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Artists AJA Louden, Helen Belay and Lisa La Touche recognized with unique award

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In 2021 the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Awards Foundation provided $3,000 to each of our 2021 Distinguished Artists which they could gift to an artist of their choice. This gift acknowledges the challenges artists have faced throughout the pandemic. We’re thrilled to introduce three outstanding artists making an impact on Alberta today and creating ‘art to live in COVID times’.

AJA Louden
2021 Distinguished Artist Faye HeavyShield selected contemporary urban muralist AJA Louden for recognition. HeavyShield describes Louden’s artwork as ‘vibrant and visually brightening’.

“It is what the art reflects that has the most impact,” HeavyShield explains. “He engages community with such energy. His projects invite the viewer and the public at large to share the lens.”

AJA has been making art for years and as a full-time artist and art maker for the past five. “In my teens I was attracted to the hip hop culture, graffiti, and unsanctioned public art. These are interesting subsets of public art and valid ways to engage the public” says Louden. His current work is driven primarily by commissions for large scale murals and can be seen on brick walls, in transit stations, alley ways, on buildings and fences. AJA relies on an extensive consultative process to realize the vision of those commissioning one of his murals. “An active translation occurs where we use the language of the art to accurately reflect them.” As such, these past 22 months have been tough on artists working with community or with any group of people. “Our ways of gathering have been so limited.” But Louden has also found time to observe and reflect.

As artists we have the opportunity to observe how people manage in times like these. It tells us a lot about who we are – and I hope my works also reflect some of these learnings back to the viewer. AJA Louden

Helen Belay
Helen Belay is a theatre artist who graduated from the U of A theatre program in 2019. She launched immediately into an active professional career which was abruptly cut short when the pandemic was declared. She turned the initial shock and uncertainty around the shutdowns into, in her words “making art that can live in COVID.” She workshopped plays via Zoom, staged readings, performed theatre outdoors, started working on a podcast focused on history and the arts, and discovered a beautiful community of inspiring artists along the way. Belay says the essential nature of art became more clear to her during the pandemic: “We have a hunger for story, a hunger for connection. As a performer, you are putting an idea out to the audience with a hope that it can lead to a better understanding of others.”

In November 2021, Belay finished a run playing Lucy in The Fiancée at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre. She has several other projects on the go. “I’ve had a lot of time to think, and process and consider what I want my practice to look like. The stories I am interested in telling, and the values I hold dear to me in my work.”

Of this opportunity to support Belay, Distinguished Artist Cheryl Foggo says “An artist’s life is precarious at the best of times and losing months of work to COVID has left artists, especially theatre artists, financially struggling.” We hope for better days ahead….

Helen Belay in Heaven Photo credit Janice Saxon

Lisa La Touche

Lisa La Touche left Alberta to pursue a busy professional dance career in the US, but when the pandemic hit she moved back to Calgary with her infant son and discovered a receptive, supportive and progressive dance community she has embraced. She is part of an incubator program at Arts Commons and is collaborating with artists on several projects.

Distinguished Artist Vicki Adams Willis says “I am absolutely delighted that Lisa has relocated to Alberta and I want to support her through this brave transition.”

Since 2006, New York City had been home to La Touche and proved a great nexus for her busy dance career. But the nature of a dance career was gig to gig, and very transient. “It sometimes felt like living in the lobby of a big hotel – with everyone just passing through…” Her decision to move back to Calgary in early 2020 has actually given her a different lens to see the arts through, and the impetus to design ways to connect with the city’s progressive artists and arts communities. “I’m really excited to be here. Calgary is so progressive and everyone just wants to move forward,” says La Touche. The gift award means so much to La Touche, “I feel I can strategize now, collect my thoughts, and continue to look for new ways to do my art and be of greater service to my arts community here.”

Lisa La Touche Photo credit Jeremy Fokkens
AJALouden Photo credit Barry Boroditzky

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