Debunking the Secret Society Myth

Part 1: The Jury Process

Debunking the Secret Society Myth

Vanessa Moeller, Deputy Director


For anyone who has never participated in an artsnb jury, the process can seem mysterious. Who is making the decisions? How are these people chosen? Is it a secret club that only a few get into? Today I hope to explain the process in more detail and debunk the myth that there is a secret handshake to get in.

To start, who is on our jury list? There are two ways someone can become a juror for artsnb. The first is if an artist receives a Creation grant at the A (senior) or B (mid-career) level. Receiving this level of recognition from a peer evaluation jury tells us that the artist is recognized as having a high level of achievement and knowledge in their discipline. The second way is through a nomination process where someone highly knowledgeable in the arts is nominated to be on the list by someone in the arts community. This nomination is then vetted by our Program and Juries committee, which makes the final decision on whether the nominee has the qualifications to be a juror. If you are interested in being considered for the master jury list, you can apply here.

As program officers, we refer to this jury list when we start to piece together a jury — a delicate, almost alchemical process. I will use our Creation program as an example. Creation is juried by discipline, which means we choose three jurors who are experts in a specific discipline to jury applications. Within this disciplinary jury, we try to find a balance of Anglophone, Francophone and Aboriginal representation whenever possible as well as gender and regional representation. For one Creation jury, in order to have 3 jurors per discipline, we usually have 24 jurors in total and within this number we make sure each of the five regions (Edmundston, Fredericton, Saint John, Moncton, and the Acadian Peninsula) are represented. Program Officers draw up an initial, balanced jury list, avoiding asking jurors who have known biases or conflicts of interest with applicants as much as possible. This initial list is subsequently approved by the Executive Director. As jurors say yes or no to being on a jury, the list shifts and new names are added so that the overall balance is maintained. For disciplines that have smaller numbers of practitioners, we sometimes have to ask jurors from other provinces to participate in our jury process.

20141028_154839We also have a rule that once an artist has served on a jury, that same artist or arts professional may not be called upon to serve on a jury for the same program again for another 2 years. This ensures that the juries are always populated with new jurors who bring fresh insights, opinions, and perspectives to the table. It also eliminates bias, which would be an inevitable side-effect of using the same people for jury after jury.

As program officers, having the opportunity to interact with jurors is always a great pleasure. Often jurors are artists we know by name but have never had the opportunity to meet in person, so juries are a great opportunity for us to meet and engage with the arts community on a deeper level. Often the artists in the room haven’t had the chance to meet either – especially if they are from different corners of the province — so the whole arts community benefits.

Now that I have, hopefully, debunked the secret society myth, my next post will pull back the curtain on what happens when we have all the jurors in one room and it is decision time.