On Sept. 24, the Toronto Arts Foundation and Toronto Arts Council announced that Sandra Laronde is the recipient of the 2020 Celebration of Cultural Life Award. Laronde, who is the executive and artistic director of Red Sky Performance in Toronto, was a finalist along with Karen and Allen Kaeja and Ryan Rice.
The award, presented every two years as part of the Toronto Arts Foundation’s Signature Awards, recognizes excellence in three Toronto individuals whose work is a celebration of life through the arts. As of 2017, when the award was picked up by its current sponsor, Arthur Dalfen, the winner receives a $10,000 cash award with a weeklong stay at Valleyview Artist Retreat, and finalists receive $2,000.
This year’s award recognizes Laronde’s lifelong dedication to the arts and arts education, noting, as well, Red Sky Performance’s international impact. The company has toured since 2003 in 17 countries on four continents.
“It was such a surprise,” Laronde said in an email. “Receiving the Celebration of Cultural Life Award feels like a blessing and the support from colleagues, friends and family is so uplifting.”
Nominations for the award are submitted by the Toronto arts community, and the winner is chosen by a panel of local artists. Claire Hopkinson, director and CEO of the Toronto Arts Foundation, said in an email that the adjudication is highly competitive given the breadth of eligible artistic disciplines.
“As the world grapples with the effects of COVID-19, we are seeing more and more people looking to the arts for hope and inspiration,” said Hopkinson. “Artists like Sandra are leading the pack as their work celebrates not only the life that we still have in our everyday but also the lives that we look forward to in the future following the pandemic. This award is about inspiration and celebration — two things that the artists of Toronto hold at their very core.”
Laronde said that recognition like this is a milestone for her. “I feel so grateful to be acknowledged in this way … It couldn’t come at a better time than in the middle of a pandemic. We’ve all been somewhat pummelled during this time of devastating impact in the arts sector. I have to say I’m so impressed by people who don’t get swallowed up by negativity, but remain resourceful and remarkable in their will to keep moving forward,” she said.