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One of the oldest artist-run centres in Canada, Hamilton Artists Inc. (the Inc., as it’s known) is typical of these small non-profits in providing many artists with their first professional exhibitions.

Glenn Lowson/The Globe and Mail

A visual-arts centre in Hamilton is the first recipient of an unusual new award: The National Gallery of Canada announced Tuesday that Hamilton Artists Inc. is the inaugural winner of the Lacey Prize, established to recognize artist-run centres and small art organizations.

In awarding the $50,000 biennial prize, the jury cited Hamilton Artists Inc.'s role providing its 250-member group of artists with opportunities to explore, take risks and engage critically in the visual arts. Founded in 1975 and one of the oldest artist-run centres in Canada, the Inc. (as it’s known) is typical of these small non-profits in providing many artists with their first professional exhibitions.

The purpose of the prize, established with a $1.3-million gift from Dr. John Lacey and his late wife, Naomi Lacey, is to recognize the crucial legwork that the storefront operations do building the visual arts in Canada. It will also provide more dialogue between the National Gallery and the artistic community, NGC director Sasha Suda said in a statement.

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Two runners up, Gallery Gachet of Vancouver and Calgary’s Untitled Art Society, received $20,000 each while the jury also cited the Struts Gallery in Sackville, N.B., this town is small in Charlottetown, Critical Distance in Toronto and Blinkers from Winnipeg.

“One of the challenges for an artist-run centre like ours is that our aspirations are sometimes larger than our budgets," said Julie Dring, executive director of Hamilton Artists Inc., in a statement. “The Inc. has been quite ambitious lately, and we are eager to continue growing. The Lacey Prize gives us some stability to keep listening and learning.”

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