Citing Covid-19, Canada's Sobey Art Award increases prize to almost $500,000 and shares it among 25 longlisted artists

The Canadian "Turner Prize" made the one-off decision to reflect the "profound impact" that the pandemic is having on artists' livelihoods

The 25 longlisted artists come from five regions across the country

The 25 longlisted artists come from five regions across the country

The prestigious Sobey Art Award for Canadian artists aged 40 and under will be shared by all 25 longlisted artists—five from each of the country’s five regions—with each receiving CA$25,000 ($18,000) making the total awarded CA$625,000 ($450,000). In previous years, the winner was awarded CA$100,000 ($80,000), while four finalists received CA$25,000 and the rest CA$2,000 ($1,400).

The move—which announced by joint organisers the Sobey Art Foundation and the National Gallery of Canada—comes in response to the ongoing coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and is a departure from the awards usual format, when a shortlist exhibition involving the top five candidates is followed by a presentation gala and an international residencies programme, all of which have been put on hold.

“I’m still processing the news today and am completely awed by the generosity of the Sobey Art Foundation,” says D’Arcy Wilson, one of the recipients from the Atlantic region. “It’s a gesture that is so genuinely caring and uplifting in a time that is challenging.”

Another Atlantic winner, Melanie Colosimo, compared the decision to last year’s Turner Prize, which was also shared by the four nominated artists after they lobbied the jury. “Awarding the Sobey Award to all 25 artists is a beautiful act, bringing us together during a time that is precarious, when we need each other more than ever to keep going,” she says.

Rob Sobey, the chair of the Sobey Art Foundation, praises those longlisted while also touching on the challenges facing artists in light of the pandemic. “These extraordinary, historic, and challenging circumstances will have a profound impact on the livelihoods and practices of artists across Canada and around the world,” he says.

“I applaud the Sobey Art Foundation, the jury and the National Gallery of Canada team for their responsiveness and leadership, and congratulate all of the 2020 longlist winners,” says Dr Sasha Suda, the director and CEO of the National Gallery of Canada.

More than 100 nominations were received this year, among the highest ever. The 25 artists who made the longlist are:

  • West Coast and Yukon— Michele Di Menna,
  • Prairies and North—Asinnajaq,
  • Ontario—
  • Quebec—
  • Atlantic—

The 2020 Sobey Art Award jury was comprised of Matthew Hills (Atlantic region), Mary-Dailey Desmarais (Quebec region), Frances Loeffler (Ontario region), Jaimie Isaac (the Prairies and North region) and Henry Heng Lu (West Coast and Yukon). Also on board was Carly Whitefield of the Tate Modern, London. The jury was chaired by Josée Drouin-Brisebois, the National Gallery of Canada’s senior curator of contemporary art.

The Sobey Awards will revert to their usual format once public health guidelines allow.