Sobey Art Award Expands Purse to $100K

The Sobey Art Award announced January 27 that it is expanding its purse by nearly 50 percent, solidifying the award’s position as Canada’s leading prize for contemporary artists. Formerly set at $70,000, the Sobey Foundation has increased its total sum to $100,000. The added capital will singularly affect the runners-up, which includes four short-listed artists (who formerly received $5,000 each, and will now be awarded $10,000), and twenty long-listed artists (who were previously rewarded in name alone, but now receive $500 a piece). The award’s top winner will continue to receive a $50,000 check.

Leading the charge of Canadian visual arts awards since 2002, the prize is annually presented to a Canadian artist, age 40 or younger, who has exhibited work in a public or commercial gallery within 18 months of being nominated. The award does however receive some criticism — in the manner of the Venice Biennale — for placing an emphasis on the geographical region of its nominees. The jury members each represent a different section of the country, with the long- and short-listed artists following suit. Last year awarded an Ontarion representative, Duane Linklater, for instance. Yet, the Sobey remains not only Canada’s largest purse for contemporary art, but also among the international art world’s most significant.

In speaking with ARTINFO Canada, foundation chairman Rob Sobey said the decision stemmed from a desire to “put some cash into the hands of the long-list, and close the gap between the winner and the shortlist. Those were our two priorities. We say they’re all winners; but we thought, let’s support that notion a little bit more.”

Sarah Fillmore, chief curator of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (which houses the Sobey Art Award), echoed the sentiment. “When you’re in that room and you’ve got five excellent artists in front of you, you’re making an incredibly tough decision. Narrowing the gap between that top prize and the four finalists acknowledges the thin line between the two.”

Bernard Doucet, who’s accredited with recently “reinventing” the AGNS, now directs Sobey corporate affairs. He demurely deflects questions regarding the cause and timing of the funding’s expansion, saying simply, “there was an increased capacity to add to the award.” Doucet credits “numerous conversations with the 2013 jurors, and subsequently with the trustees of the Sobey Foundation” with their decision “around how the money would be best spent.” He adds, it’s “a better stimulus to the visual arts community to spread the funds around.”

“It’s extremely generous,” Fillmore reflects, “and smart, because it acknowledges that that top prize is where it should be, and that the other top finalists need the recognition.” Sobey agrees. “We’re very energized — and I’m personally very excited — to be able to cut these long-list artists a check.” He pauses. “Let’s not skip over them so quickly.”

The Sobey Art Award opens its call for nominations on February 1, 2014. The award will be announced in October of this year.

— Sky Goodden (@ARTINFOCanada)

(Photo: Duane Linklater, “Tautology” (2011-13). Photo credit Steve Farmer.)