Breakthrough Artist Award

Celebrating the accomplishments and future potential of Toronto's breakthrough artists

Deadline: Accepting nominations from September 4 - November 18, 2024 (for an award presentation in 2025)

About: The Toronto Arts Foundation Breakthrough Artist Award is a $10,000 cash prize, with finalists receiving $2,000 each. The award celebrates the accomplishments and future potential of an emerging Toronto artist working in any  discipline, and is intended to support the development or completion of new work. Established in 2006 as the Emerging Artist Award, it was renamed the Breakthrough Artist Award in 2021 and the age restriction for finalists was removed. The award is generously supported by The Azrieli Foundation. The Breakthrough Artist Award is presented every year at the Mayor’s Arts Lunch. 

A note about the Breakthrough Artist Award:
After careful review, Toronto Arts Foundation has removed the age restriction for the Breakthrough Artist Award (formerly the Emerging Artists Award). The lifting of the age restriction reflects feedback from the Toronto arts community and is intended to reduce systemic barriers that disenfranchise BIPOC artists, artists from the 2SLGBTQIAP communities, as well as artists who identify as Deaf, disabled, and/or living with mental illness. This change brings the Breakthrough Artist Award in line with other prizes and awards, which have recently removed age restrictions, including the Turner Prize in the UK, The Sobey Art Award, and the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers.  The intention of the award has not changed, and by removing the age restriction Toronto Arts Foundation is committing to the understanding that a career breakthrough can happen at any age. For more information about eligibility criteria for this award please contact Christy DiFelice, Award Program Manager, by email at christy[at]torontoartscouncil[dot]org

“This award means that I have the opportunity to create work. It is an opportunity for me to allow other young black girls growing up to see that there are other things that they can become. It’s a huge affirmation to get this award. I would never have imagined the whole city coming together […] to tell me that I can keep going. It pushes me to keep going.” – Anique Jordon, 2017 Breakthrough Artist Award Recipient 

Eligibility Criteria:
• must have demonstrated an ongoing association with Toronto;
• must have contributed significantly to the arts and culture of Toronto;
• must be living at time of selection;
• must be an artist in the early stages of their professional career who has produced a small body of work and achieved some local recognition and/or has limited public exhibition experience;
• should have between 2 and 7 years of independent arts practice in their nominated discipline;
• must have completed training (not necessarily at a formal educational institution) in their discipline;
• undergraduate and college students are not eligible to apply.
• are not eligible to nominate or receive Toronto Arts Foundation awards while serving as an executive board member or staff of Toronto Arts Foundation or Toronto Arts Council

With the exception of the Newcomer Artist Award, no person may be selected for more than one Toronto Arts Foundation award within any given year and no person may receive the same Toronto Arts Foundation award twice. This does not preclude a recipient from being considered for a different Toronto Arts Foundation award in the future.

Full Eligibility Guidelines for 2024 Awards (PDF)

How to Apply: To nominate an individual for the Breakthough Artist Award you must,

  • Visit the Toronto Arts Foundation Nomination portal
  • Register an account on the Toronto Arts Foundation Nomination portal or sign in to your existing account
  • Submit the nomination online, complete with supporting material


Along with the name of the individual you are nominating, the nomination form will also ask for a biography, a nomination rationale, and accompanying support material in the form of visual, audio or text-based attachments.

Nominators can save their application at any time before submission by clicking ‘Save Draft’. Nominators can log-in and out of the Toronto Arts Foundation Nomination portal as many times as needed before clicking ‘Submit’.

* Please ensure you are on/ register through the Toronto Arts Foundation Nomination portal and not Toronto Arts Council’s TAC Grants Online.


Selection Procedure: An award panel of up to 10 assessors selected by the Award Manager will review nominations and  recommend a shortlist and a recipient for final approval by Toronto Arts Foundation’s Board of  Directors. Participants in each panel include practitioners of the arts, organizers, programmers,  producers, curators, critics, commentators and lay specialists. Panelists must have recognized  expertise, credibility, and experience along with a sense of history and perspective.

This award is presented in recognition of a body of creative accomplishment, rather than for specific works or achievements. In addition to specific requirements for each award, deliberations will be guided by the following assessment criteria: artistic strength and achievement; strength of the candidate’s artistic goals and objectives; contribution to the development of arts and culture in Toronto; and the candidate’s overall public impact including public engagement and animation.

Contact Info: For questions, please contact Jaclyn Rodrigues at jaclyn[at]torontoarts[dot]org.

Click here to see all of our awards. 


Read full bios of all 2024 Breakthrough Artist Award finalists.  

Destinie Adélakun 
- multidisciplinary artist and filmmaker

Jennifer Alicia
- poet, playwright, theatre creator
Kanika Ambrose - playwright, librettist, screenwriter, mother and Associate Artistic Director of Necessary Angel Theatre Company


Go to Recipients to view bios of past Breakthrough Artist Award recipients, dating back to 2006.

2023: Oluseye Ogunlesi 
2022: Shelly Grace
2021: Britta B.
2020: jes sachse
2019: Josh Vettivelu
2018: Jiv Parasem
2017: Anique Jordan
2016: Benjamin Kamino
2015: Emilie Lebel
2014: Jordan Tannahill 
2013: Daniel Karasik 
2012: Chris Curreri
2011: Adam Garnet Jones 
2010: Jamie Travis
2009: Anusree Roy 
2008: Weyni Mengesha
2007: d'bi.young anitafrika
2006: Natasha Mytnowych