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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 19, No. 2

Montreal’s Mayoral Race: Artists want an inspiring mayor

by Hassan Laghcha / October 1, 2013

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Montreal’s mayoral candidates are competing for the affections of the arts and culture sector. They all have great ideas and interesting projects to help Montreal live up to its potential as a vibrant cultural and artistic metropolis. Meanwhile, workers from the arts and culture sector want to ensure that the future administration acts on their most pressing concerns. They want a more active mayor, one who is involved with and will support cultural sector workers, who are often neglected when it comes to financial support. Here is an overview of the candidates’ plans and promises.

Richard Bergeron: Saving Artist Workshops

Richard Bergeron, leader of Projet Montréal and the most experienced candidate, wants to index the Conseil des arts de Montréal’s (Montreal Arts Council) annual budget to the level of inflation and, once the economic crisis has passed, to index the budget to the economic growth rate. In doing so, according to Bergeron, the CAM would be able to “increase its influence and its involvement at a rate that is on a par with other sectors”. In its electoral program, Projet Montréal promises a moratorium on the re-zoning of artist and artisan workshops into residential units.

True to his love of pedestrian streets, Bergeron vows to develop an annual program featuring artistic and cultural activities that will turn the streets into “places of exchange and artistic and cultural expression, adding to Montreal’s touristic cachet”. Furthermore, Bergeron proposes an annual outdoor public art contest, where sculptures and other works of art would be installed in urban redevelopment areas. “This initiative will receive an annual budget of $5M,” he affirms.

Bergeron would also like to encourage the purchase or long-term rental of artist spaces. He believes this will “protect cultural production spaces from real estate speculation”. He also wants to centralize and launch a portal with information on the use of new artistic and cultural spaces: rules, legal information and advice, financial resources (grants, contests and awards, tax breaks), additional resources, a complete list of associated artistic groups and a calendar of events.

Denis Coderre: Rethinking Montreal’s Cultural Geography 

Denis Coderre is staying true to his motto: pure democracy! His team’s commitment to arts and culture will be developed in “consultation with cultural leaders and citizens”. Coderre feels that Montreal’s cultural life is “in great shape,” citing “the consensus surrounding a number of projects and initiatives.” Coderre wants a “city shaped by its artists”, and wishes to “develop an inclusive cultural vision.” To that end, Coderre has officially enlisted a candidate to explore cultural issues: Manon Gauthier, former director of the Segal Center for the Performing Arts. According to Coderre and his team, this will allow them to act as a “facilitator for the various arts, business, philanthropy, and education and public partners sectors, ensuring that gains for one do not come at the expense of others”.

Coderre believes that we need to rethink the city’s cultural geography by connecting cultural communities and encouraging dynamic exchange. He agrees that the Quartier des spectacles should continue to play a pivotal role as a centre for cultural production and dissemination, but that its relationships with the other cultural communities need to be more direct. In his opinion there are a number of Montreal communities bursting with creators and attractions that contribute to the city’s identity. “We have to do more to promote these areas,” he says, emphasizing the synergy between our cultural communities, our boroughs and the downtown core. “A cultural approach for everyone integrates the cultural communities, but just as importantly, it also integrates mediation and cultural diversity.”

Marcel Côté: Renegotiating the Quebec-Montreal Agreement

Marcel Côté, leader of the new political party, Coalition Montréal, wants to “increase and diversify financial resources for the cultural sector”. He pledges to increase the municipal contribution to CAM’s budget by 10 % annually for four years. Côté, an economist by trade, believes that “the Arts Council must have the means to match its ambitions, and it is the City’s duty to support professional artistic creation, production and dissemination”.

Côté also plans to “renegotiate the agreement between the Ministry of Culture and Communications and the City of Montreal, and to review the parameters to ensure a better distribution of resources”. The Coalition’s electoral platform explains that “the agreement ($164M over three years) includes the consolidation of our library network, the promotion of heritage and financing for activities to improve access to culture. Coalition Montréal also wishes to “explore the possibility of imposing a tax on publicity panels and encouraging the involvement of the business community”.

Regarding citizen access to arts and culture, Côté pledges to encourage mediation activities, artist residencies in libraries, cultural centres and other institutions such as schools, hospitals and retirement homes. “This initiative is meant to target youth and citizens from diverse cultural backgrounds, who are all too often excluded.”

Mélanie Joly: Catching Up with Public Art

Mélanie Joly, the youngest candidate, starts with the sad conclusion of the “delay shown by Montreal, a UNESCO City of Design,” compared to other North American cities of the same size – particularly concerning the amount of public art on city property, the support given to temporary pieces, the presence of works by internationally renowned artists, and the means of dissemination and promotion. According to Joly, “This translates into spaces and public works whose quality too often leave something to be desired.” She states that city property includes a number of spaces with incredible artistic potential. For her, the most striking example is Silo no. 5, located at the western extremity of the Old Port, by the mouth of the Lachine Canal. She proposes to convert the building, which was constructed in different phases between 1903 and 1959 and has been out of use since 1994, into “an immense public projection screen, where Montrealers would be invited to submit their videos and images to be projected: a gigantic YouTube.” According to the head of the party christened “Real change for Montreal”, this would open up urban environments and public spaces to quality art and design by making them accessible everywhere and in full view.

She also proposes to develop Parc Jean-Drapeau and endow it with the necessary infrastructure to host world-class concerts and festivals. She is committed to creating a position of Public Art Curator with increased authority. She is also committed to emphasizing Montreal’s history with murals and projections, indicating on street signs the origins of the names, and marking the birthplaces and residences of Great Montrealers.

Culture Montréal: The 21 duties of a “more active” mayor

Increase the budget of the Conseil des arts de Montreal (CAM) to $20 million, prioritize the preservation and implementation of affordable artists’ workshops throughout the city, collect a tax on billboards to finance culture after the example of Vancouver and Toronto, renegotiate higher amounts from the cultural development agreement with the government of Quebec, and devote a separate budget for the development of cultural districts: these are some of the 21 propositions presented by the organization Culture Montreal, which wants a “more active and more engaged” mayor. Culture Montreal, which defines itself as an independent popular movement and acts in the capacity of Regional Cultural Council for Montreal, also seeks a “concrete and substantial commitment from the mayoral candidates with the aim of accelerating the construction of Montreal as a sustainable, inclusive, and cosmopolitan metropolis.”

CM also calls upon the future mayor to play an important role in encouraging the provincial and federal governments to increase their contributions in order to finance infrastructure and various grant, bursary, and tax credit programs that are essential to maintaining quality artistic activities. The organization also asks that the new mayor appeal to partners on the Steering Committee of Montreal, Cultural Metropolis, at the beginning of his or her term to ensure the full implementation of the 2007-2017 Action Plan and begin developing post-2017 goals. “The next mayor’s four-year term ends in 2017, the deadline for Montreal, Cultural Metropolis’s action plan, as well as the year for several important anniversaries (Montreal’s 375th, the Expo’s 50th, and the 150th of the Canadian confederation),” says the CM, who wants to take advantage of this historic moment to endow the city with “a permanent and exemplary legacy in terms of infrastructure.”

Artists put the pressure on

Artists’ collectives have increased rallies and meetings in order to bring the mayoral candidates to clarify their visions for the development of Montreal and make concrete and steadfast commitments.

On September 29, a collection of several groups and professional associations organized a large rally at the Parc des Faubourgs. Their goal: to ensure that art and culture are part of the electoral debate, that candidates recognize, in a tangible way, artists’ considerable contribution to economic vitality and to Montreal’s reputation on the national and international scene, and that this recognition translates into concrete and steadfast commitments from those candidates.

On October 1, Culture Montreal organizes a leader’s debate. The four main mayoral candidates are invited to present their visions for cultural development and respond to questions from the public.

Translation: Dayna Lamothe & Rebecca Anne Clark

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