Edmonton Artists' Trust Fund celebrates its 25th year awarding $375,000 to 25 artists

“We want artists to be economically resilient. The EATF is not a huge amount, but it does make a difference”

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Twenty-five dynamic local artists of multiple disciplines have been awarded $15,000 each for the 25th anniversary of the Edmonton Artists’ Trust Fund — a total of $375,000.

It’s an enviable cross-section of the city’s cultural ecosystem that impacts the arts and economies far beyond Edmonton’s city limits.

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The EATF prizes were declared Monday night in the bustling Art Gallery of Alberta atrium, with performances by New Standards, DJ Creeasian and an amazing new piece of flyover spoken word called Trust by Edmonton poet laureate Shima Robinson.

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Musicians, filmmakers, painters and writers of every stripe are this year’s beneficiaries. Among this year’s group are separate wins by Cree singer-songwriter Cikwes, and her daughter Cheyenne Rain LeGrande, a Nehiyaw Isko multimedia visual artist. Now living in Edmonton, both hail from Bigstone Cree Nation 320 kilometres north of the city.

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“I’ve been nominated for so many awards and I’ve never won,” says Cikwes, the performer name of Connie LeGrande, 51, on the phone from Banff, where she’s doing the international, three-week Wîchoîe Ahiya Indigenous Singer Songwriter Residency at The Banff Centre. “This time I’m actually getting an award and I can’t even be there.”

Her latest album, kâkîsimo ᑳᑮᓯᒧᐤ — an album written and sung in Cree — was a Juno nominee and a runner-up for the 2023 Edmonton Music Prize. She plans to use the money in part to help make a new album.

“So this is survival money for me to continue to hustle as a musician for the next three or four months.”

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Meanwhile, Cikwes’ 31-year-old daughter Cheyenne Rain LeGrande was in New York doing performance art when she heard the good news.

“When I got the email, of course, all the feelings of, ‘Did she get the email, too?’ I called her right away and she checked her email and it was yes, so we were both so excited!” she says, referring to her mom who’s always been a big inspiration to her. “She’s a crazy singer-songwriter and both my parents really supported my dreams of being an artist.

“We work together a lot and we collaborate within our practices,” the younger LeGrande notes. “She and my Kokum who both speak Cree helped me translate Dreams by Fleetwood Mac into Cree, part of my most recent video work.”

The video also features her sculptural Bepsi Tab shawl, an outfit made of 3,300 pop-can tabs, in which she performed in New York.

Closer to home, the artist painted the beautiful flower mural at 124 Street and 104 Avenue.

“The fact this award is recognizing Indigenous artistry means so much,” says Cikwes, who like her daughter makes frequent use of Cree syllabics.

This “stay in Edmonton” prize provided by the Edmonton Community Foundation and administered by the Edmonton Arts Council is a little larger this year thanks to an additional, anonymous donor funding atop the usual John and Barbara Poole trust fund that kicked off in 1997.

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The first awards in 1998 had four artists share a prize of $13,500, and this year’s impressive roster follows more than 200 happy recipients recognized throughout the last quarter century.

Cheyenne Rain LeGrande and Matthew Cardinal
EATF winners Cheyenne Rain LeGrande, left, and Matthew Cardinal at Art Gallery of Alberta Monday. Photo by Fish Griwkowsky /Postmedia

The rest of this year’s local winners are Arab-Canadian actress-playwright Amena Shehab, contemporary ballet dance Ariana Barr, hip-hop artist Arlo Maverick, children’s perfomer Beppie, visual artist Braxton Garneau, filmmaker-musician Daniel Foreman, 5 Artists 1 Love founder Darren W. Jordan, soul-gospel musician Enoch Attey, Flamenco dancer Jane Ogilvie, The McDades co-founder Jeremiah McDade, hip-hip artist Kryple, poet-editor Kathryn Gwun-Yeen 君妍 Lennon, dancer-choreographer Leo Gonzalez, musician-educator Mallory Chipman, composer-photographer (whose work is the cover of Gord Downie’s latest album) Matthew Cardinal, poet Medgine, composer-santur player Mehdi Reznia, soul-pop singer Nuela Charles, author-filmmaker Omar Mouallem, dance-pop artist RIELL, multimedia artist Shawn Tse, painter-filmmaker Tammy Salzl and Ukraine-born violinist Viktoria Grynenko.

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The winners were each nominated by advocates in the community and chosen by a jury from hundreds of applicants.

“This award not only allows artists to do their work unencumbered,” says Edmonton Arts Council executive director Sanjay Shahani, “but it’s a recognition of artistic practice itself: it recognizes the body of work.”

Shahani stresses the EATF prize money does not have obligatory strings attached.

“This grant is specific to recognizing creative practice — it’s not about the product,” he explains. “Over time, it has allowed artists to recognize their own value and worth, and has also allowed Edmontonians to really celebrate their achievement.”

Shahani cites the EAC’s 10-year roadmap, Connections and Exchanges, talking about how arts funding like this makes for a better city overall.

“We want artists to be economically resilient. The EATF is not a huge amount, but it does make a difference,” he adds. “It actually allows artists to do their work and share the gifts of their creations with the public.“

He says arts funding in general helps make where we live to be a better place.

“All the impacts of how things shift in a positive way,” says Shahani, “everything from being good citizens to understanding their own community better.

“It’s a little bit of a boost for everyone.”

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