Leading NI artists, Jan Carson, Stephanie Conn, Sharon Kelly and Gail McConnell, honoured with Major Awards by Arts Council of Northern Ireland, thanks to The National Lottery

31st October, 2023

Acclaimed artists, writer, Jan Carson, poet, Stephanie Conn, visual artist, Sharon Kelly and writer, Gail McConnell, have been presented with Major Individual Awards (MIAs), worth £15,000 each. Supported by Arts Council of Northern Ireland National Lottery funding, these awards are the highest value honour bestowed on artists in Northern Ireland each year.

The prestigious awards are given in recognition of the contribution each artist has made to creative life in Northern Ireland and makes it possible for them to undertake a substantial, ambitious project that will make a significant impact on the development of their artistic careers.

Each of the artists will now use the award to develop a series of new works:

Three artists walking at an exhibition of art.
Pictured (L-R) at the 142nd RUA Annual Exhibition at the Ulster Museum are the new MIAs, Sharon Kelly, Gail McConnell and Jan Carson.
Writer Jan Carson pictured with a collection of her books.
Writer Jan Carson.

Writer, Jan Carson, will use the MIA funding to buy time to research the life and work of a well-known British writer and illustrator. Jan hopes to do some research trips to Berlin and Newcastle to access archive material. The idea for the end project is a work-in-progress, but the writer hopes it would be either a novel or series of linked short stories written in response to the writer's life and work.

Writer Gail McConnell smiling to the camera wearing a pale beige blaze with art in the background.
Writer Gail McConnell.

Writer, Gail McConnell, will use the MIA funding to develop a unique non-fiction book that blends memoir and essay to reflect the writer’s evangelical childhood and how the writer moved beyond her experience through books as a literature student, and by falling in love with a woman and reckoning with the 17-year-old self who believed homosexuality an abomination.

Visual artist, Sharon Kelly, standing beside her artwork of a large punchbag.
Visual artist Sharon Kelly beside one of her artworks currently on display at the Ulster Museum as part of the 142nd Royal Ulster Academy Annual Exhibition, available to view now until 2nd January 2024.

Visual artist, Sharon Kelly, will use her MIA funding to research, develop and produce three ambitious sculptural works with a video element, that will form the basis of an installation. The three large-scale 3D forms will become the surface for a projected video element that utilises recorded footage of thermal imagery of the body.

Poet, Stephanie Conn pictured outside with a green field behind her in the sunlight.
Poet, Stephanie Conn.

Poet, Stephanie Conn, will use the MIA funding to buy time to allow the poet to focus on and further develop her craft and produce original new work. The project will grow from a creative exploration of her current life circumstances

Liam Hannaway, Chair of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said:

“Congratulations to Jan Carson, Gail McConnell, Sharon Kelly and Stephanie Conn, four immensely talented artists who have already made a significant contribution to the arts in Northern Ireland. Each will benefit greatly from being able to take time out to concentrate purely on these new high-quality projects with the financial backing they need to produce work of lasting value. This award, made possible thanks to The National Lottery players, will help to cement their national and international reputations as artists, and strengthen the positive cultural profile of Northern Ireland, both at home and abroad.”

The four join a distinguished list of artists who have previously benefited from the Major Individual Artist awards, including writers; Susan McKay, Moyra Donaldson, Carol Moore, Rosemary Jenkinson, Malachi O’Doherty, Jimmy McAleavey, Alice McCullough, Anne Devlin, Carlo Gébler, Damian Gorman, Patricia Craig, Sinéad Morrissey, Glenn Patterson, Owen McCafferty and Shannon Sickles (Yee), performance artist, Sinéad O’Donnell, visual artists, Mairéad McClean, Jennifer Trouton, Rita Duffy, Susan MacWilliam and Cara Murphy; composers, Deirdre Gribben, Greg Caffrey, Ed Bennett, Piers Hellawell, Ian Wilson, Elaine Agnew, Conor Mitchell, Neil Martin and Deirdre McKay; musicians, Michael McHale, Giselle Allen and David Lyttle plus choreographers, Oona Doherty and Eileen McClory, among others.

Major Individual Artist awards form part of the wider Support for the Individual Artist Programme (SIAP) which is supported with funding from The National Lottery and administered by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland annually. Visit for information on all funding opportunities.