Article by Terri Coles

Lois Brown has a long history in the arts community: as a founding member and past curator of Neighbourhood Dance Works and the Festival of New Dance, as writer, director, and star of the award-winning local film The Bingo Robbers, as a nominee for the Elinore and Lou Siminovitch Award (Canadian Theatre), and as winner of the Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Award (a Canada Council for the Arts award for an artist mid-career).

Now she can add another honour to that list as this year’s recipient of the Goodwill Award “for contributions on a provincial/national/international scale” from YWCA St. John’s “Women of Distinction awards.” The awards are held by a majority of YWCAs in Canada, and St. John’s is again among them for the first time since 2003. The awards recognize women who have made significant achievements in their fields, and this year’s awards were presented at Government House on March 9.

“When I got there,” Brown said of the awards ceremony, “I realized I’d never gotten an award from the community before.” She has received awards from the artistic community for her work itself, she said, but this one from the YWCA – for which she was nominated by colleague Ruth Lawrence – is the first that recognizes her impact on the wider community.

Brown recently spent a week in Vancouver working on an upcoming project with the National Film Board that looks at chronic pain across a variety of disciplines. And in March her theatre company Newfoundland Artist X presented Injury Illness Pain Sadness Grief and Performance, a selection of readings, short plays, and panel discussions.

Brown herself lives with chronic pain, the result of being hit by an SUV in 2008. Her inspiring resilience in the face of that injury and its after-effects was part of what led the committee to award Brown this year, said Wendolyn Schlamp, executive director of the YWCA St. John’s. “The committee was particularly impressed by the way that Lois had inspired women and men in the arts community with her extensive work,” Schlamp said, “as well as the barriers Lois had overcome in her life following a serious injury.”

At press time Brown was preparing to head to Labrador City to participate in the current artists-in-residence program at the province’s arts and culture centres in collaboration with choreographer Peter Trosztmer.

Brown was pleased to see the local return of the Women of Distinction awards. “The other women were just incredible,” Brown said of the other honourees: Rosemary Hedderson (for contributions in the home/family) Joan Aucoin (for contributions in the community/neighbourhood), Kyra Rees (Young Woman of Distinction), and Dr. Fern Brunger (for contributions in the workplace/career). She was particularly impressed by Rees, who challenged the recipients to recognize that sometimes women don’t own what they’ve accomplished, Brown said, and called for the honorees to change that and take ownership of their successes.

The presentation ceremony connected Brown with her community of fellow award recipients, but the award itself connects her with the community at large. “I’m not just working as an isolated artist,” she said of what the award recognizes, “but I’m contributing something of value.”