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Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize winners bring new insights to Canadian opera and Aboriginal languages

The 2012 winners of the Canada Council Molson Prizes are developing new Canadian voices through song and the spoken word.
Dáirine Ní Mheadhra, winner of the Molson Prize in the arts, is known for producing provocative award-winning Canadian operas that have toured around the world. Keren Rice, winner of the Molson Prize in the social sciences and humanities, is recognized for her work to preserve, revitalize and document Canada’s Aboriginal languages.

Two Canada Council Molson Prizes, worth $50,000 each, are awarded every year to distinguished Canadians, one in the arts and the other in the social sciences and humanities. Established in 1964, the prize is funded from the income of a $1 million endowment given to the Canada Council by the Molson Family Foundation and recognizes the recipients’ outstanding lifetime achievements and ongoing contributions to the cultural and intellectual life of Canada. The Canada Council administers these awards in co-operation with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and both laureates were selected by a joint peer assessment committee.

 “Breathing new life into traditional languages is a common theme of this year’s Canada Council Molson Prizes,” said Robert Sirman, Canada Council Director and CEO. “Dáirine Ní Mheadhra and Keren Rice have expanded the public reach of both contemporary opera and Aboriginal languages, and done so with an exemplary combination of innovation and excellence.” 

“Our partnership with the Canada Council for the Arts for the Molson Prizes demonstrates the importance of interdisciplinary and multisectoral collaboration and highlights the breadth of scholarly and artistic excellence to Canada and the world,” said Dr. Chad Gaffield, president of SSHRC. “We congratulate Dáirine Ní Mheadhra and
Keren Rice on being awarded this prestigious prize. Their contributions to Canada’s cultural heritage and scholarly excellence reflect the important role of the social sciences and humanities in our society today, and for the future.”

Dáirine Ní Mheadhra
Dáirine Ní Mheadhra began her professional career at the age of 17 as a cellist with the Irish National Symphony Orchestra, subsequently developing an interest in conducting and contemporary music. In 1990 she founded the new music ensemble Nua Nós, comprising the principal chairs of the Irish National Symphony Orchestra, which rapidly established itself as the leading exponent of contemporary music in Ireland. Ní Mheadhra immigrated to Canada in 1994 after her marriage to Canadian pianist John Hess. They founded Queen of Puddings Music Theatre and, under her inspired direction as resident Artistic Director, Queen of Puddings has emerged as a bold and provocative leader of contemporary opera in Canada and internationally. Notable company successes include the operas Beatrice Chancy (music James Rolfe, libretto George Elliott Clarke), The Midnight Court (music
Ana Sokolovic, text adaptation Paul Bentley), and Svadba-Wedding (music Ana Sokolovic). 

Keren Rice
As Professor in Linguistics and founding Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Initiatives at the University of Toronto, Keren Rice has dedicated the last 30 years to the study of the Slavey, one of the official languages of Canada’s Northwest Territories. She wrote A Grammar of Slave, which is a detailed study of the grammar of the language. It won the Bloomfield Book Award from the Linguistic Society of America and is still used some 20 years after publication. She also served on a committee that standardized the Dene writing system and has worked with a team to develop teaching materials for language teachers. In addition, she compiled a dictionary of one dialect of Dene. Editor of the, Keren Rice is now serving her second term as Canada Research Chair in Linguistics and Aboriginal Studies and received a Killam Prize for her research in 2011.

Jury comments
In awarding the Molson Prize to Dáirine Ní Mheadhra, the selection committee remarked on “the excitement her work generates, its innovative nature and its significant ramifications in the theatre, new music and opera communities.” The committee had special praise for her ability to bring together artists from different backgrounds and achieve results through them that raise the standard for creative interdisciplinary work. It noted that the arc of her career has been amazing: she has significantly shaped the way opera is viewed in this country and on the world stage.

In awarding the Molson Prize to Keren Rice, the selection committee described her as one of the world’s most distinguished linguists and an international leader in the empirical study of Aboriginal languages. It praised the “extraordinary insight with which she has broadened and transformed her discipline,” adding that “her pioneering work enables all Canadians to appreciate the depth and richness of our Aboriginal linguistic heritage.” It also noted that, working closely with Aboriginal Canadians as they reclaim the power of their language, she is building a phenomenal legacy by establishing research guidelines for approaching this field of endeavour and training a new generation of researchers. 

Members of this year’s Molson Prize committee were:

•Janine Brodie (Edmonton), Professor of Political Science, University of Alberta and Canada Research Chair in Political Economy and Social Governance
•Jennifer Brown (Denver, Colorado), Professor Emerita of History, University of Winnipeg and former Canada Research Chair in Aboriginal Peoples and History
•David Earle (Guelph, Ont.), Founder and Artistic Director, Dancetheatre David Earle
•François Houle (Vancouver), soloist and chamber  musician (clarinet)
•Robert J. Vallerand (Montreal), Professor of Social Psychology, Université du Québec à Montréal
•Gaëtane Verna (Toronto), Director, The Power Plant
•Mary Vingoe (Dartmouth, N.S.) playwright, actor, producer, director
General information
In addition to its principal role of promoting and fostering the arts, the Canada Council for the Arts administers and awards many prizes and fellowships in the arts, humanities, social sciences, natural and health sciences, engineering, and arts management. These prizes and fellowships recognize the achievements of outstanding Canadian artists, scholars, and administrators. The Canada Council is committed to raising public awareness and celebrating these exceptional people and organizations on both a national and an international level.

SSHRC is the federal agency that promotes and supports university-based research and training in the humanities and social sciences. Through its three funding programs – Talent, Insight and Connection – SSHRC enables the highest levels of research excellence in Canada and facilitates knowledge-sharing and collaboration across research disciplines, universities and all sectors of society.

 

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