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2018 was a remarkable, and at times controversial, year for Canadian culture.

The Globe’s artist of the year is Esi Edugyan.

Here, Globe Arts writers and editors spotlight others who also made the largest impact.

Sandra Oh

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Sandra Oh in a scene from Killing Eve.The Canadian Press

Eve Polastri can’t help herself. Sitting idly in a London bus shelter, she spots a tiny crack in one of the glass walls, reaches out her index finger and pushes at the fracture – tentatively at first, then with almost adolescent determination. We’re in the fifth episode of Bravo/BBC America’s addictive summer thriller Killing Eve and Polastri, a low-level intelligence agent played with anxious verve by Sandra Oh, is poking at cracks all around her, both terrified and thrilled by the prospect of seeing it all shatter to pieces. Beguiled by a psychopathic assassin-for-hire (Jodie Comer), Polastri is falling deeper into a game of cat-and-mouse, lying to her husband and taking foolhardy risks.

Oh is marvellous as the show’s titular target, tracing Eve’s intellect slowly giving way to instinct, and Emmy voters took notice, making her the first Asian woman to be nominated in the category of best actress in a drama. (She’s also up in the same category for the Golden Globes, which she’ll co-host on Jan. 6, as well as a SAG Award.)

Oh didn’t win the hardware, but she nabbed our hearts by bringing her parents to the ceremony and walking the red carpet with them. Perhaps the best part? She hasn’t forgotten her roots, bringing her talent and clout to recent films such as Window Horses and Meditation Park, helping to bring Canadian stories to life. SIMON HOUPT

The cast of Baroness Von Sketch Show

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From left, Aurora Browne, Jennifer Whalen, Carolyn Taylor and Meredith MacNeill of the Baroness Von Sketch Show.The Canadian Press

Mostly, 2018 was a terrible year – you know, in terms of the day-to-day reality of global existence. Thankfully, the cast of Baroness von Sketch Show – Carolyn Taylor, Meredith MacNeill, Aurora Browne and Jennifer Whalen, who also serve as executive producers – were around to twist every horrible development into a moment of biting comedy. After two seasons of sharp observational humour that proved the CBC still has an edge, BVSS unveiled a take-no-prisoners third season that tipped the show into all-timer status.

For starters: If your social-media feed was anything like mine, you couldn’t escape BVSS’s viral “When I Grow Up” sketch, in which a mother recounts all the devastating things her young daughter will experience once the Earth turns to ash, closing with the line, “And you’ll be the person who cradles the bodies as they die!”

Second: The troupe’s four-minute “Unfounded” sketch, a devastating skewering of how police handle (or don’t handle) sexual assault cases. (The fact that the skit was inspired by the investigation of the same name by The Globe and Mail’s Robyn Doolittle had no bearing on my praise – but it didn’t hurt.)

With two Canadian Screen Award wins, major exposure in the United States thanks to a deal with the IFC channel, and a wider Canadian reach than ever via Netflix (which is streaming the show’s first two seasons), 2018 was the year of BVSS – when it wasn’t completely unbearable, of course. BARRY HERTZ

Edward Burtynsky, Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier

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From left, Nicholas de Pencier, Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky.Angela Lewis

In 2018, as climate change shifted from issue to crisis, three Canadian creators launched an international multidisciplinary art project to wake up the world.

Edward Burtynsky’s large-scale photographs of industrial landscapes are always chillingly beautiful; filmmakers Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier have been working with him since Baichwal shadowed the photographer to China to produce the 2006 documentary Manufactured Landscapes. This year, the rich collaboration reached its apogee with the Anthropocene project, which includes their third environmental film (after Watermark in 2013), a pair of museum exhibitions at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery of Canada, and a book.

The artists’ theme is nothing less than humanity’s future: The term anthropocene refers to a new geological age where human activity is the most important force shaping the planet. In both the engrossing exhibitions and the challenging film Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (which makes its international debut at the Sundance Festival in January) images of a sprawling garbage dump in Nigeria, a massive open-pit coal mine in Germany or the quarrying of marble in Italy reveal the staggering scale of intervention and the immediacy of the threat.

The trio believes art can send a visceral message where politics are failing. KATE TAYLOR

Jeremy Dutcher

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On his new album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, Jeremy Dutcher, a member of the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick, sings along with music and vocals made on wax recordings 110 years ago in the now-dying Wolastoq language.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

The year 2018 saw its share of unexpected collaborations, the most surprising being a team-up of former Police bassist Sting with the dancehall reggae star Shaggy that produced an upbeat album of Caribbean-inflected pop, titled 44/876. The most predictable alliance? Everything is Love, a fascinating LP credited to the Carters, a celebrated duo who share a joint checking account under the names Beyoncé and Jay-Z. That brings us nowhere close to Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, a time-travelling album of staggering dedication, cinematic emotion and persuasive intensity that won the 2018 Polaris Music Prize.

It came from the classically trained pianist and tenor Jeremy Dutcher, a member of the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick. His collaborators include song-carrier and mentor Maggie Paul and century-old ancestral voices (found on wax-cylinder recordings archived at the Canadian Museum of History) with which he duets hauntingly. The songs are presented in an endangered Wolastoq language. Dutcher spent five years working on the album, meticulously transcribing Wolastoq songs once forbidden by the Canadian government.

His music continues a trend of disruptive non-Anglo artistry embraced by Polaris jurors who have shown an appreciation for albums well outside the Canadian music mainstream, from Indigenous musicians in particular. Once asked by an English Canadian journalist if he expected people to learn Wolastoq, Dutcher responded in the affirmative. “I do, 100 per cent. Why not? We learned yours.”

He’s talking about forced assimilation, which is nothing like collaboration at all. BRAD WHEELER

Robert Lepage

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Robert Lepage.Nam Phi Dang/The Globe and Mail

Theatre director Robert Lepage made international headlines this year, unusually, for a pair of shows that didn’t go on (as expected, anyway). The 61-year-old Québécois artist began 2018 riding high with acclaimed collaborations with major Canadian institutions – Frame by Frame at the National Ballet and Coriolanus at the Stratford Festival.

But Lepage’s summer turned sour when SLAV, a theatrical odyssey based on slave songs, created with singer Betty Bonifassi, opened at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal to protests. The “SLAV Resistance” took issue with the mostly white cast singing songs of enslaved black people (and Bonfassi’s claim not to “see colour”). When some black musicians expressed solidarity or dropped off the bill, the Jazz Fest curtailed SLAV’s run – and Lepage released a statement saying: “Everything that led to this cancellation is a direct blow to artistic freedom.”

Attention then turned quickly to Kanata, a Lepage project with the famed French Théâtre du Soleil billed as “the story of Canada through the prism of relations between whites and Indigenous people” - but with no Indigenous artists in creative team or cast.

When a New York co-producer withdrew support, Kanata was cancelled (and became a Quebec provincial election issue), then un-cancelled in Paris with Lepage waiving his fee.

Cultural appropriation? Censorship? To be continued. J. KELLY NESTRUCK

Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg

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Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg and Marshall Pynkoski in the Palace of Versailles.Bruce Zinger

It’s now 35 years since co-artistic directors and founders Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg created Opera Atelier, and 33 years since they began staged productions. The journey has been steady and, recently, soaring. Remarkable for a small Canadian company that only does baroque opera.

Their international reputation is soaring (in 2015 they took Mozart’s Lucio Silla to La Scala in Milan, a production earning raves, and also to the Salzburg Festival, known rightly as the toughest opera audience in Europe) and now they regularly stage at the Royal Opera House, Versailles. The productions are always visually and musically stunning. In 2018, Atelier staged Monteverdi’s The Return of Ulysses in Toronto, bringing a 400-year-old opera to magic life, opened the Rossini Opera Festival in Italy with a new production of Ricciardo e Zoraide and then did the wildly successful baroque double-bill of Actéon and Pygmalion at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto. The latter was also staged in Chicago after Toronto, and then again in Versailles.

During Actéon and Pygmalion, Atelier also showcased a preview of its first commission, Inception, for baroque violin and contemporary dance. Violinist/composer Edwin Huizinga and dancer/choreographer Tyler Gledhill performed a gorgeous, strange creation, a baroque/contemporary work that must be unique in the world of music.

Breathtaking to see, the work underscores that Atelier is not a museum of baroque opera. It resuscitates and reimagines the core canon of opera. There is simply nothing like it in the world, and it’s here in Canada and having a climactic 35th year. JOHN DOYLE


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Drake performs in London, England.Jonathan Short/Canadian Press

These are the facts of Drake in the year 2018: He was the most-streamed artist on the major services Spotify and Apple Music. He scored seven Grammy nominations ahead of the February awards (second only to Kendrick Lamar) including Record of the Year for God’s Plan and Album of the Year for Scorpion. He grossed nearly US$81.2-million from shows, making him this year’s 12th-richest touring act, according to Billboard.

Drake, though, can’t be summed up by facts. To explain his pop-culture domination, one needs to examine the trappings of modern celebrity that make Drake, well, Drake. Topping the charts doesn’t begin to describe the phenomenon of In My Feelings, a song that spawned the viral trifecta of a catchphrase (“Kiki! Do you love me?”), a dance and a music video acknowledging the aforementioned dance. Critical acclaim doesn’t capture his carefully constructed self-awareness, as in the video for I’m Upset that reunited him with former Degrassi co-stars. He makes gossip headlines for being friends with child star Millie Bobby Brown, appearing court side at Wimbledon during a match with Serena Williams (a rumoured ex-girlfriend) and getting overly animated at Toronto Raptors games. Drake is everywhere.

The most talked-about Drake moment in 2018, however, was an old-fashioned rap beef. And in trading Soundcloud diss tracks with Kanye West and Pusha T, we got the most interesting Drake fact of all: He has a son. Fame can be fleeting. Family, Drake can confirm, is forever. CLIFF LEE

Brian Mackay-Lyons

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Architect Brian Mackay-Lyons in his studio on the Shobac farm in Upper Kingsburg, N.S., in October.Darren Calabrese/Globe and Mail

There’s a lot going on in the world of architecture and urbanism: A housing crisis. The challenges of mitigating climate change. But what about the job of building well? The architect Brian Mackay-Lyons has never given up on that essential goal. From his home base in Nova Scotia, he’s been hewing away for three decades at a single intellectual project – architecture that contains universal qualities and is also rooted in the ships and barns of his particular home region. Together with partner Talbot Sweetapple and colleagues in Halifax – and now Denver – he’s extended his reach in a meaningful way to Ontario and into Colorado. On Central Ontario’s Bigwin Lake, a set of wooden cottages by the firm are perhaps the most coherent and highly distilled design I saw this year, perfect places to engage with a sublime landscape and perhaps to reconsider one’s place in the universe.

These buildings won’t save the planet, but they make their place better. "There is a utopian tradition I’ve always been attracted to,” Mr. Mackay-Lyons told me, “of people who do something small that becomes an argument for a better world.” Even in this troubled time, that remains a valuable lesson. ALEX BOZIKOVIC

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