Salt Spring Island is preparing to welcome the best in Canadian and Southern Gulf Islands art this month as the Salt Spring National Art Prize (SSNAP) enters it fourth biennial season at historic Mahon Hall.
The finalists’ exhibition featuring submissions from across the country opens with a limited ticketed event on Friday, Sept. 24, and will be fully open to the public the following morning through to Monday, Oct. 25. Gulf Islands artists will be in the spotlight at the Parallel Art Show at ArtSpring, which also opens to the public on Sept. 25 and runs to Oct. 17.
SSNAP founding director Ron Crawford said organizers are looking forward to another strong exhibition, despite the climate of uncertainty around COVID risks and regulations.
“It’s been the most difficult SSNAP so far, but in a funny way I think that makes it the most important,” Crawford said. “I’m really glad we are doing it, that we are going to have a real show and didn’t delay it.”
After three successful editions so far, SSNAP is now firmly established as a national prize. Pre-COVID, Crawford said the plan was to improve the experience for locals and to keep building exposure across the nation. Some ambitions had to be dropped, but submissions to the prize increased by 40 per cent over 2019-20, including a large jump in the submissions from eastern Canada.
“That was in itself really rewarding for growing the prize,” Crawford said.
The increase also meant jurors had a great body of work from which to select the 52 finalists who will be vying for a prize. Finalists may be selected to win one of 10 awards at the end of the exhibition month — six selected by the jurors and four selected by public vote — with the top prize totalling $15,000 in cash plus a residency valued at $5,000.
The jury is another strong point to the 2021-22 offering. They are Judy Anderson, a University of Calgary Canadian Indigenous studio art associate professor who was the 2017-18 SSNAP winner; Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in K’jipuktuk/Halifax senior curator David Diviney; artist/curator/foundation creator Ydessa Hendeles; and Michelle Jacques, chief curator at the Remai Modern.
New this year is the position of a full-time gallery manager for the SSNAP exhibition. Curator, collector and artist Anthony Matthews will fill that role, as well as responsibility for hanging/installing the finalists’ exhibition.
“I’ve hung lots of shows but I didn’t choose the art this time — I’m not the curator,” he noted. “I’ve only seen the pieces in photographs, so I’ll be working to arrange it into an interesting, dynamic, creative installation. In terms of the art itself, I’m really excited.”
Matthews said the finalists include another round of strong painters, as well as artists working in diverse media, from beading to conceptual art and installations to photography.
This year, in another first, the People’s Choice Awards will go national. Every citizen in Canada over the age of 18 will get one opportunity to vote for their favourite artwork online or in person at the exhibition. The prize category additionally has a new sponsor in BMO.
SSNAP’s goal of showing the rest of Canada how strong locally produced art can be is largely manifested through the Parallel Art Show, which is going to the next level this year. Participating artists (who must live in the Southern Gulf Islands and have submitted to SSNAP 2021-22) were selected by jury for the first time. Also a first, SSNAP hired an independent exhibition manager who could lend her full focus to producing that show.
SSNAP’s usually festive gala events are being limited this year to mainly include artists and sponsors because of provincial restrictions on gatherings during COVID. The new BC Vaccine Card will be required to attend both those events and the regular exhibitions. (Note that this is a change from what was originally publicized.)
The exhibition month will include noon-time artist talks by 10 SSNAP and Parallel Art Show finalists, and an evening talk by the SSNAP jurors is also planned.
Details on the upcoming events will be posted to saltspringartprize.ca.