decades, Gall built an international career performing concerts at distinguished venues such as Royal Albert Hall in London and Carnegie Hall in New York City. She has sung in more than 20 countries.

In the past 15 years, she has tapped into historical music creating and developing more than 10 shows including Piaf and Brel, Jazz Cat, American Songbook, Ingenue and We’ll Meet Again. Deanna Durbin Judy Garland and the Golden Age of Hollywood is a current production she is touring across continents. 

“I am really honoured to get this amazing award and be recognized in my hometown. It all started here, and it feels as if I’ve come full circle,” said Gall who flew in from Australia’s Adelaide Fringe Festival three hours prior to the awards ceremony. 

Always on the go, Gall released a new 10-track in February. Titled An Alberta Excursion, it highlights provincial historical stories in danger of being lost. 

“Did you know that Arthur Conan Doyle came to the province or that Alberta’s first cowboy poet was a woman?” asks Gall. These are two subjects she tackles in the album. 

The Emerging Artist Category was the most crowded with six nominations, but visual artist Max Quilliam beat out the stiff competition. Quilliam is a queer, transgender and disabled artist who is drawn to “intermedia” textile installations. His bold pieces are designed to explore ideas and advocate for people. 

“My art is very colourful. I like to balance humour with a political and personal style. Humour is an element that makes it easier to engage people, particularly for queer and transgender issues in discussions of social justice. It makes those discussions more digestible,” said Quilliam. 

In a surprise move, the Youth Artist category was a tie between folk singer-songwriter Amanda Penner and pop-folk singer-songwriter Grace Forestier. 

Despite her youth, Forestier, 15, has performed at Big Valley Jamboree in the 2023 Horizon Youth Talent Showcase. Closer to home, she sang at the 2023 St. Albert Art Walk and is a regular busker at St. Albert Farmer’s Market. 

Amplify’s 10th year anniversary CD also includes her original material, Can It Be. Forestier also released a self-titled EP now streaming on platforms. 

“It was such an honour to win, especially since there were so many talented nominees,” Forestier said. 

Penner, a frequent contributor to Amplify events, now lives in Edmonton. She sang at the 2022 Edmonton Folk Festival and created the Toad Stool Collective, a group that gathers women, queer musicians, artists, writers and creatives to celebrate their talents. 

Shannon Vance, a driving force with arts programming at Art Gallery of St. Albert, was honoured with the Excellence in Arts Teaching Award. She has planned, designed and taught arts programs to the public for 15 years. She’s also developed, researched and created many programs for students and visitors that will inspire and motivate the next generation of artists. 

In addition to beadwork art, each artist receives $1,000 and as the Lifetime Achievement award recipient, Diane Gwilliam’s name will be inscribed on the Cultural Wall of Fame. 

A capsulized video of each recipient was played at the awards ceremony. It is currently available for public viewing on the City of St. Albert website. 

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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