Image of Mary Kerr and David Lyon

The Council’s Collab sessions reach over 350 artists in Toronto

July 08, 2020

What do set and costume design and surveillance studies have in common?
The 2020 Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize Winners

July 8, 2020

The 2020 Canada Council prize winners are theatre designer Mary Kerr in the arts category and surveillance studies scholar David Lyon in the social sciences and humanities category.

Every year, the Canada Council awards two Molson prizes of $50,000 to distinguished Canadians—one in the arts and the other in the social sciences or humanities. Funded from the income of a $1 million endowment given to the Canada Council by the Molson Foundation, the prize encourages Canadians honoured with this distinction to continue contributing to the cultural and intellectual life of Canada. The Canada Council administers the awards in conjunction with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

We asked this year’s winners to reflect on their work—inspiration, obstacles, achievements , and advice.

Mary Kerr

The Canada Council awarded a 2020 Molson Prize to Mary Kerr for her distinguished career as a production designer in theatre, dance, opera, feature film, television, exhibition, and special event design.

Mary Kerr
Photo: UVic Photo Services

Kerr’s unique sets and costumes have appeared on stages in Canada and around the world. Her work is characterized by experimentation with architectural concepts, scale, unusual materials, colour, distortion, non-realism, and often-satirical cultural commentary on the human condition. The nearly 275 productions and events she has worked on include the 1994 XV Commonwealth Games, Expo 86, the Canadian children’s television show Toy Castle, and 28 pieces for the Danny Grossman Dance Company.

She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the only theatre designer to hold this honour.

What inspires you in your art practice? 

Einstein said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” That captures my life practice. Creation is a need, a call to the life of ideas. I earn my living and practice my art by turning ideas into kinetic performance imagery to transform and heal my audience. My audiences inspire me. My training as a sculptor, dancer, baton twirler, writer, pianist, and the great mentors I have encountered in my life have all contributed as well. Marshall McLuhan convinced me that artists conceive of art through the cultural lens of the time. My inspiration comes from evaluating the fascinating cultures and times we live in.

Photo: 1994 Commonwealth Games, Mary Kerr

Creation is a need, a call to the life of ideas.

Mary Kerr

What obstacles did you overcome to reach where you are today?

When I began, women primarily designed costumes, not sets. I was often scorned by professional male designers who felt women did not have enough technical expertise to design sets. Even in art school a mark of approval was to be told “You make sculpture like a man.”

Directors were considered “the conceiver” behind the piece. I work as an equal creator: a visual dramaturge. This collaborative approach aligned with a more European concept of the designer’s role and was unusual in Canada.

My work was different from the popular English-style of design, so I needed brave directors to work with me—like Stephen Katz, Christopher Newton, Keith Turnbull, Brian Richmond, and Bill Glasgow.

David Lyon

The Canada Council awarded a 2020 Molson Prize to David Lyon for his invaluable contributions to the field of surveillance studies.

Educated at the University of Bradford in the UK, Lyon first worked in secularization studies and began studying and publishing on surveillance in the mid-1980s. He has written 30 books and numerous articles and book chapters, including his most recent book The Culture of Surveillance (2018). He has led several large collaborative research projects on surveillance with research funding totaling almost $8 million, and his work has been recognized around the world with fellowships, prizes, awards, and an honorary doctorate.

David Lyon’s is Director of the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen’s University.

The proverbial job interview question: What is your proudest achievement?

I am delighted to witness the growth and flourishing of the Surveillance Studies Centre (SSC) at Queen’s University and, indeed, of the expansion of the Surveillance Studies Network around the world. The words “achievement” and “proud” don’t quite capture this, because I didn’t set out to “create” anything, and by the time the SSC was thriving it was due to the hard work and commitment of many colleagues, partners, and students. But to have played a part in such a new area of study, related to increasingly urgent real-world issues, is a great privilege, responsibility, and source of joy.  

David Lyon
Photo: David Higgleton Photography

[T]o have played a part in such a new area of study, related to increasingly urgent real-world issues, is a great privilege, responsibility, and source of joy.

David Lyon

What is something crucial you have learned so far in your career that you’d like to share?

I have learned that there is always more to learn, which makes me acutely aware of how little I really know. What I know, I know only in part; and that knowledge is relational, has tacit aspects, and is holistic in that everything is connected—my story and the stories I tell are linked with others’ stories and thus to a much larger story.

Help us celebrate this year’s winners of the #MolsonPrize

Join us in congratulating the 2020 winners—and help us celebrate this milestone in their careers by sharing this news of the #MolsonPrize winners on social media and beyond.