In 1951, the provincial Minister of Education, Samuel J. Hefferton, convened a meeting of prominent citizens to explore the possibilities of promoting wider interest in provincial cultural activities. After several additional meetings, government decided to establish an annual series of awards now known as the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts and Letters Awards.
Beginning in 1952, the program was administered by the Department of Education; then in 1973, by the Culture, Recreation and Youth Department. Today, the program is administered by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation.
On the eve of its introduction, a Daily News editorial described the initiative as an “intriguing brainwave” and “a fine idea that the development of the arts should be encouraged.” Early adjudicators included Dr. A.C. Hunter, Harold Goodridge, Reginald Shepherd, Moses Morgan, Andrew Fraser and Don Jamieson.
Open to residents of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, the aim of the awards is to stimulate creative activity, both amateur and professional, by the provision of cash prizes, adjudications, and the publication or exhibition of meritorious entries.
The Senior Division has been in existence since 1952; the Junior Division, introduced in 1982, recognized the 100th anniversary of the birth of distinguished Newfoundland poet, E.J. Pratt. The Percy Janes First Novel Award was introduced in 2000 to commemorate the life and work of one of Newfoundland and Labrador’s most distinguished writers, Percy Maxwell Janes.
Initially, the committee established seven sections:
Changes to the program have been made during the intervening years, and today there are awards in Literary, French Literary, Music, Visual Art and Digital Multimedia in both Senior and Junior. A complete list of all Sections and Awards can be found at www.gov.nl.ca/artsandletters. Winning and selected entries in the Visual Art sections and winning entries in the Literary, Music and Digital Multimedia sections are included in an exhibition at The Rooms each year.
An Arts and Letters Awards Advisory Committee is appointed by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation to provide input and advice to the program. The committee consists of six professional artists representing music, literary and visual arts; one community representative with an interest in the arts; and one education representative with an interest in the arts. See www.gov.nl.ca/artsandletters for a list of current committee members.
During the 65 years since the first competition was held, many of Newfoundland and Labrador’s winners have included artists who have since played a major role in the artistic culture of the province. Some of the readily recognized artists who are past winners include David Blackwood, Manfred Buchheit, Scott Goudie, Justin Hall, Ben Hansen, Ilse Hughes, Sheila O’Leary, Rae Perlin, Christopher Pratt, and Janice Udell in the visual arts; Cassie Brown, Frank Holden, Harold Horwood, Percy Janes, Ed Kavanagh, Kevin Major, Carmelita McGrath, Paul O’Neill, Helen Fogwill Porter, Bernice Morgan, Lisa Moore and Michael Winter in the literary arts; and John Herriott, Michael Parker, Duane Andrews and Brian Sexton in the musical category.