Joyce Zemans awarded Diplôme d’honneur by Canadian Conference of the Arts

York fine arts Professor Emerita Joyce Zemans has added another distinction to her long list of honours: she has been awarded the Diplôme d’honneur by the Canadian Conference of the Arts (CCA).

Zemans received this national award in recognition of her contributions as a scholar, mentor and leader in the cultural sector at the CCA’s 65th anniversary gala, which took place Nov. 1 at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Canadian actor and director Paul Gross was the keynote speaker.

Right: Joyce Zemans

The Diplôme d’honneur is presented annually in recognition of a sustained contribution to the cultural life of the country, whether through volunteer activity, mentoring, patronage, individual arts practice or other recognized support. In expressing her appreciation for the award, Zemans cited a line from the poem “Honour the Artist” by Aboriginal filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin: “The artist is the voice of the country.”

“For me, the starting point and inspiration for what I do is always the work of art,” Zemans said. “As an art historian, teacher and arts administrator, I’ve had the privilege of spending my life exploring artistic vision: analyzing and interpreting it, and also trying to ensure recognition of the artist’s role in our society. Artists have the power to move, enlighten and inspire us, and to force us to think about – sometimes, to re-think – the way in which we see the world.”

Zemans’ years of service at York University have seen her in many roles: as professor of art history and curatorial studies, chair of the Department of Visual Arts (1975 to 1981) and dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts (1985 to 1988); Robarts Chair in Canadian Studies (1995-96); acting director of the MBA program in Non-profit Management & Leadership in the Schulich School of Business (2000 to 2001 and 2008-2009); and her current role as director of the Graduate Program in Arts & Media Administration, which she has helmed since 1994.

On the national stage, Zemans served as director of the Canada Council for the Arts from 1988 to 1992, leading the organization through a pivotal period of transition. She was a member of the Prime Minister’s Canada-Japan Forum, the Department of Canadian Heritage’s Expert Advisory Committee on the Convention on Cultural Diversity and the Japan-U.S. Comparative Cultural Policy Project (University of California, Los Angeles), Cultural Policy Advisory Committee. She also served on the Culture and Communications Committee of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and the steering group for the Centre of Expertise on Culture and Communities, for the Creative City Network of Canada.

A former president of the Laidlaw Foundation, Zemans currently sits on the advisory boards of the Toronto Arts Council, the Creative Trust, Theatre Museum Canada, the Asia Pacific Journal of Arts and Cultural Management and Concordia University’s Institute for Studies in Canadian Art.

Zemans was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 2002, in recognition of her extensive and valued contributions to Canadian arts and culture. She holds honorary doctorates from the University of Waterloo and the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design and is an Honorary Fellow of OCAD University.

Joining Zemans on the podium at the CCA’s national awards gala was Françoise Sullivan, who received the Diplôme d’honneur in recognition of her illustrious career and contribution to the arts in Canada. A pioneering Quebec choreographer and visual artist,  Sullivan received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from York in 1998. Last year, as artist-in-residence in the Department of Dance, she reconstructed two of her iconic works, Dédale and Dualité, with the York Dance Ensemble.

Zemans saluted Sullivan, who was a member of Les Automatistes and a signatory of their 1948 manifesto Le Refus Global, as an embodiment of the artist as both creative force and powerful agent of transformation. “I am especially honoured to be receiving this award at the same time as Françoise Sullivan,” she said. “Through her art, in all disciplines, she changed the way we saw the world, and in so doing, changed the world as we knew it.”

She also paid tribute to the engagement and contributions of grassroots organizations and activist individuals nationwide. “Canadian cultural policy, and by extension the Canadian culture that we know today, has been shaped by coalitions of committed citizens, artists and organizations like the CCA, who expressed their ideas about the importance of the arts and culture in our collective experience.”

Above: Zemans is congratulated by guests at the CCA Gala. Photograph courtesy of Michael Longford.






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Associate Dean Michael Longford, who attended the CCA Gala on behalf of the Faculty of Fine Arts, joined the throng congratulating Zemans on her award. “It’s a privilege to have such a distinguished scholar and arts advocate as a colleague and mentor to students  someone who cares deeply and has contributed much to the cultural life of Canada,” he said.

Since the award was founded in 1954, the CCA has recognized a very select group of some 70 visionaries and creators of Canada’s rich cultural identity. As recipient of the Diplôme d’honneur, Zemans joins a distinguished company of Canadians, including such luminaries as pianist Glenn Gould, filmmaker Norman McLaren, artist Joe Fafard, author Gabrielle Roy and architect and philanthropist Phyllis Lambert.

The Canadian Conference of the Arts is a national forum for the arts, heritage and cultural community in Canada. It provides research, analysis and consultations on public policies affecting the arts and Canadian cultural institutions and industries; fosters informed public debate; and seeks to advance the cultural life of Canadians.