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May 27, 2021  ̶  Nico Williams, a Master’s of Fine Arts candidate in sculpture at Concordia University, and Leila Zelli, a Master's graduate in visual and media arts from the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), have been awarded the prestigious 2021 Claudine and Stephen Bronfman Fellowship in Contemporary Art.

The Claudine and Stephen Bronfman Fellowships in Contemporary Art, each worth $60,000 over two years, provide the laureates with the recognition and support they need to refine their work and further their creative research at a turning point in their career paths, as they move out of academia and into the professional community. Each year, the fellowships are awarded to two students completing a Master’s or PhD program in the media arts or visual arts programs at UQAM’s Faculty of Arts and Concordia University’s Faculty of Fine Arts.

The 2021 laureates

Nico Williams

“I’m going to move to a bigger studio! Receiving the Claudine and Stephen Bronfman Fellowship is a fantastic opportunity that will allow me to further explore the art of beadwork. I’ll be able to prepare for the next two years. I plan to participate in major collaborative projects with a group of Montreal artists. I’ll also be able to experiment more and develop my artistic practices. I’m really excited for what awaits me!” says Nico Williams.

“Studying at Concordia University has completely transformed how I approach my artistic practice. Some excellent artists have gone there, and their visits to my studio have prepared me for a life devoted to creating art in Canada. I’ve followed the advice they’ve given me, which has really helped me to evolve within the context of my studies. Most importantly, my mentors’ efforts have encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone.

While taking courses full-time, I was also able to engage in research and work with researchers from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Concordia really promotes its students’ progression in their career and their practice. I’ve had the opportunity to travel without having to interrupt my studies. I’ve also enjoyed excellent support. My faculty advisors have really helped me to get from point A to point B. Even though I was overloaded with work, I’m extremely grateful to Concordia. Before starting my Master’s in fine arts, I never would have been able to engage in serious research efforts.”
Learn more about Nico Williams

Leila Zelli
“I’m honoured to receive this recognition from the Claudine and Stephen Bronfman Foundation. Receiving the Fellowship has strengthened my confidence to pursue my social and community commitments as an artist. This award would not have been possible without all the people who have supported me at UQAM. An achievement like this is a team effort, and I’m absolutely grateful to all of them,” says Leila Zelli.

“I studied art in Iran, my native country. But here in Montreal, I discovered how artists can play a role in the world. The work I’m doing today as an artist is something I never could have done in Iran. When I arrived in Quebec, UQAM became a second home to me, and the people there helped my creativity to soar. I’ve also realized how much of a continuous unifying thread birds have been as a symbol in my work. To me, birds symbolize freedom.

Thanks to this funding, I will be able to acquire all the material I need to continue the work I’ve started on a collaborative work with Israeli artist Gali Blay, which will result in an animated film and the creation of a children’s book.

Gali and I have been thinking about this collaborative work since the start of the lockdown in 2020. I was inspired by this story of friendship between an Iranian mountain and an Israeli army plane. It’s practically unthinkable in the current geopolitical environment, but I like to dream of a better world. I hope that this artistic creation can not only be shown in film festivals around the world, but also in museums, galleries and artists’ centres as an installation.”
Learn more about Leila Zelli

Joanne Lalonde, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, UQAM
“The financial support provided by the Claudine and Stephen Bronfman Foundation in Contemporary Art is invaluable for emerging artists at the start of their careers,” notes Joanne Lalonde, dean of UQAM’s Faculty of Arts. “This fellowship gives them the confidence they need to fully invest themselves in their research and creative work. In an uncertain economic context, this kind of financial aid provides a real boost for the laureates from UQAM and Concordia. I want to sincerely thank the Bronfmans, whose generosity to contemporary art enables emerging artists to enjoy a smoother transition into the professional stage of their careers, and offers a great first step toward earning national and international recognition.”

Annie Gérin, Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts, Concordia University
“Not only that, the Bronfman Fellowship gives up-and-coming artists like Nico and Leïla the time and support they need to amplify and enrich the creative and research practices that they’ve developed in our programs,” adds Annie Gérin, dean of Concordia University’s Faculty of Fine Arts. “Stephen and Claudine Bronfman understand that these are the most precious resources we can offer to young artists at this stage in their careers. I sincerely thank them for their generosity, their unwavering support, and their confidence in Concordia and UQAM graduates.”

Previous winners
24 exceptional artists have received the Fellowship to date.The previous laureates are:

2020: Heidi Barkun (UQAM) and Mara Eagle (Concordia)
2019: Céline Huyguebaert (UQAM) and Madeleine Mayo (Concordia)
2018: Frédérique Laliberté (Concordia) and Émilie Serri (UQAM)
2017: Andréanne Abbondanza-Bergeron (Concordia) and Martin Leduc (UQAM)
2016: Yannick Desranleau (Concordia) and Guillaume Adjutor Provost (UQAM)
2015: Velibor Božović (Concordia) and Myriam Jacob-Allard (UQAM)
2014: Marie Dauverné (UQAM) and Brendan Flanagan (Concordia)
2013: Nadia Seboussi (UQAM) and Kim Waldron (Concordia)
2012: Sébastien Cliche (UQAM) and Julie Favreau (Concordia)
2011: Aude Moreau (UQAM) and Pavitra Wickramasinghe (Concordia)
2010: Steve Bates (Concordia) and Véronique Savard (UQAM)

About the Claudine and Stephen Bronfman Family Foundation
The Claudine and Stephen Bronfman Family Foundation is a charitable organization that strives to create and innovate locally, nationally and internationally with a strong focus on Montreal. Web site


** Pictures of the laureates are available on demand.

Fiona Downey
Senior Media Relations Advisor
University Communications Services
Concordia University
Tel.: 514 518-3336

Julie Meunier
Press Relations Officer
Press Relations and Special Events Division
Communications Service, UQAM
Tel.: 514-895-0134

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