The first film short Clea Roberts wrote had a lot of really nice images, but no protagonist. Roberts, who has published poetry collections including Augeries and Here is Where we Disembark, said she didn’t initially see that as a problem.
“Coming from poetry, I have a good understanding of how important images are, but it wasn’t until I started to write fiction that I started to understand the importance of story structure,” she said, laughing.
Roberts put that new understanding to use in applying in 2018 for an advanced artist award from the Yukon government.
She’s one of 10 Yukoners, including other writers, musicians, and visual artists, who will use that grant to further her arts practice in 2019.
In Roberts’ case, the $10,000 she received will help support her while she works on a screenplay for a feature-length film about a couple that wants to adopt a child, but finds out their application has been deferred until they can successfully complete what is called The Real Cyber Boy Companion Program.
Roberts started working on the screenplay after taking a screenwriting class as part of the masters of fine arts in creative writing she’s completing through the University of British Columbia. Her instructor there was enthusiastic about the idea, which Roberts says is still in the germination stage. The grant will help her pay the rent and simply survive as she works through subsequent drafts of the story.
“I have a deep personal connection to it,” Roberts said of the subject matter. “My kids and their needs are constantly changing, and the responsibility of raising a human being is huge.”
She said the idea came out of her own encounters, her successes and failures as a parent, but was also influenced by her fascination with artificial intelligence and the way people rely on technology.
It’s a departure from the subject matter of her poetry, which she said is very focused on the wilderness. It has been since she moved to the Yukon.
“It seemed like the kind of place that required a poetic response just because of the vastness of the landscape. It left be feeling disoriented by the wilderness and also quite in love.”
Sophie Tremblay Morissette, manager with the Yukon Department of Tourism and Culture, said that’s the goal of the arts awards, which are allocated twice a year, in the fall and spring.
A panel of artists from the community spend a day jurying applications and choosing roughly 10 artists from a variety of creative sectors.
“The interesting thing with this one is it’s really for individual artists to further their practice, so it’s not so much the individual project as an outcome. It’s not about the artwork that comes out of it but about the process,” she said.
A number of the projects, she said, are related to mentoring, learning new skills and furthering an individual arts practice. Stepping out of your comfort zone is always a risk, she says, particularly when you’re an artist and you are taking 100 per cent of the risk yourself. This provides a cushion for artists to take that step and try something new.
“We recognize that individual artists are a huge part of a healthy and active arts sector so this is really to provide individual grants for artists to improve their skills and abilities and move them further.”
Roberts, who has received funding in the past for her poetry, says the program has helped her and others she knows to complete new work and gain confidence in that work.
“The very first time I got one, it was incredibly validating,” she said. “Being an artist is an occupation that requires a lot of personal commitment and motivation and it’s much easier to go out and get a job doing something real rather than to work for hours and hours at something that may or may not come to any kind of readership. So the awards provide, just in themselves, the validation because they are juried by other artists and administrators.”
The remaining nine grants were awarded as follows:
Lyn Fabio received $10,000 to explore new creative techniques in the creation of a body of work using hog gut and fibres; K. Scott Maynard received $10,000 to study composition with Daniel Janke, Katie Avery, and David Restivo; musician Ryan McNally received $10,000 to study with teachers in Ontario, New York and California; Declan O’Donovan received $10,000 to mentor with Corktown Chamber Orchestra conductor/director Paul McCulloch while at the same time finishing a Berklee Online music theory course; Helen O’Connor received $5,000 to work invasive plant species into interdisciplinary paper artworks for installation; Amy Tessaro received $5,000 to learn to use lead to create stained glass works; Monique Romeiko received $5,000 to develop a series of video-art pieces; musician Claire Ness received $5,000 to attend a residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts; Kirsten Madsen received $5,000 to write a screenplay for a multi-episode web series.
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