Performance and installation artist Rebecca Belmore, Automatiste painter and sculptor Marcel Barbeau and Newfoundland filmmaker William D. MacGillivray are among the latest winners of the Governor General's Awards in Visual and Media Arts.

The Canada Council, which administers the prestigious honour, revealed the latest laureates in Montreal Tuesday morning. Each winner will receive $25,000 and a medal.

"The recipients of these awards are among our finest contemporary artists and artistic contributors," Gov. Gen. David Johnston said in a statement.

"Not only are they expanding the boundaries of their art forms and addressing the big questions of our time, their work creates new shapes, sounds and perspectives that change the way we perceive the world around us," added Canada Council director Robert Sirman.

The 2013 laureates are:

  • Montrealer Barbeau, the abstract and non-figurative artist who is among the final surviving members of Quebec's mid-century, anti-establishment Automatiste movement.
  • St. John's-born, Nova Scotia-based filmmaker MacGillivray, one of the key players in Atlantic Canada's independent film scene over the past 40 years.
  • Meaford, Ont., and Berlin-based composer and sound artist Gordon Manahan.
  • Montreal and Paris-based art critic and exhibitions curator Chantal Pontbriand, co-founder of contemporary art magazine Parachute.
  • Toronto and Haliburton, Ont.-based installation artist and educator Colette Whiten, whose oeuvre includes her Gateway to the Olympic Village for the 1988 Calgary Olympics.
  • Calgary ceramic artist Greg Payce, winner of the Saidye Bronfman Award.
  • Ontario-born Belmore, the installation, performance and video artist who in 2005 became the first Aboriginal woman to represent Canada at the Venice Biennale.

Belmore, who is re-establishing her studio in Winnipeg after a recent move from Vancouver, said she was surprised — but naturally pleased — that a mid-career artist could win this award, which has yet to "sink in" for her.

Moving on

Rebecca Belmore, who was embroiled in a bitter lawsuit with her former art dealer, famously staged a performance artwork in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2010 where she publicly declared "I quit!"

"I'm obligated to say that I'm moving on and that it has been settled. I'm not allowed to say anything about it. But I'm relieved, I can say that!" the Anishinaabe-Canadian artist told CBC News.

"Art has the capacity to address immediate issues and respond to things in a fairly quick manner," she said.

"With my Vancouver performance [gifted to the VAG], I was trying to make it visual for people: to give a better, clearer understanding of the relationship an artist has to his work and an artist's rights to their own works."

Currently preparing to show pieces at the National Gallery, at Carlton University in Ottawa, in Montreal and to begin a community-based project in Sudbury, Ont., Belmore said she is getting acclimatized to life in Winnipeg.

"There's a lot of my own Anishinaabe people on the street. Here, I can hear the language being spoken in the community. That's good for me and I think that will really affect me in some artistic manner."

"There's just so many great artists that live in this country," she told CBC News.

"What I'm looking forward to is the dollars that come with [the award] and putting that to good use. Artists struggle with making a living in this country," she said, acknowledging that her departure from Vancouver was economically motivated — it was getting too difficult to pay rent to keep her studio going.

"It's always been difficult to be an artist in this country. I was just listening to CBC Radio a couple of days ago and they mentioned that [an average] musician in Canada earns $7,000 a year, which is frightening... When I started as a younger artist, I was making that as well."

Belmore's thought-provoking work has earned acclaim internationally and she is now considered among Canada's top contemporary artists. For her, winning a Governor General's Award is recognition of the many people who have supported each recipient and those who continue to champion artists.

"That's what awards are good for. Everybody can celebrate the accomplishment and survival of the arts and continue to press that the arts should be supported and artists should be supported."

Now in their 14th year, the awards recognize Canadians for excellence in the visual and media arts, as well as those who have made outstanding contributions to the field — through volunteer work, philanthropy, board governance or other means. The Saidye Bronfman Award honours excellence in fine craft.

The National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa will host an exhibition of the 2013 laureates' work from March 22-June 23, as well as a program of MacGillivray's films in April. Johnston will officially present this year's seven laureates with their awards at Rideau Hall on March 20.