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Canada Nova Scotia law firm seeks artwork submissions for site of Viola Desmond’s protest

In 1946, Viola Desmond was arrested and removed from the theatre after sitting in the whites-only section of the Roseland Theatre.

PAUL DARROW/The Globe and Mail

A law firm is seeking submissions from across Atlantic Canada for artwork to be displayed on the exterior of the movie theatre where Viola Desmond took her legendary stand for civil rights.

More than seven decades after her protest, artworks inspired by Desmond are set to be mounted on the side of the building in New Glasgow, N.S., where she rejected racial discrimination by sitting in a whites-only section of a movie theatre.

Desmond was arrested and fined for her act of defiance in 1946, but her actions inspired later generations of black people in Nova Scotia and beyond, leading her to be dubbed by some as Canada's Rosa Parks.

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The businesswoman turned civil libertarian is also set to become one of the few Canadian women to be celebrated on the face of her country's currency. A new $10-bill featuring Desmond will be unveiled at an event in Halifax on Thursday.

"Thank goodness someone had the fortitude, guts to come up there and stand up and say, 'This is wrong,"' Wanda Robson, Desmond's sister, said in an online video posted by MacGillivray Injury and Insurance Law.

"Look what she did. Look what has happened since ... This incident is one of the most important incidents in Canadian history."

Lawyer Jamie MacGillivray, who is restoring the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, said in the video that the building will be used to celebrate Desmond's legacy through art.

His law firm has put out a call on its website for artists of all ages to submit artworks that pay tribute to Desmond's spontaneous act of courage and subsequent non-violent protests she helped inspire.

"The art can express whatever the people get from that," MacGillivray said in the video. "It doesn't have to be limited in any way, and I don't think that Viola Desmond would limit it either."

The law firm's website said the winning artworks will be photographed and printed on architectural panels to be permanently displayed on the refurbished Roseland Theatre.

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It said the deadline for submissions is May 31 and $20,000 in prizes will be split among the selected artists.

Even though Desmond has been compared to Parks, the U.S. civil rights hero who refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955, Desmond's story from nine years earlier received little attention until recent years.

Her name now graces a Halifax Transit harbour ferry, and there are plans for streets in Montreal and Halifax.

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