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Istvan Kantor

The Acker Awards ceremony is a community gathering, artist party, one of a kind, the best, funniest, riotous, weird, silly, intellectual, absurd, exceptional, entertaining, subversive, hysterical, freakish, hilarious, queer, revolutionary, celebratory art event once a year. We celebrate artists who actually don’t give a fuck about celebrations or celebrities. Of course they like to party with us so we invite them once a year. This is our third year and we are impressed that we got this far. Thanks to all of the 55 Acker Awards recipients and the hundreds of spectators for participating in our events.

We initiated the Acker Awards Toronto three years ago because we felt the need to respond to the growing corporate authority that took over the arts in Toronto for over two decades. Due to the city’s gentrification, artists lost their studio spaces and only those with commercial success could afford to pay the expensive rents. Suddenly large communities were displaced, artists moved elsewhere, many of them lost confidence and retired, disappeared. A good example of this is the once thriving Queen West art community that got completely wiped out. Those romantic years are gone.

We initiated the Acker Awards Toronto to help rebuild the art community suffering from this desperate situation by honouring artists who we believe took an important part in the arts in Toronto during the past decades, multidisciplinary artists who broke boundaries and blazed the way for others to follow, innovative, creative individuals focusing on new ways of experimentation and sharing ideas, accomplished artists who are pioneers in their endeavours without much recognition and rewards.

The Acker Awards is independent, community-based, without government or corporate founding. It’s a no medals, no trophies, no money award; recipients create their own creative items to be collected in boxes and each recipient receives a box full of items. We could call it an interactive counter-award. The boxes are time capsules; they preserve the free spirit of our artist community in the form of a collective manifesto made up of notes, objects, sounds, cards, photos, drawings, embroidery, etc., each piece signed and dated, a group show in a box.

This is the way we want to keep it for the coming years. In order to do that, we remain completely volunteer-run and supported entirely by contributions from the community. We also want nominations to come directly from fellow artists in the community, so please send us your nominations of artists you value for the Acker Awards Toronto. Thanks to our advisers for sharing their productive ideas and to all those who nominated artists for the award.

We aim to put the “award concept” back into revolution and provide evidence that only bold, daring ideas can change the world.



Louise Bak

The question of the Acker Awards to me is to do a community-based celebratory event of local artists, once a year.

Recipients of the award are artists of every discipline, recognized for their groundbreaking, risk-taking, community-oriented accomplishments. Originating in New York City in 2013 and named after punk-poet feminist writer Kathy Acker (1947-1997), the awards run with independence, apart from government or corporate funding support. In turn, it involves community efforts, which I recently tried to assist in finding a space where it could be held.

The Theatre Centre generously hosted the Acker Awards Toronto Ceremony without charge since its inception in 2017, but due to an unavailability in scheduling we needed to find another location. Following a number of asks to spaces like artist-run galleries or clubs, came the realization of the Ackers’ materially sparse limits, which couldn’t work with most commercial venues. Then, I thought of approaching a longstanding friend, at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, to ask if the third installment of the Acker Awards could be held in one of the smaller theatres there, given this building has supported other philanthropic and arts events, like the B.L.A.C.K Ball. We carry much gratitude, as the space was offered as donation.

Curious, the idea that the Acker Awards focus on pioneering artists who have not gotten enough recognition, with the majority from the ‘80s, seems to have become more relevant as the awards have been developing.

When I initially thought about the idea of the recognition of artists, working through time with innovation, I was aware that there can be issues of seemingly unconscious inequality in how they were received. I’ve seen many great artists get passed over or who just stop making art, as if the Toronto system just didn’t get them, or they weren’t the most popular people. I’m aware that from the ‘80s, there was “resistantialism” around Toronto’s Queen Street West. I’ve seen Julie Voyce, whose work - which includes from then loopy icons, say buoyance with Punch and Judy humour - wasn’t always read well. Now, it feels we live in a politically-correct era ruled by corporate taste. Many museums are focusing on reconstructions of the past, or national identity negotiations. This removes from the importance of individual, creative expressions, which the Ackers address with intricacies of intimacy, including improvisatory tensions.

A friend Coman Poon recently said, as for my involvement with the Ackers, that it is good to put my vast social capital to good use. If there is build of such in the arts, I find it develops through a myriad of momentary, caring exchanges. I unexpectedly came across the independent filmmaker Helen Lee during TIFF, and aware of her film work, I suggested her for this year’s Ackers. Her recent short, Into Such Assembly (2019), weaves imagery of minor-hued glamour. I find the Ackers’ hands-on process, where it includes the work of the individual artists, involves multiple works of un-alikes from each of the recipients
to be awarded. How it remains an accessible, free event, also possesses such small kindnesses. The next award evening, as it comes December 2nd near the holidays, may include small tidings. I feel moved that the Ackers have made strides in increasing diversity and representation, like with Tanya Cheex, known for spurring local burlesque arts, as if through bustles, mocks the status quo. At times the creative energy, as independent individuals and communities, seems to arise from the gap between, to something other than markets. How, the Ackers might ask, in swishes of cultural care.

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