Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Singer-songwriter Tara Williamson has been chosen as one of three recipients of the Joseph S. Stauffer prize, an annual $5,000 grant awarded by the Canada Council for the Arts recognizing “mid-career (less than 15 years of practice) Canadian artists who exhibit strong artistic potential in music, visual arts and literature.”
The Stauffer grants have been awarded since 1987; the namesake a Canadian businessman who supported various charitable arts causes throughout his lifetime.
“When you’re emerging there’s a lot of grants. When you’re totally established it’s a lot easier to get recognition,” Williamson said. “But mid-career is often a place where artists get stuck. You’re not novel anymore, but you’re not totally established.”
While she’d received grants and financial support before, Williamson said it was her first prize.
Postponed initially from this fall, Williamson now has a planned spring 2021 release for her second album, titled “Enough”, which is currently in post-production.
While most of the costs of the album were already taken care of, Williamson said the prize money will be directed towards paying visual artists who designed the album’s graphics, as well as “spending a little money” for herself.
The content of the album includes her experiences following the unexpected passing of her son, Anagonse, in 2016.
“The themes are very much about grief and relationships to place and to people,” Williamson said. “I think that’s reflected in the album, that feeling when you’re parenting, when you haven’t slept in four days, when you feel alone.”
During a year of grieving, Williamson put her possessions in storage and created much of the album while travelling to meet friends around the world and creating music, despite not always having access to instruments or a recording studio.
“I always had my laptop,” she said. “I learned how to use digital sounds and digital files and musical typing. This album came out of that year, where all the songs were created on the computer. It was the first time I’d written like that.”
Despite the tragedy, Williamson described feeling grateful for the support she received as a single mother from her community during her son’s life in Peterborough, Ont. and following his passing.
“I think that’s one of the only reasons I’m still surviving, because of people taking care of each other.”
Williamson balances her time between her music career and her professional work at the University of Victoria in the Indigenous Law Research Unit.
“I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life for this work,” she said of her profession. “It takes all of my competencies and all of my passions and puts it into one job. It’s been difficult doing community work during a pandemic, but we’re figuring it out.”
Tara Lapointe, who serves as the director for Partnership and Arts Promotion on the Canada Council, described Williamson’s portfolio as “the whole package.”
Lapointe praised “the ecosystem of arts support within Canada”, and discussed what could be next for Williamson and other recipients.
“Winning this award, we hope, gives artists different opportunities,” she said. “It might put them on the radar of a booking agent, media or somebody else that might give them a bit more profile and opportunities in their own careers. We certainly see that as one of the big benefits of being a prize recipient.”
Williamson initially didn’t really integrate her arts career into her legal work, and vice versa.
“I tried really hard to keep the worlds separate,” she said, but a music fellowship in her home province of Manitoba began to reshape her perspective. “The big feedback I got was ‘don’t separate these things. You’re all of this person’.”
Now, her portfolio is a combined one, with her website showcasing her music, but also various published legal and advocacy pieces she’s authored.
Williamson considers her own life story a rarity. She is Cree and a member of the Opaskwayak First Nation, but was adopted by an Anishinabek mother and Canadian father at birth and grew up in Swan Lake, Man.
“Being an Indigenous child adopted by Indigenous parents doesn’t always happen,” Williamson said. “I had the privilege of growing up with culture and language.”
Never shy to hit the road, Williamson has also lived in Winnipeg, Montreal, and Toronto. But while she’s definitely not averse to moving around, the COVID-19 pandemic will be keeping Williamson in British Columbia for the foreseeable future.
“Now, I don’t go anywhere,” she said with a laugh.