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28.10.2009 SPEECH – Culture: A City’s Best Bet

Notes for Simon Brault, Chair of Culture Montréal for the Creative Places + Spaces Conference – Toronto

Abstract
(Please download the PDF document to consult the integral version)

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Creative Places + Spaces is an event with a growing reputation and great relevance to the issues of today, and I am pleased to have a part in it. I considered at some length what I could contribute to today’s discussions, and decided that I should talk about the role culture is playing in the place I know best: the City of Montreal.

And if pressed to give these remarks a title, I would suggest “Culture: A City’s Best Bet”.

In the early nineties, the city of Montreal was faltering: a weak economy, huge public debt, rising taxes, growing unemployment (at a rate estimated as high as 23%) all weighed on its citizens.

Many studies of the city had been undertaken, and the patterns of decline they revealed dated back to the late sixties.  Over this period, Toronto had been replacing Montreal as the leading Canadian city. Economic initiatives in Montreal had produced a series of white elephants.  (Mirabel airport and the Olympic Stadium are concrete examples).  In the face of political uncertainties, the population (especially the prosperous anglo population) was decreasing and slums were expanding.

Seven hospitals had closed.  Retail sales were declining and bankruptcies rising.  The city was increasingly isolated from the rest of Canada.

Looking back, however, one can see that by accidents of geography, history, language and trade, Montreal had the five key qualities noted by Max Wyman in his book, The Defiant Imagination, as essential preconditions for the development of a cultural metropolis: It had large reserves of private wealth.  There was a high degree of civic pride, stimulated in 1967, notably, by the success of Expo, the world fair that put Montreal on the international stage.

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Documents to download:
Speech CM – Simon Brault Creative Places + Spaces (28-10-2009) (125 kb)

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Culture Montreal is an independent organization and place for reflexion and action that contributes to building Montreal’s future as a cultural metropolis through research, analysis and communication activities. Its mission is to assert the central role of the arts and culture in all areas of Montreal’s development: economy, buisness, politics, land-use planning, education, and social and community life while encouraging cultural diversity, emerging artists and practices and public art.

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