Olivia Shortt, 2021 Finalist

(Anishinaabe, Nipissing First Nation) Olivia Shortt is a Tkarón:to-based transdisciplinary performing artist and musician. Career highlights include their Lincoln Center (NYC) debut with the International Contemporary Ensemble, their film debut in Atom Egoyan’s 2019 film Guest of Honour, & recording an album two kilometres underground in the SnoLAB. They were awarded and named one of the 2020 Buddies in Bad Times’ Emerging Queer Artists.

We're grateful for the opportunity to learn more about Olivia, one of three finalists for this years' Emerging Artist Award.

You were part of the 2019 cohort of Toronto Arts Council’s Leaders Lab. Can you tell us about that experience?

That was a wonderful and fabulous experience! The other 2019 cohort members are such inspiring and talented people from all different fields of art-making. I enjoyed learning from and coming together with such a powerhouse cohort of caring people. It’s added so much to the way I think about leadership in the arts and how I approach the ways in which I think about safety, building up community and thinking outside of the administrative box. 

In 2020 you were honoured as a Buddies in Bad Times Queer Emerging Artist. What did this award mean to you?

There is a wonderful queer arts community here in Toronto. Getting this award from Buddies last year meant a lot to me. Not only was it recognition of my artistic work and the fact that I was finding ways to make art full-time during a global pandemic but also a recognition of hope and forward change in the queer arts world in Canada. As a Two-Spirit person, being seen, heard and recognized by my peers in this way, has given me more confidence in my work and it felt like I was given a hug made up of every community member’s warmth.

What led you to co-found the Toronto Creative Music Lab?

I was really proud of the work I did with the other team members of the Toronto Creative Music Lab. We wanted to create a space that didn’t exist at the time for artists in the classical, jazz or experimental music scenes in Toronto. We were talking about social justice, anti-oppression, racism in music spaces, bringing in consultants like Rania El Mugammar, all while making music with artists from all over Turtle Island and the world. It was a space that we had built together and for four years, was truly something magical and a huge offering to the communities that I work for and work in. I love the breadth of artists that we brought to Toronto to create new work and music, and I also really love the people I worked with to make it all happen (Will Callaghan, Anastasia Tchernikova, Matthew Fava, Christina Volpini, Sara Constant, Janet Sit, and Jason Doell).    

Talk about your work as a curator, what does it mean to you to be able to feature the work of other artists?

My core values are rooted in community, care, support and love for the people around me. I love celebrating the living. While I strongly believe in celebrating those who were unacknowledged during their time, I want to ensure that the brilliant and talented artists of today are being offered every platform that they are deserving of and all of the space that they should be able to occupy (if they want to). Being a curator and being able to take up space in this way with organizations who not only care about the work they present but also the people they employ is empowering. My favourite organization to work for as a curator is The Music Gallery. 

For a young artist, you have an impressive list of accomplishments. What are you most proud of?

Other than the incredible work that I was able to be a part of with the Toronto Creative Music Lab, I am very proud of the connections that I’ve made over the years and the projects that I’ve created, performed in or curated. Some highlights include going two kilometres underground to record music by composer Robert Lemay (inspired by poetry and text by Thierry Dimanche) with my Stereoscope duo partner Jacob Armstrong. 

I also got to be in an Atom Egoyan movie (Guest of Honour, 2019) playing a high school band student. We recorded Shannon Graham’s ‘The Puppetmaster’ as one of the main themes for the movie and then hung out in Hamilton for a few days to essentially airplay to our recording in various locations around the city. 

My life is never boring and I get to work with the most interesting people. I can’t wait to see who I get to work with next. 

So, what’s next?

I’ve been commissioned by Loose Tea Music Theatre to write a new opera. I’ve also been commissioned by Arraymusic’s Ensemble for their 2021-2022 season and I’ll be attending school at Dartmouth College in the fall to pursue an interdisciplinary Master’s program in composition. 

How does it feel to be nominated for the Emerging Artist Award?

It’s such an honour to have my work recognized by the Toronto arts community as well as to be listed among so many notable Toronto artists from the last decade and a half. Being nominated for this award has given me a moment to take a pause and account for all of the work I’ve done over the last few years as well as to recognize all of the fabulous people who have supported me on this journey (ie. mentors, teachers, colleagues and friends).