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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 13, No. 4 December 2007

Will Montréal Remain a Cultural Metropolis ?

by Wah Keung Chan / December 17, 2007

Over 1200 representatives of government, as well as the arts and business communities, met on November 12th/13th to discuss the future of Montreal as a cultural metropolis both in Canada and internationally. Montreal Mayor, Gerald Tremblay, presided a panel comprising Raymond Bachand, provincial Minister responsible for Montreal, Simon Brault, President of Culture Montreal, Hon. Michael Fortier, federal Minister responsible for the region of Montreal, Isabelle Hudon, President of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, Christine St-Pierre, Minister of Culture and Hon. Josée Verner, Minister of Canadian Heritage.

The main emphasis of the conference was the 2007-2017 Action Plan to maintain Montreal as a cultural capital especially with the city’s 375th birthday coming up in 2017. This plan is based on five strategic approaches: promote greater access to culture for citizens, investment in cultural infrastructure and funding for arts organizations, promoting Montréal in Quebec, the rest of Canada and internationally, and increase the number of cultural and tourism events.

Several major announcement were made:

Quartier des spectacles get $120M: the three levels of government each contributed $40 million to jump-start the Quartier des spectacles;

• Increase for CALQ: the Quebec government awarded an additional recurring $6 million to the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (CALQ) thus bringing their annual budget to $30M;

• Indexation for CAM: leading up to the conference, Simon Brault was vocal in requesting indexation for the Conseil des Arts de Montréal (CAM)’s $10M annual budget. On the last day of the meeting, Mayor Tremblay announced that indexation will be effective over the next 5 years, which translates to an additional $3.5M;

• Libraries and Museums: Quebec renewed their agreement with Montreal on cultural infrastructures to the tune of $140M over 3 years including new money for libraries and museums;

• New Fund for Young Artists: the CALQ will administer a new fund for Quebec artists and writers with 5 years or less experience. The deadline is December 14, 2007. Visit calq.gouv.qc.ca.

• Young Arts Entrepreneurships: the Quebec government has created a $3M fund to help young arts businesses for the three year period from April 1, 2008 to March 31, 2011.

Anne-Marie Lizotte, past president of the Montreal Youth Symphony Orchestra expressed concern about the lack of arts education in the schools a situation which Quebec Education Minister, Michelle Courchesne, indicated that she will take action to remedy. Nonetheless, nothing concrete was announced. The most firm proposals and announcements came during the last of five sessions. Through a video presentation, Rio Tinto Alcan announced the creation of a new Foundation endowed with $200M over the next 5 years to replace Alcan’s current practice of giving 1% of pre-tax profits to approved causes ($10M in 2006 and $8.6M in 2005). At the time of going to press details including the percentage that will go to the arts, were still being worked out. Maurice Forget of Fasken Martineau and former president of the Conseil des Arts de Montréal, suggested that there should be a permanent Montreal Arts-Business committee as there was back in the 1960s; that the media should do more to cover the arts; that Quebec’s Toronto office should do more to promote Montreal artists to the rest of Canada, and that there should be an improvement to the City’s Architectural design. At the meeting, Serge Joyal who last year sounded the alarm that Montreal was losing its status as a cultural capital, suggested that a summit of this kind should be held every 2 years to ensure the government’s commitment. He went on to comment that the private sector needs to be more active and that individuals need to donate more. Only 34% of Quebecers donate compared to 54% in the Rest of Canada (ROC) and the average Quebecer donates $165 /yr compared to $400 in ROC. He also said that Radio-Canada needs to create more work for local artists. Serge Losique of the Montreal World Film Festival called upon the federal and provincial governments to reinvest the GST and QST they collect from Montreal arts groups. Some years ago the federal government considered introducing loan guarantees for Arts organizations. This seemingly good idea would not cost governments much and could jump start many new projects. Unfortunately, governments seem to have short memories since Minister Fortier was not aware of this plan.

While the Action Plan outlined admirable principles and goals, specific actions steps and mechanisms were lacking. The conference organizers miscalculated the time needed to fully discuss all of the issues (the fourth session was in fact postponed to the following day) and thus the event was more about what needs to be done rather than how it is to be done. Nonetheless, most delegates left the conference with a sense of optimism for the future of arts and culture in Montreal. Time alone will tell whether Montreal will still be a cultural metropolis in 2017. n

(c) La Scena Musicale