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03.04.2012 SPEECH – Diversity and cultural participation in Montreal

Anne-Marie Jean, Culture Montreal, Executive Director, is an invited speaker at the Walrus-McGill Talks at the Segal Center, April 3rd 2012.

« Good evening, my name is Anne-Marie Jean.

I am the executive director of Culture Montreal and am pleased to be here to share our point of view on tonight’s subject. For those of you who do not know what Culture Montreal is and what it does, let me briefly introduce its mandate.

Culture Montreal is a citizen’s movement that brings together over 1000 members. Our non-profit organization’s mission is to defend and to promote all the components that will contribute to make our city a world-renowned cultural metropolis.

Montreal’s demographics being what they are, artistic and cultural diversity remain one of the things – along with heritage, linguistic context & artistic avant-gardism – that make Montreal unique as a cultural metropolis. Therefore, this diversity must be sustained with the greatest of conviction.

Nevertheless, we believe that there is more to cultural diversity than a simple branding opportunity for Montreal. Artistic and cultural diversity is also about the right for all citizens, artists and non-artists, to express and recognize themselves in some way within a common culture. We believe that artistic diversity is about universal access to culture, about community growth and social integration. Working towards more artistic diversity does not and should not only serve professional artists, even if a lot of work has yet to be achieved in that matter.

I was asked to evaluate whether or not Montreal’s cultural diversity is well represented in mainstream’s presenters programming, and to evaluate if existing cultural activities stimulate the cultural participation of all citizens.

Is Montreal offering creations that represent Montreal’s cultural diversity? My answer is yes.

We have seen in the last 2 decades many events and artists become musts in Montreal’s cultural scene: Nuits d’Afrique, Vues d’Afrique, Festival du Monde Arabe, Festival MMM, Festival Accès-Asie, small events that grew bigger to become parts of Montreal’s mainstream. As for artists, we don’t need to think very long to come up with a long list of names that speak for themselves: Dany Laferrière, Kim Thuy, Wajdi Mouawad, Edouard Lock, Rawi Hage, Samian, Elisapie Isaac, Sugar Sammy, Socalled….

All these success stories prove that Montrealers and publics from Quebec and abroad are definitely eager to discover images, sounds and talents that emerge from the city’s richly diverse scene..

On a more local scale, presenters and producers welcome voices from diversity in theater, dance, performance, etc. Just think of Montréal, arts interculturels’ dedication to intercultural contemporary creators, l’Espace culturel Georges-Émile-Lapalme of the Place des Arts  becoming a showroom for diversity creations, or Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui programming Bachir Lazhar in 2008.

Though more opportunities must still be created in order to make our immigration-related artists and talents shine, you will agree with me that Montreal’s reputation of artistic diversity is well deserved.

Now, does this reality guarantee the cultural participation of all citizens?

We know that Montrealers from cultural communities form a great part of what is designated in statistics as “non-publics”. However, to really understand the complex relationship between these non-participants and all forms of art and culture in our society, one has to look beyond statistics.

Last fall, in order to explore this issue, we invited researchers and practitioners to share their thoughts and observations at our international colloquium Youth, cosmopolitanism and digital environment: cultural participation in flux. Among the different perspectives and analysis helping us understand the transformations of cultural participation in our changing society, the following observations paint a quite clear picture:

–    Mainstream is plural: as observed by cultural and diversity journalist Jean-Christophe Laurence from La Presse, many cultural communities – haitian, latin-american for example- have built their own mainstream in Montreal, presenting, as private producers and with humble means, their own stars in venues that are not necessarily part of your regular arts circuit.

–    Traditionally, cultural participation in many communities is often ritualized rather than institutionalized. It is experienced at a local level – in neighborhoods, on the street, in public parks, in churches – and is strongly related to other dimensions of day-to-day life.

–    Cultural participation is going through a period of profound change due to digital innovations: young and not so young people are “culturally active” on new platforms, choosing from a worldwide cultural offer through the net; forming communities of interest that become new cultural references and roots for cultural identity; being more and more active in creation rather than simply being an audience; doing so transforming the traditional relation between professional and amateur.

Cultural participation is more alive and kicking in cultural communities than previously imagined.

Moreover, in the last survey on cultural practices in Quebec, done in 2009, we note that 80% of Quebecers have an amateur cultural or artistic practice.  The survey also reveals that people who take up an arts and crafts activity are more likely to attend professional cultural manifestations. Another important fact to take into consideration: young people, often perceived as an “absent” clientele by cultural institutions, are very active on the cultural front: in fact, 89,4% of the 15 to 24 age group claim to have an amateur practice.

Having established this incomplete – but I hope somewhat enlightening – portrait of cultural participation that is perpetually in flux, what should we do as institutions, as artists, teachers, mediators and citizens to enhance exchanges between all types of cultural experiences ?

I will leave you with a few thoughts, ideas and recommendations that have emerged from the colloquium, various readings and meetings we have on a regular basis with artists, thinkers and cultural professionals that work both at a large scale or at the local level.

–    While large cultural institutions should not shy away from their responsibility of being mainstream, they should encourage “out of the box” ideas that can draw new crowds and develop new local initiatives to continue to grow. They should bring their creations or exhibitions into the day-to-day life of communities, in the streets, through local initiatives or even hyper local initiatives.

–    We should use mainstream cultural events as showcases for artists from diversity, such as the partnerships between the Place des Arts and the Société du Vieux-Port de Montréal with Vision Diversité.

–    We should avoid « tagging » and denaturalizing local cultural initiatives (set on a specific territory). Displacing “diversity” festivals to a single space and time slot in Parc Jean-Drapeau may have been a good idea in order to solve security issues, but the citizens from the organizing communities, as well as all festival-goers, have certainly lost something important in the process.

–    We should work together on an broader understanding of diversity and how communities intersect, meet and nourish each other, sharing how-to’s and advertising channels to have a better presence and reach a bigger audience.

–    And we should do all of this while not trying to transform all cultural manifestations into commercial products or mediation opportunities.  We should privilege the experience and the relationship.

Thank you for listening. »

Documents to download:
Speech – Diversity and cultural participation in Montreal (94 kb)

A bit more about us

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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Micro Culture, pour parler culture quartier par quartier
Agenda 21. Culture aujourd'hui demain.

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