2020 Jury Speech

Author and Spokesperson: Taylor Olson

Hello to you all.

First, what I’m about to say is an assembly of thoughts and words I have heard or read and absorbed from individuals much wiser than myself and funnelled through my perspective. Thank you to those individuals who live their lives with grace, compassion, empathy, and a burning fire to create connections between all and strive to make the world a more inclusive and safer place.

Before we talk about our Masterworks artists specifically, it is important that we first be present, and acknowledge and reflect on the fact that we are on unceded and unsurrendered territory. We stand and hold community in Mi’kma’ki, the lands of the Mi’kmaq people. Hopefully, when we acknowledge where we are, and reflect on the knowledge that a vast number of Mi’kmaw ancestors were killed or displaced in order for us to stand here now, and that settlers have and presently carry out forcible suppression of language and culture by colonization, that we do not simply speak empty words but that these words infiltrate our minds and souls and possess us into action; in doing the work of decolonization and reconciliation. Right now, we have the opportunity and privilege to support and protect the Mi’kmaq people in Treaty 1752 and we must take it. We must operate ourselves with love and empathy and righteous anger. We must challenge ourselves as settlers to think about how our work benefits from ongoing colonization and our obligation to Indigenous artists in the institutions we participate in, and furthermore, we must honour and celebrate the knowledge, arts, and culture of the Mi’kmaq people.

My name is Taylor Olson. I was blessed to be a recipient of the Arts NS Emerging Artist Recognition Award this year, and I am terrified and honoured to be the Spokesperson of the Jury for the 2020 Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia Masterworks Award.

This province has incredible artists. Artists from vastly different backgrounds in vastly different fields, with vastly different personalities and opinions. And I’m just talking about this jury. The jury for this award was made up of – aside from myself – wickedly talented, whip smart and kind individuals: Shauntay Grant, Gina Burgess, and Kim Morgan. Artists from different cultural and racial backgrounds, diverse disciplines, ages, and regions held council and had a – well I should just speak for myself, shouldn’t I – a riot of a time discussing what makes a masterwork. It’s incredibly difficult to define what a masterwork is. What has more value? Artistic quality & merit? Critical praise? Cultural influence? Innovation? Notability? Etc, etc? Ultimately, our jury felt that a masterwork encompassed all of these qualities, but above all that a masterwork was a piece of art that created a visceral response within us. A piece of art that evoked deep feeling, challenged our thinking, or reflected something true that we had not known how to express, until it was reflected back to us through art.

Tonight we celebrate three beautiful creations all of which are wholeheartedly worthy of the title “Masterwork”. You’ve accomplished something many of us artists endlessly hope to achieve. As Katie Belcher said in a previous year, “To create a work so outstanding that it prompts a significant shift in thought, spirit, or craft —for our practice, the general public, or for a single individual”. Thank you to the nominators, who brought their hearts to the table in recommending each work, taking time to address each piece with thoughtful and specific praise, and above all advocate for each artist. To the artists who were nominated, what a gift of love from your nominators whether friends, peers, or fans who found your work remarkable enough to undertake this large task. If nothing else, this marks the influence of your work in a profound and touching way.

The other day I was asked why storytelling and art is important. This is what I wrote back after having not slept all night working on a script and was in some sort of fever dream: “Wow. Big question. I don’t know that I remotely have the authority to begin to answer it, even from my own perspective as my brain plays tricks on me, but I’ll try. Have you ever seen a film, or watched a theatre show, or listened to a piece of music, or book, etc and afterwards your perspective of the world has changed? Or, you felt so deeply you wept, or you laughed so hard it hurt? Maybe you were so deeply distrubed by what it challenged inside of you or societally that at first you resented it, but slowly it ate away at you and you kept thinking about it? How it challenged your thinking, your feelings, your prejudice? I think that is why storytelling and art matters. It has the ability to take us outside of ourselves and empathize with another person’s experience, or to feel seen. Art influences culture. So by telling stories and creating art we can challenge and promote a Canadian culture of kindness, courage, and inclusion. A theatre director I worked with would say, “we’re not saving lives, we’re changing them”. The works by these three artists have done all of this and more.

Again, to our three artists, and all of the artists who were submitted, thank you for sharing your truth with Nova Scotia and the world. Thank you for bearing your souls, for your vulnerability and tenacity, but also your expertise, your craft, your truth, and your humanity – you are all inspirations.

On behalf of the jury: it was a privilege. Congratulations!