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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 17, No. 1

Show of Support: ELAN encourages Artists to attend Summit

by James Gartler / September 1, 2011

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Visibility. Without it, no artist can hope to cultivate an audience and become successful. Of course in Quebec, there’s the added wrinkle of having to overcome potential language barriers. This is why ELAN (the English Language Arts Network) has spent the past 18 months organizing a four-day State of the Arts Summit, bringing together key players in the provincial artistic community to contemplate the future of our local talent.

The Summit begins with a two-day conference on September 22 at the Society for Arts and Technology called “Creative Solutions For a Creative Community.” Key players such as the Centaur, the Quebec Writer’s Federation and the Quebec Drama Federation as well as dance companies, visual artists and orchestras (to name a few) will make up the 150 or so invited guests, though ELAN Director Guy Rodgers isn’t about to let space become a limiting factor in this exchange of ideas. “We can link anybody who wants to participate via electronic means so they can be involved in the conversation and then validate the conclusions. They will be allowed to comment live during the forum and see the planning documents leading up to it,” says Rodgers. Saturday the 24 will also see two public panels welcoming Anglophone and Francophone media, academics and intellectuals to continue the discussion.

“The two big questions in the air at the moment," explains Rodgers, "are 1) as we become more visible, does this create some sort of negative reaction within the Francophone community? Can we find a way to work around that? And 2) what impact is this new conservative government going to have? What’s their position going to be on arts and culture? How are they going to feel about Quebec? If we come out of this forum feeling that we have a plan and we’re prepared to work together to share ideas and practices, then I would consider it a success.”

“Artists will tell you they often feel a sense of isolation even when working in a group-oriented realm like we do in theatre,” says Centaur Theatre's Executive Director, Roy Surette. “ELAN is a wonderful thing in that it brings together a lot of individuals to have discussions with colleagues from across town and across language barriers."

Several other key events will also take place during the weekend, such as tours of the BELGO, Oboro and Studio XX at 4001 Berri galleries. For the big finale, ELAN has teamed up with POP Montreal to present The Socalled Musical, starring local musician Josh Dolgin. As Rodgers explains, “he’s creating a musical comedy about life in the Mile End incorporating a lot of his friends who are singers, actors, dancers, etc. It’s going to be a tremendously entertaining show, which will be a little slice of life [of] the artistic community in Quebec.”

Given the increasing exposure Quebec artists have had on the international scene it’s also, according to Rodgers, a key moment to discuss English artists in Quebec. “The film based on Mordecai Richler’s book, Barney’s Version, was nominated for some Golden Globe Awards. Paul Giamatti, who won the award for Best Actor, stood up and said what a great city Montreal was and people noticed. They said, ‘Oh an Anglophone—especially an Anglophone related to a work of art by Mordecai Richler—is bringing positive feedback to Quebec!’ It created quite a few waves. Then within a few weeks, Arcade Fire won a Grammy Award and stood up on stage and said 'Merci Montreal!' And it had such a powerful impact in Quebec that the National Assembly voted a unanimous motion recognizing the work of artists—and they specified Francophone and Anglophone—as ambassadors to Quebec.”

Rodgers believes that recognition has helped increase the desire among local artists to make their living here. “Suddenly… people are saying ‘well, I want to stay in Quebec’,” he remarks with pride. “Why wouldn’t they? The conditions seem to be in place, the confidence seems to be in place. We’re sort of on the cusp of creating a viable, thriving community.”

As much as the political climate may shift, Rodgers remains steadfast in his belief that cooperation between Quebec’s artists will ultimately have a ripple affect in Canada and abroad. “If we can hold this thing together for another five, 10 or 15 years, we may be able to create something that is sustainable and becomes a model for the entire world of how two previously opposed communities can actually work together in a positive and mutually-supportive way.”

The State of the Arts Summit, September 22-24. quebec-elan.org

(c) La Scena Musicale