York dance instructor receives the first-ever Premier’s arts award

Peggy Baker, a guest instructor of dance in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, has been awarded the first-ever Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. The Ontario Arts Council selected Baker from more than 190 nominees for her outstanding achievements and contributions to arts and culture in Ontario.

Peggy Baker recieves Premier's Award

Above, from left: Deputy Premier George Smitherman, Peggy Baker and Caroline Di Cocco, minister of culture

Baker began her professional career in Toronto as a founding member and later artistic director of Dancemakers, Toronto’s second-oldest contemporary dance company. She toured internationally with Lar Lubovitch’s New York company in the 1980s and joined Mikhail Baryshnikov for the first season of the White Oak Dance Project in 1990.

Baker teaches in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts and in schools across North America, including the Juilliard School, the School at Jacob’s Pillow, the American Dance Festival, New York University, the University of California Santa Barbara and The School of Toronto Dance Theatre. She also continues to perform and teach under her company, Peggy Baker Dance Projects.

Baker has inspired several generations of dancers in both modern dance and ballet. She was recognized for her contributions with an appointment to the Order of Ontario in 2002 and to the Order of Canada in 2006. In 1992, Baker became the first-ever artist-in-residence at Canada’s National Ballet School.

Left: Peggy Baker

"For more than a decade, the value of art and the place of the artist in our society has been systematically discredited and relegated to the fringes by all levels of government in Canada,” Baker said after receiving the award. “I applaud Premier McGuinty and Minister Caroline Di Cocco for their boldness in establishing a prize that acknowledges the breadth and excellence of Ontario’s cultural sector and celebrates the arts as an essential and integral aspect of our society," said Baker. "I am humbled and deeply honoured to have my contributions recognized in this context."

Yvonne NgThe recipient of the Premier’s Award is also asked to identify an emerging artist in the same field to receive an award. This year, Baker selected York alumna Yvonne Ng (BFA ’87) (right), who came to Canada from Singapore in 1983, as this year’s up-and-coming artist. A dancer, producer, choreographer, teacher and artistic director, Ng was awarded the prestigious K.M. Hunter Dance Award in 2002 and received both the New Pioneers Arts Award and the Chalmers Arts Fellowship in 2003.

An active member of the dance community, Ng has served on the board of directors for the Canadian Alliance of Dance Artists and Dance Umbrella of Ontario.

"The Premier’s Award provides a showcase for our most talented people," said Caroline Di Cocco, Ontario minister of culture. "This is a new honour that will help to ensure the vibrancy of our culture sector and highlight the achievements of our greatest artists."

A panel of jurors selected Baker from the six finalists for the award, which recognizes outstanding achievement and contribution to arts and culture in Ontario. The winner receives $35,000 and a cash award of $15,000 goes to the emerging artist.

This story was written by Bethany Hansraj, a student assistant in York’s Marketing & Communications Division.