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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 11, No. 3

On the Cultural Front Burner

by Réjean Beaucage / December 12, 2005

Version française...

Culture is a hot topic in Quebec and it's gaining ground rapidly in discussions at the municipal level. This is probably no news to Simon Brault, director of the National Theatre School of Canada, vice-president of the Canada Council for the Arts, and president of Culture Montréal. We talked with him shortly before Montreal's November 6 municipal elections.

On Saturday, August 20, 2005, La Presse, the city's major French-language daily, published excerpts from a letter sent by Senator Serge Joyal to Gérald Tremblay, the incumbent mayor, and ministers Line Beauchamp and Jean Lapierre. Entitled "Montréal déclassé" ("Montreal demoted"), it tended to show that "...our city is losing its status as Canada's cultural capital in favour of Toronto." The first response, published August 30, came from Simon Brault, whose view is less pessimistic.

Culture Montréal worked with municipal officials recently in preparing a document released on October 6, entitled "Montreal, Cultural Metropolis." It is Montreal's first policy statement on cultural development.i "I welcomed this development policy because it represents a real step forward," says Brault. "What's missing, however, are the means to fulfil its ambitions. The city tells us that these means are in Quebec City and Ottawa. At Culture Montréal we say that's partly true, but the role of elected municipal representatives is to make sure they catalyse these resources, and there's work to be done in this respect."

In the municipal milieu word travels fast, even when it's incorrect. The daily paper Métro published an article on October 7 reporting that "Mayor Gérald Tremblay ... has promised to table a motion at the October municipal council meeting for the purpose of doubling the budget of the arts council." Simon Brault points out the error. "What the mayor said was that he would like to see the budget of the Canada Council for the Arts doubled. He made no promises about the city's arts council. This is why Culture Montréal, in its document, 'Montreal, Cultural Metropolis of the Future,' released October 18, suggests a formula for at least maintaining the city arts council's budget. At the moment, Montreal is investing $2.50 in the council for each $1,000 of spending. What we want, knowing the city's spending will increase, is to preserve this ratio. However there's nothing about this, not even just indexing the budget, in the city's policy statement on cultural development in early October. All it says is that if new money can be had from the Quebec government in terms of a tax agreement, an increase in the city's arts council budget could be considered. We believe that something more energetic is needed to find new money."

Pierre Bourque's electoral platformii promises to increase the CAM budget from ten to twelve million dollars by 2007. Does this promise seem more interesting to Brault? "Obviously a two-million-dollar increase seems more interesting than no increase at all. But the question remains: if we want Montreal to keep its status of cultural metropolis (and Senator Joyal was right in this respect), we have to understand that this status operates in an environment that is not static. The last thing to believe is that this status can't change; on the contrary, it requires a constant adjustment of investment and a political will to keep it."

Will the candidates in the current election respond favourably to the ten commitments asked for in Culture Montréal's October statement? Brault says, "Of course we'd be happy to see them adopt these commitments during the campaign, but you should realize that this document puts forward a program for the next four years, especially the tenth point, which calls for the organization of a "Montreal, Cultural Metropolis" summit in 2007. We think our proposals could guide the people who will be in office. We've had some encouraging signs." iii *

[Translated by Jane Brierley]

i?The document can be downloaded in pdf format at: http://ville.montreal.qc.ca/pls/portal/docs/page/librairie_fr/documents/Mtl_metropole_culturelle.pdf

ii ?See http://www.visionmtl.com/programme.html

iii?See mission statement at www.culturemontreal.ca. "Montréal métropole culturelle d'avenir" and also be downloaded from this site.

Simon Brault

Gérald Tremblay

Pierre Bourque

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