In Nova Scotia in 1944, aspiring to a professional career in the arts was a dream mostly confined to the children of the wealthy.

There was no Arts Nova Scotia or Canada Council to encourage such dreams, nor were the arts particularly strong in Nova Scotian schools. Nevertheless, there are always dreamers. One such was a young African Nova Scotian of such remarkable talent that a group of community-minded women successfully lobbied the provincial government of the day to help support the musical education of Truro’s Portia White.

From those beginnings grew the Nova Scotia Talent Trust. Since 1944 it has disbursed more than $2,000,000 to young Nova Scotians training in the fine arts. One such recipient wrote: “I’ll always be grateful to the Talent Trust for their support during a pivotal time in my development.”

That was Sandra Brownlee, an accomplished Halifax-based artist who in 2014 received the Saidye Bronfman Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts, Canada’s highest accolade for a fine craftsperson. Brownlee joins nine other Nova Scotian artists in an exhibition celebrating the Talent Trust and its support, currently on view at Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery.

It’s drawn from an open call for submissions to Talent Trust alumni. The jury includes Greg Davies (curator, Cape Breton University Art Gallery), David Diviney (curator of modern and contemporary art, AGNS), and Ingrid Jenkner (retired director/curator, MSVU Art Gallery).

The exhibition features established artists such as Brownlee and another Bronfman Award laureate, Pamela Ritchie, plus young artists at the beginning of their careers, such as Lux Harbrich, Despo Sophocleous, and Charley Young.

All of them express gratitude for the support they received early in their careers. Recalls Ritchie: “What a gift, what a kindness, and what a treasure to know you have the support of the Talent Trust and jurors. The financing is needed for sure, but after the money has gone, and the work has been done, that support stays in your heart forever.”

Lux Harbich, the youngest artist in the show, agrees: “I am grateful for not only the financial, but also the artistic faith the Nova Scotia Talent Trust had in me at such a volatile point in my practice.”

The exhibition is an interesting showcase of a diverse group of artists, some wknown to local audiences, others working in other cities or countries. Emily Vey Duke (who works in collaboration with her partner, Cooper Battersby), is represented by two recent videos, including one, You Were an Amazement on the Day You Were Born, which just had its premiere in Europe. Duke and Battersby live in New York state, where they teach at Syracuse University.

Jordan Broadworth, who lives in New York City, shares one of his recent paintings, complex compositions that allude to the digital realm of the screen, while remaining solidly rooted in the history and techniques of painting.

Lucy Pullen also lives in New York, where she works as a sculptor. Her series of works in this exhibition, Bubble 1-4, milled aluminum spirals on two-stone “display systems,” combine the rigours of scientific enquiry with the sense of play inherent in a child’s toy.

Lux Harbich combines ceramics and multi-media drawings in her series My Roots Are All Sick (Broken Heirlooms), while Sara Hartland-Rowe worked directly on the wall of the gallery to create Us. Dan O’Neill is represented with the lithograph Blueboy.01.copy.jpeg, a complex triptych in 11 colours.

Despo Sophocleous, a jeweller who used NSTT support to study in Germany, and now is back in Nova Scotia, is showing five examples of her Echoes series, complexly constructed wooden necklaces.

Charley Young’s drawings will be familiar to many gallery-goers, and there are two of those mixed-media on mylar works in this exhibition. There is also a sculpture, Trace Erase: Iceberg Casts, rendered in wax and aluminum, that continues her interest in the northern landscape.

First You Dream: 75 Years of the Nova Scotia Talent Trust is an engaging survey of contemporary culture in the province, and a remarkable example of the power, and efficacy, of community philanthropy.

The exhibition will tour, with stops in Sydney at Cape Breton University Art Gallery (Aug. 16–Oct. 4) and at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia Yarmouth (Nov. 22–May 17, 2020).

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