By Neil Armstrong
PRIDE Contributing Writer
TORONTO, Ontario — Winsom Winsom, a well-known Canadian-Jamaican Maroon artist, arts educator and mentor to young people, is one of two outstanding artists who will receive honorary doctorates at Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) University’s largest convocation ceremony to date.
The other is Professor Margaret Priest, artist, educator, and philanthropist who has worked in Canada most of her adult life as an artist and as a professor at both the University of Guelph and the University of Toronto.
She is currently professor emeritus, University of Guelph, and is a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.
“Winsom Winsom’s lectures for OCAD University’s community arts practice courses demonstrated to students the ways that the arts enrich and empower communities in Toronto and in Belize,” said Dr. Sara Diamond, President and Vice-Chancellor of OCAD University.
“Margaret Priest is one of Canada’s leading Canadian conceptual artists and has created single works, installations and major public commissions. She was deeply engaged with OCAD University as advisor to the Academic Council, active in planning our graduate programs and a passionate Board of Governors member. We are honouring these two artists not only for their creative achievements, but also for what they have brought to this institution.”
Winsom, 70, who lives between Belize and Canada, especially in Vancouver where her youngest grandchildren live, initiates and develops programs in the arts, arts education and culture to address community needs.
She has had a significant and direct impact on the lives of hundreds of young people, first in Jamaica, later in Canada and now in Belize, where she established the Winsom Foundation.
Her foundation trains and develops young people in the arts and education, as well as helps them to chart a path of sustainability.
Winsom’s efforts and those of her foundation are carried out with few and scarce resources and art infrastructure must be created.
Community cultural enhancement through the arts, the arts in education (as a tool of empowerment, creative collaboration and community development), cross-cultural dialogue and spiritual enrichment are some of the foundation’s achievements to date.
Winsom’s position in equity seeking groups is best assessed when it is understood that most artists from these communities are mentored, as opposed to coming up through art school.
By means of her visibility as an artist, she is an inspiration to many people, while her work creates paths and spaces for young people to dream and motivates them to embark on meaningful lives.
In Belize, Winsom assists young people to get to and through high school and on to college or university by advocating on their behalf through the education system.
Since flying into Toronto on Friday night, she has been out daily picking up things like flash drives, which are expensive there, to create packages for the students who are going on to high school.
“I’ll go back into Belize, meet with the group, tell them what we expect and tell them that there are mentors around, if they ever need help they don’t hesitate. There’s no reason for them not to succeed,” she said.
She also provides training and other forms of support to a number of local emerging artists in order to help them establish a career in the arts.
One of Winsom’s main visions is to help bring art and design education into the Belize school system.
In Toronto, her mentorship and teaching in the Fresh Elements and Fresh Arts programs were important contributions to the emergence of several Canadian artists.
Her status as an elder, along with her dedication to the arts as integral to the production of cultural voice, societal engagement and citizenship, has created new spaces for dialogue within and across marginalized communities.
Recognized for her ambassadorship in the arts, longstanding work in bridging cultures and providing opportunities for others, Winsom has also been involved in various ways with OCAD University.
She has presented lectures in the community arts practice program.
Presently, through her foundation, she is collaborating with the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences to develop programming that will enrich the arts in Belize and provide international cross-cultural learning experience for OCAD University students, faculty and staff.