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04.10.2013 REVUE DE PRESSE – Montreal mayoral candidates are stepping up for culture

Peggy Curran, The Gazette, 4 octobre 2013
MONTREAL — Watching Arcade Fire performing on Saturday Night Live last weekend, Simon Brault caught himself counting how often members of the indie-rock phenomenon mentioned hometown Montreal — and pondering what might have been.

“The conditions that helped to incubate Arcade Fire are now threatened,” said Brault, director-general of the National Theatre School and vice-president of the Canada Council for the Arts. “The churches where they rehearsed, all the small bars where they were performing — over the last few years, we have lost many of the most affordable places to perform because of gentrification.”

When Montreal’s municipal candidates met with more than 300 people at Club Soda Tuesday night to talk culture heading up to the Nov. 3 election, there was inevitable pressure on city politicians to boost funding for the Conseil des Arts de Montréal and for Montreal’s next mayor to show leadership in boosting the city’s cultural profile at home and abroad.

Culture Montreal, a coalition of roughly 1,000 arts groups which Brault chairs, invited the politicians to share their vision and explain where they stand on 21 proposals aimed at bolstering the city’s inherent strengths as a cosmopolitan cultural metropolis.

Nearly 100,000 people work in Montreal’s cultural sector, a broad category that includes everyone from architects and filmmakers to actors, circus performers and ticket takers. According to a 2009 study by the Chambre de commerce/Montreal Board of Trade, Montreal’s culture industry generates roughly $8 billion a year, or six per cent of the gross domestic product of Greater Montreal.

So culture is indeed a big deal for the candidates vying for the mayor’s job in the Nov. 3 election. Denis Coderre, Marcel Côté, Richard Bergeron and Mélanie Joly have all presented a culture platform, something Brault hasn’t seen in 30 years of pushing for better funding and political leadership on the cultural stage.

“It is now in the psyche of municipal politicians in Montreal that the responsibility of the city goes beyond Maisons de la culture and libraries,” said Brault.

Cut through the dry rhetoric in Culture Montreal’s proposals and their concerns are bread-and-butter issues, striking at the ability of individual artists to live, work and perform.

“We need to make sure Montreal is a city that remains affordable for artists, where they feel supported, where they can experiment, where they can find an audience,” said Brault, the author of No Culture, No Future. “A lot of that has to do with taxes, with zoning. And these are very municipal problems. Not big cultural policy thinking, but very day-to-day decisions.”

Culture Montreal is calling on the next city administration to bolster funding for Conseil des Arts de Montréal from $12 million to $20 million a year — the amount former Quebec finance minister Raymond Bachand recommended when Gérald Tremblay asked him to look into the culture file a decade ago.

Brault argues Montreal, which lags behind both Quebec and Ottawa when it comes to culture funding, “should lead the parade,” especially since Quebec has a dollar-for-dollar matching grant.

“Montreal has a very special blend — of francophones, anglophones, arts groups, strong icons in all the different disciplines, huge cultural infrastructures. We have a strategic advantage and we should build on it.”

But it takes more than money to foster artistic creation.

For Brault, Montreal’s future success hinges on developing policies that nurture emerging artists, promote the city’s cultural products to the wider world and, perhaps most important, attract audiences as demographically diverse as the city itself.

“Cultural participation is a critical question,” said Brault, citing an aging population on the island, new venues off-island and the slow integration of new immigrants as big hurdles for Montreal’s arts scene.

“When you go to theatre in Montreal, to festivals, everywhere, it is still very white. It is very mono-cultural. It is not as cosmopolitan and diverse as the city is. That is a big disconnect.”

He said that’s a common dilemma in many large cities that have undergone radical demographic shifts over the last 20 years. In Montreal, however, concern about aging, dwindling audiences is compounded — particularly among francophones — by access to cultural venues elsewhere. “People go outside Montreal, they don’t come to Montreal anymore. It’s too expensive, there’s no parking, people don’t want to cross a bridge.

“We need to reclaim the French-speaking audience that is in the suburbs. But the most promising (idea) is to augment participation by Montreal’s diverse populations.”

Montreal also has to do a better job of promoting its artists — and not just after they get rich and famous.

“Quartier des Spectacles is beautiful, but if no young artists can afford to perform there because it is too expensive, what’s the point?”

Because the average artist isn’t as successful as Arcade Fire.

According to the Chambre de commerce study, the average salary of Montreal’s 11,200 artists, authors and performers is $24,400, a figure that includes all sources of income, whether that be teaching piano or waiting tables. “While artists represent Montreal’s cultural core,” the study concludes, “they reap the fewest economic rewards.”

“In Montreal, we often react after the fact. ‘Oh, we have an Oscar nomination. Yeah, we’re good,’ ” Brault said. “But what did we do to support that? It’s not obvious.”

He said the city government and borough councils need to do a better job of looking at the big picture when they make a zoning or bylaw change that alters a neighbourhood.

“When you see a place where you have different bars and artists’ studios and then you give a permit to construct a condo and don’t pay attention to that, you are destroying an ecosystem that is producing all those fantastic icons.”

One way Montreal has tried to tackle this issue — particularly in artist-heavy neighbourhoods such as Mile-End, Rosemont and St-Henri — is to put greater emphasis on local cultural priorities. One recent success story is the zoning agreement in Plateau Mont-Royal that guarantees long-term leases for artists’ lofts in a heritage building in Mile End.

So what happens if the city doesn’t act?

Maybe yesterday’s Montreal will be tomorrow’s Winnipeg, a city that has become a magnet for visual artists drawn by bargain rents for sprawling studio space.

“They go elsewhere … Or they just stop doing their work, because it is too expensive,” Brault said. “In any ecosystem, the responsibility of the visionaries is to protect what is most fragile and most precious.

“We think we need a higher level of awareness among politicians of what the conditions are for Montreal to thrive as a cultural metropolis.”

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« Montreal mayoral candidates are stepping up for culture »
Peggy Curran, The Gazette, 4 octobre 2013
http://www.montrealgazette.com/entertainment/Montreal+mayoral+candidates+stepping+culture/8994190/story.html

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