The Polaris Prize, its jury and the media crisis

While the whole country was busy, in mid-March, the organization of the Polaris music prize, which for 15 years has rewarded the best Canadian record of the year without regard to sales and genre, appointed its new general manager, Claire Dagenais. Met at a distance a few days before the announcement of the preselection of the award, the bilingual boss said to focus on the mandate of the Polaris and continue to watch over the delicate balance of her vast jury, even more in a context of media crisis.

The Polaris Prize is a non-profit organization based on a small team of workers – there were three until recently – but on a large volunteer jury of some 200 members. The classic summary is this: the cohort is made up of music journalists, bloggers and presenters from across the country. But hell is in the details.

Claire Dagenais has been an employee of Polaris since 2010, so she knows something about it. She was born in Toronto to Quebec parents and ensures that she understands the linguistic and regional sensitivities that go along with such a Canada-wide award. Using the image often proposed by her predecessor, Steve Jordan, she believes that “the engine, which makes the car move [du Polaris]is the jury. And we have to be attentive, and really dedicated to bringing together people who are representative of all the provinces, all genres and all languages. It’s hard to try to strike a balance, “especially as jurors must be passionate about music, frequently exposed to CDs produced in Canada.

In this sense, the Polaris award, which has in the past highlighted the quality of the work of Karkwa, Arcade Fire, Patrick Watson, Lido Pimienta and Kaytranada, is intrinsically linked to the state of health of the media. “We are in an environment where several publications have stopped publishing or have closed their cultural sections,” notes Dagenais. This results in a certain loss of musical expertise, which makes the recruitment of the jury more demanding. Each year, between twenty and thirty members leave the jury, either because they are inactive in the musical discussions of the jury community, or because they are no longer able to be relevant.

This forces the Polaris to “rethink who are music filters”, notes Claire Dagenais, who believes that “it was also necessary to open the settings a little.” The price leaves more room for blogs and other online cultural sites, but also for DJs. “They too are music filters, maybe in a different way from a critic, but they always make choices at the musical level. And I think it gives different perspectives, “said the new CEO, adding that this openness is accompanied by increased vigilance to avoid conflicts of interest.

After 15 years of existence, the Polaris Prize remains relevant, according to Claire Dagenais, for whom the exercise of the list of 40 shortlisted artists is perhaps one of the most important actions of the award. Yes, there is the prize of $ 50,000 for the winner, but revealing the cream of the musical year and fueling discussions around these artists is in his eyes the closest to the organization’s mandate. .

Again, there is a link with media health, she believes. The fewer articles there are on music production, the less guide music lovers have to find out what is best. “And I think things like the Polaris’“ long list ”and“ short list ”become a resource for those looking. If you go to Spotify, Apple or whatever platform, I find that having access to everything is too much. And I don’t know where to start. I’m not saying that everyone is going to like everything on the long list – I would even say that if you like everything on the long list, we are not doing our job! – but that gives a point to start your research. “

In February, in the Globe and Mail, a column by Brad Wheeler estimated after analysis of the recent winners (veteran Buffy Sainte-Marie, Maliseet native Jeremy Dutcher, black rapper Haviah Mighty) that the Polaris “had changed” and that he had to be honest with him- even assuming his “activism” which meant that the prize was awarded not to the “best” album, but to the most important.

Claire Dagenais does not share this view of the Polaris. She believes that such words show a “disdain” for the work of the jury and that a record can be both the best and the most important. “And I think that’s what has happened in recent years. No one on the jury puts forward an album that is not, I’m going to damn it, screeching good, notes the director general of the award. It must also be said that we live in a society, we are influenced by it even if we are not aware of it. Indigenous rights, discrimination, racism, sexism, transphobia … these are conversations we are having now. To say that it is not going to have an impact in the arts that we consume and that strikes us at the heart is impossible. “

For the future, Claire Dagenais would like to add a fourth employee to the organization in order to be able to effectively carry out some new projects. In her satchel, she drags in particular this idea to radiate former musicians named to the Polaris in consulates or embassies. “We always want to help artists exploit their full potential. “

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