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Ground-breaking female artists named as award winners

'Their creativity has brought new light to their respective disciplines'

Three ground-breaking female artists from across the province were announced as 2021 winners of the prestigious Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Awards June 14.

“Their creativity has brought new light to their respective disciplines and created countless opportunities for us all to learn, grow and explore fresh ideas," said Lt.-Gov. Salma Lakhani.

The three winners – Faye HeavyShield of the Blood Reserve; Vicki Adams Willis, of Calgary; and Cheryl Foggo, also of Calgary – cover a range of artistic mediums.

Willis, who has changed the face of jazz dance in Alberta and in Canada, said the award is a tribute to her late mother, Alice Murdoch Adams.

"This award honours a legacy that began in 1927, when my shy, teenaged mother bravely climbed onto a train and travelled to New York by herself to study dance. She was compelled to do whatever was necessary to broaden the then-limited dance offerings in Calgary, and she spent her career doing just that," said Willis.

"The award also honours the countless teachers, mentors, colleagues, collaborators, dancers, and students who have joined and guided me as I have continued the creative journey," she said. "I am deeply grateful."

 A co-founder nearly 40 years ago of Decidedly Jazz Danceworks, Willis is a teacher and choreographer of more than 35 original productions. She is recognized as a true leader in the world of jazz, and an acclaimed ground-breaking choreographer who created one of the most unique jazz dance companies in the world.

"She has helped to change the very course of the jazz dance art form by influencing students, dancers, musicians, and audiences with her strongly researched and brilliantly creative work," the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Awards stated in a press release.

When it comes to common traits among this year's award winners, Willis said, “We seem to all have a clear and ever-deepening sense of purpose within our art forms, which is driven by a strong sense of community commitment."

HeavyShield, one of Canada’s pre-eminent artists in Alberta and the Blackfoot Confederacy over the past 30 years, said the award is "certainly an honour and greatly appreciated."

She has a "legacy of three-dimensional art and sculpture, including recent installations incorporating photography and delicately-constructed paper," according to a press release.

"My art is a reflection of my environment and personal history, as lived in the physical geography of southern Alberta. I would say the environment is an extension of myself because it's always been there, from the time I was a child," said HeavyShield.

Foggo – a playwright, screenwriter, filmmaker, and author – has applied her talent to uncover the compelling but overlooked stories of Alberta's Black settlers and cowboys.

Beyond her personal practice, Faye also works with youth through art programming and creating cultural connections for children in care.

"Creating a more inclusive and diverse view of Alberta’s history through her plays, films, books, articles, and multi-media presentations has been Cheryl Foggo’s life work," stated a press release on the awards. "Her seminal, autobiographical book, Pourin’ Down Rain: A Black Woman Claims Her Place in the Canadian West, is a powerful narrative of Foggo’s ancestors’ journey from enslavement in the United States to western Canada. “

She was also profiled in Who’s Who in Black Canada and is the recipient of the 2008 national Harry Jerome Award for The Arts. In addition to her books, Foggo has published prose in more than 40 journals and anthologies.

The laureates will each receive a handcrafted medal, $30,000, and a two-week residency at the Banff Centre’s Leighton Artist Studios, at an awards event in Lac La Biche on June 10 and 11, 2022.

The awards ( are funded through an endowment established with private donations and gifts from both the provincial and federal government.

Gary Poignant is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Great West Newspapers. This story was funded by the Google News Initiative.