The Digital Media Pioneer Award recognizes outstanding Canadians who have made significant contributions to the field of digital media. They are a true trailblazer within technology and culture. By embracing the unknown and standing at the forefront of innovation, their work explores previously unimagined uses for emerging technologies.


Dr. Sara Diamond is a new media pioneer, curator, researcher, lecturer and artistic director who has become synonymous with Canadian art, culture and media.

She has played a significant role as a
champion for interdisciplinary collaboration among artists and engineers and leading visionary programs including the Banff New Media Institute and in her role as the President of OCAD University.


Dr. Sara Diamond is the President and Vice-Chancellor of OCAD University. She holds a PhD in Computing, IT and Engineering, a Masters in Performative New Media Arts and an Honour Bachelors in History and Communications. She founded and led the Banff New Media Institute from 1995 – 2005, establishing summits of artists, designers, scientists and industry, practice based and research workshops, creative co-productions, laboratories and research in new media.

Since 2015 she has led OCAD University to retain its traditional strengths in art and design, while transforming the university to become a leader in STEAM+D (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math, Medicine and Design), with capacities in digital media, design research and curriculum. She initiated and funding the Digital Futures Initiative and the Digital Media Research and Innovation Institute; supported OCAD U’s unique research in Inclusive Design and design for health. She collaborated with Indigenous colleagues to develop the Indigenous Visual Culture Program, with correlative prioritization of Indigenous knowledge and culture at OCAD U.

In 2018 she received the Inspiring 50 Award for women recognized for the advancement of diversity of STEM fields from the Government of Netherlands and Senate of Canada and the Canada 150 Women Leaders, Champions and Luminaries. She has been awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for Contributions to Canada; appointed to the Order of Ontario and the Royal Canadian Academy of Art; named as Digital Media Pioneer by the GRAND National Centre of Excellence; and as one of Toronto Life’s 50 most influential.

Diamond  has led or co-led large-scale Canadian and international research networks in data visualization, wearable technologies, mobile technology and content and collaborative systems such as the Mobile Digital Commons Network (MDCN), Am-I-Able, Centre for Information Visualization and Design, and iCity (Visualization theme). She has retained a research and peer reviewed publication practice in history as well as in new media, and arts and design policy, publishing over fifty peer reviewed articles, book chapters and three publications (books/major reports) since 2009. She  has supervised seven post-doctoral researchers and over thirty research assistants while president at OCAD University. Diamond has provided many years of service on public boards, advisory committees, task forces and juries.

Diamond’s new media art practice began in creative neural network design, visualization, “software art”, collaborative performance and wearable art through the CodeZebra project in the 1990s. Before that time (1982 – 1995) she was an internationally recognized artist in experimental media, video and interdisciplinary art, with major exhibitions such as a solo show at the Vancouver Art Gallery, a retrospective at National Gallery of Canada, Biennale of Sydney, Museum of Modern Art, NYC and broadcasts of her works. She has curated large-scale new media exhibitions around the world.

Past Digifest Digital Pioneer Recipients


The Digifest Digital Media Pioneer Award has been presented since 2011, and past recipients include: Norman White, Artist (2018); Don Tapscott, Author (2017), Bill Buxton, Scientist (2016); Dr. Steve Mann, Researcher and Inventor (2015); Vera Frenkel, Artist (2014); Luc Courchesne, Artist (2012), ; and Vincent John Vincent (2011), Artist/Founder of GestureTek. 


2018 – Norman White

Norman White is a new media artist and a pioneer in the use of electronic technology and robotics in art. He started his career as a painter, but in the late 60’s he began experimenting with electronics. His electrical art machines explore the often unpredictable behaviour of dynamic systems, especially that of living organisms.  Norman has exhibited his artwork throughout North America and Europe. His works can be found in public collections, including those of the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Canadian Art Bank, and the National Gallery of Canada. From 1978 to 2016, he taught electronics, concept development, and computer programming at both OCAD U and Ryerson University.  An exhibition of some of Norman’s artwork were featured at Digifest 2018: Telephonic Arm Wrestling | The Music Lesson | Midnight Special #1.


2017 – Don Tapscott

Don Tapscott is one of the world’s leading authorities on the impact of technology on business and society. Don was the originator of the term “digital economy” and one of the first people to predict the internet’s dramatic effects on business and government on a global scale. He’s an author and advisor for business and government leaders around the world.


A recipient of the Order of Canada, Don is an Adjunct Professor of Management with the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. His most recent book is Blockchain Revolution, co-authored with his son Alex Tapscott. The book explains how blockchain technology – a way of ensuring privacy and protection while making transactions more convenient – will change how financial services work and companies are run.  Don also plays a Hammond B3 organ in the band Men In Suits, which has raised millions of dollars for worthy charities.


2016 – Bill Buxton

Bill Buxton is a Canadian scientist, designer, musician, and visionary, who has spent 30 years focusing on human aspects of technology – mostly in creative areas such as music, film and industrial design.  While Bill’s initial focus was on music and digital instruments, this eventually led to an interest in human-computer interaction, where he started to pioneer work in multi-touch systems and other user interfaces. Bill moved into roles as researcher at the University of Toronto, Xerox PARC, Alias|Wavefront (now part of Autodesk) and then ran his own Toronto-based boutique design and consulting firm, Buxton Design, before joining Microsoft Research as Principal Researcher in 2005.   


Bill is a co-recipient of an Academy Award for Scientific and Technical Achievement, a Fellow of the Association of Computing Machinery, and has been awarded honorary doctorates from the Ontario College of Art and Design, Queen’s University, and the Technical University of Eindhoven. In 2010, BusinessWeek named Bill among the World’s Most Influential Designers. 


2015 – Dr. Steve Mann

Dr. Steve Mann, a researcher and Professor at the University of Toronto, in recognition of his career as a life-long inventor and teacher.  His work has increased the sophistication of digital culture in Canada and he is recognized as “the Father of Wearable Technology”.  In the 1980s, his EyeTap Digital Eye Glass, a computer that attaches to the human body and allows you to look up information while walking around, predates Google Glass by more than thirty years.  His invention of the EyeBorg camera was named one of the 50 Best Inventions of the Year by TIME Magazine. The ideas from his book “CYBORG: Digital Destiny and Human Possibility in the Age of the Wearable Computer” inspired a motion picture film about his life   


Steve held a performance with the Hydraulophone, the world’s first musical instrument to make sound from vibrations in liquids, in the 2015 Digifest Pleasure Room.


2014 – Vera Frenkel

Vera Frenkel is one of the most distinguished artists of our time. Within her exploratory career she uses video, sculptural and architectural installations for specific sites, websites and performance to tell layered stories about human migration, cultural memory, and the increasing bureaucratization of experience.


Composing works like musical scores that are physically navigated, each project is worked and then re-worked over years. Vera’s accomplished career has included exhibitions within distinguished institutions on four continents.  


2012 – Luc Courschene

Luc Courchesne has sustained parallel careers as an internationally recognized artist and as an educator.  From interactive portraiture to immersive experience systems, he has developed innovative approaches which have earned him international recognition and prestigious awards such as the Grand Prix of the ICC Biennale 1997 in Tokyo, an Award of Distinction and several Honorary Mentions at Prix Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria, an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and participations in Wired’s Next Fest. Luc Courchesne is a professor at Université de Montréal, a founding member and current director of research at the Society for Art and Technology in Montreal and a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. Digifest featured one of his works called Drawing Space.


2011 – Vincent John Vincent

Vincent Jon Vincent is an early pioneer in the area of video gesture recognition. His early live performances using this technology inspired the founding of his company Gesturetek. Through Gesturetek, he continues to explore the application of gesture recognition for mobile devices, and within cultural and medical spaces.