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Artist Susan Gibson Garvey honoured with Portia White Prize

Prize includes award of $25,000

4 min read
caption Susan Gibson Garvey (right) helped create the Portia White Prize in 1998.
Colin Slark
caption Susan Gibson Garvey (right) sat on the first Portia White Prize jury in 1998.
Colin Slark

Nineteen years ago, Susan Gibson Garvey sat on the very first jury that awarded the Portia White Prize. On Saturday, Garvey was presented with one of her own.

Garvey was honoured at the 2017 Creative Nova Scotia Awards gala on the weekend. The crowd at the Discovery Centre cheered as she claimed her award.

“It’s been my privilege for over four decades living here to work with some wonderfully collaborative colleagues on projects in the public art gallery system, and the general arts community here,” she said in her acceptance speech.

“I hope to continue to do that for as long as I’m allowed to do so.”

The award is given out every year to a Nova Scotian artist — either born in the province or who has lived here for at least four years — who has obtained professional status and been recognized as a master in their discipline. It’s named after African-Nova Scotian singer Portia White, who became world-renowned for her contralto singing voice in the mid-20th century.

Garvey, who lives in the Kings County village of Canning, has made many contributions to art in Nova Scotia. She is known for her visual art, including painting. She has been an instructor, she was the director and curator of the Dalhousie Art Gallery and she was on the first jury to award the Portia White Prize in 1998.

Garvey said the award is significant within the province’s art community.

“It’s a recognition of a career,” she said in an interview after the ceremony.

“The Portia White Prize is not just a recognition of your achievement in a particular discipline, but also what you’ve done within and for your community. Because, of course, Portia White did both.”

caption Artists can only win the Portia White Prize once.
Colin Slark

Past winners of the award include novelist Alistair MacLeod and filmmaker Sylvia Hamilton.

This isn’t the first time that Garvey and her work have been recognized. In 2006 she was awarded the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts Medal for outstanding contributions to the visual arts in Canada.


As part of the Portia White Prize, the winner is given an award of $18,000, along with an additional $7,000 to donate to an emerging artist or cultural organization in Nova Scotia. Garvey’s donation is going to Visual Arts Nova Scotia’s Mentorship Program.

The mentorship program has been running for 12 years and pairs three to four upcoming artists with established ones over a 12-month period. Garvey has been involved with the program in the past as a guest curator and facilitator.

caption Briony Carros (left) was one of three people who nominated Susan Gibson Garvey for the prize.
Colin Slark

Briony Carros, executive director of Visual Arts Nova Scotia, was on hand to accept the “protégé” prize.

Carros said $7,000 means a lot to a program that runs on a tight budget. The money will be used to continue and enhance the program.

“(Garvey) just really felt that it was such an appropriate program to give the money to considering that it’s a protégé prize,” Carros said after the gala. “It’s giving to generations coming up.”

The award is also a victory for Carros, who was one of the three people who nominated Garvey.

“Outside of the visual arts world, you may not be aware of the breadth of Susan’s career,” she said. “It’s not just only her work as an artist which has been incredible, but it’s been her work in the community.”


Nov. 19, 2017: An earlier version of this story misstated Susan Gibson Garvey's involvement with the Portia White Prize. She was on the jury of the first prize given out in 1998.

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  1. K

    Kristen Scholfield-Sweet

    Congratulations on this significant acknowledgement of your commitment to art in all its forms. I count myself as one of your most grateful mentorees--your artistic discipline, integrity and determination changed my life.
  2. R

    Richard Mueller

    Absolutely wonderful and much deserved!! We'll enjoy a G&T the next time we get together! Couldn't be happier for you. You're a gift to our community and to the artists you've supported so whole-heartedly!
  3. C

    Charlotte Wilson-Hammond

    A very well deserved award to a wonderful and dedicated artist! And Congratulations to Briony and VANS for the nomination and the Mentorship program! Such great women!
  4. T

    Ted Longley

    My highest praise and, congratulations to Sue, for being recognized by the arts community, with such a prestigious and, well deserved award. It has been a privilege and, an honour, to have been associated with Sue and, her also, very talented family.
  5. M

    Mern O'Brien

    I can think of few people more deserving of this prestigious award. Congratulations to Sue and the VANS Mentorship Program.
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