Lettre ouverte // open letter

Voici une lettre cosignée par plus d'une trentaine de créateurs du milieu du livre publiée ce matin dans le quotidien Le Devoir pour le retour du Prix GG en illustration. Je sais par expérience à quel point ce prix peut être important dans la carrière d'un illustrateur et sa disparition depuis deux ans est un recul déplorable pour notre profession.  

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Here is an English traduction of an open letter published this morning in Le Devoir newspaper and signed by more than thirty illustrators, authors and a publisher from Quebec asking for the return of the Governor General's literary award in Illustration.  From my own experience, I know how important this award can be on an illustrator's carrer and its loss is a deplorable setback for our profession.

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Open letter to Mr. Simon Brault, Director and CEO of the Canada Council for the Arts, and Mr. Arash Mohtashami-Maali, Head of Writing and Publishing at the Canada Council for the Arts,

For 80 years, Canada Council for the Arts has rewarded Canadian literary creators by presenting them with the prestigious Governor General’s Literary Award (GG). These awards have acquired much standing and a solid reputation around the world, and have subsequently served as a significant springboard for the careers of many authors, illustrators, poets, playwrights and translators.

In 1987, an award for illustration in Young People’s Literature was created, recognizing excellence in illustration by artists of great talent and in doing so, recognizing the role of illustration in a literary work as an entirely separate discipline. This award quickly became the most prestigious in the profession in Canada and allowed many local creators to be recognized, encouraged, supported and to become known around the world.

However, in 2014, the Canada Council for the Arts decided to reformulate the award, dividing it between the illustrator and the author for the same title, without making a distinction between the work of either. The reformulated award became “Young People’s Literature (Illustrated Books)” and became an award for the book as a whole rather than the work of each of its creators.  

Having observed the consequences of this reformulation for two years, we feel it is time to intervene in order to reestablish the fundamental purpose of the award and to denounce its current impact and consequences. Even if it is the collaboration of the author and illustrator that combines to create a title in its final arrangement, the work of each artist is distinct and deserves to be recognized as such. Canada Council for the Arts’s mission is to encourage and defend the diversity of artists’s work. The creation of an amalgamated award between author and illustrator, harms the standing of the profession of illustration, a completely separate art form. Moreover, the inclusion of text when evaluating a reward for illustration has heavy consequences, notably in the composition and expertise of the Jury - formerly composed of peers - it is now composed of both authors and illustrators (in 2016: a children’s author, a poet/translator, and a painter/illustrator), who are not always equipped to fully evaluate the quality and authenticity of the illustration within the work. The credibility of the award is being undermined.       

In addition, the reformulation of the award does not take into consideration the current reality of the profession of illustrator. The vast majority among us must collaborate with American or European authors and/or publishers in order to earn sufficient income from our work. This has had a positive impact on the renown of Quebecois illustrators. The new formulation requires that both creators must be Canadian. Once again, illustrators are penalized and accessibility to the award is restricted. The Canada Council for the Arts is also penalized in having the prestige of the award tainted by the absence of many quality works that are no longer admissible. Thereputation of excellence attributed by the Governor General’s Literary Award is at stake.   

We do not need to demonstrate that the profession of illustrator is one that is precarious, unstable and inconstant. This recognition was vital for us, and the reason why we unite our voices today against the reformulation of the award for “Young Peoples Literature (Illustrated Books)” and we call for the return of the award for Illustration in Young People’s Literature.

If no action is undertaken by the Canada Council for the Arts, we can assert loud and clear that the profession of illustration has lost a historic ally, and that it is penalizing and trivializing the work of illustrators, particularly in children’s literature in Québec but also the work of anglophone illustrators. It would be a shame in 2016, on the 80th anniversary of the awards that have offered much support for local creators, to allow a specific group of them to be excluded and devalued.