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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 20, No. 3

Cultural Metropolis: The New Cultural Governance

by Hassan Laghcha / November 1, 2014

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Members of the 2007-2017 Action Plan Steering Committee during the launch of 2013 At A Glance. Left to right: Maka Kotto, Jean-François Lisée, Manon Gauthier, Denis Coderre, Simon Brault, Shelly Glover and Manuela Goya.
Members of the 2007-2017 Action Plan Steering Committee during the launch of 2013 At A Glance. Left to right: Maka Kotto, Jean-François Lisée, Manon Gauthier, Denis Coderre, Simon Brault, Shelly Glover and Manuela Goya.

As of 2005, the Ville de Montréal had no policy concerning cultural governance per se,” explains Secretary-General Manuela Goya of the Steering Committee of the 2007-2017 Action Plan – Montréal, Cultural Metropolis. The subsequent implementation of a truly valuable set of policies for culture and the arts in Montreal was to require the co-operation and synergy of all stakeholders involved in the sector. Goya, further elucidating her 2007 mandate, says, “This intrinsic feature of the federalist model, involving various levels of government, demanded a plan of action and a vision to orchestrate and harmonise the needs of all parties at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels of government.” The initial meeting of the Action Plan’s Steering Committee, in November 2007, was attended by some 1,200 participants over two days at Montreal’s Palais des congrès and allowed people involved in arts and culture as well as those in the business community to express their concerns regarding the future of Montreal as a cultural metropolis. The resulting action plan calls for an initiative spanning 10 years with four key priorities: greater access for citizens to arts and culture, the promotion of investment in key infrastructure, the development of funding for organisations promoting the arts, and the expansion of Montreal’s sphere of influence on the provincial, federal, and international stages.

Seven years and nine elections later

Since then, it has been necessary to ensure that the Action Plan’s objectives would remain unaffected regardless of political changes in government. “So far, we have lasted seven years and nine elections in three jurisdictions,” says Goya, as she highlights one of the strengths of the cultural sector. “We cannot fail to agree on the principles concerning culture,” she says before describing the functions and mechanisms of effective oversight adopted by the Secretary-General of the Action Plan’s Steering Committee. The monitoring of commitments is ensured by a co-ordinating committee, which is responsible for the proactive oversight of resolutions to any obstacles that may arise. “This new form of cultural governance and oversight has proved its worth. As a matter of fact, the European Union has praised its innovation,” says the Secretary-General, who notes that the Action Plan’s Steering Committee is “a unique institution in Canada.”

Quartier des spectacles: The first major test

According to Manuela Goya, the Quartier des spectacles project was the first major test of the clarity of the commitments made by various institutions on the federal, provincial, and municipal levels. She enthusiastically posits that Montréal has succeeded exceptionally well in this regard. The proof? “Seven years later, the National Film Board of Canada has moved to the Quartier des spectacles! It’s great news that attests to the value of the work that has been accomplished since 2007.” Nevertheless, there is more work to be done. Libraries, for example, “are still in the process of catching up with the historical and cultural lag in regards to libraries in the English system,” says Goya. She also emphasises that the cultural metropolis also encompasses culture at the community level. In this regard, she details the numerous parks and public spaces specifically furnished for the purpose of engaging cultural and artistic expression in the public sphere.

In summary, “Where there is a will, there is a way! Ultimately, however, we have to be astute and, above all, know that we cannot accomplish the task before us alone.” Goya invokes the principle of quantum physics, explaining that, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” is the founding principle of the mandate of the Steering Committee.

“Of course, projects must be compelling and especially well thought-out,” she explains, admitting that governments are increasingly capricious concerning criteria. Yet, she notes that the criteria are not static. “You can always reconsider them, notably when they concern investments of a strategic nature,” she notes, citing as examples, the Complètement Cirquefestival or the grant of $9.4 million to support the circus company Les 7 doigts de la main, which was announced last July by Culture Minister Hélène David. The latter will enable the iconic troupe to develop a creative centre in the heart of the Quartier des spectacles,thereby contributing to the status that Montreal holds as a world-renowned circus capital.

Paradigm shift

“There is quite a paradigm shift within the business community,” says the Secretary-General. She recounts that ten to fifteen years ago, members of the cultural milieu were reticent to entertain, let alone support, the concept of cultural management. “They were screaming bloody murder because the business community neither knew how to approach culture nor how to speak the language of artists!” Today, times have changed. The age-old question of profitability, or lack thereof, does not even arise. With 91,000 direct jobs in 2012, the arts and culture sector is ranked among the key industries and now represents 5.1% of total employment with 56,000 arts and culture workers. “With these changes, there is now seldom talk of corporate sponsorship. Instead, there is an equal partnership between the business community and those in Arts and Culture. The era of imposed conditions has passed,” she says as she marvels at the progress that has been made in the span of a decade.

The Nantes experience

“As paradoxical as it may seem, it is not the large cities that inspire me the most,” Goya specifies, “but rather the unique experiences of some medium-sized cities such as Düsseldorf, Seattle and especially Nantes!”  She cheerfully addresses the experience of this French city, which in many ways is analogous to that of Montreal. Notably, as a result of the loss of its large port, the power and influence of Nantes was heavily reduced, in a way that is comparable to the economic exodus that occurred in Montréal. “Nantes had the same limitations as Montreal; the people of Nantes turned their backs on the Loire River, like our city with the St. Lawrence,” explains Goya. Nantes managed to recover by engineering a means whereby it would ensure a renaissance: “Nantes and its administration chose arts and culture to spearhead its recovery, encouraging public art and urban planning structured around cultural centres.” Inspiring indeed!

Montreal does it best

As the 2017 deadline for the action plan approaches, can we say that Montréal’s artistic and cultural competitiveness has improved? Goya answers “yes” proudly and with deep conviction. This, she says, is no reason to believe that Montréal is lacking in the ability to contend. The predominance of Montréal as a host city for international meetings is unparalleled in North America. It stands in first place overall, according to the International Meetings Statistics for the Year 2013, published by the Union of International Associations. Goya also anticipates that the city will remain at the top of the ranking in 2014, ahead of New York City, Chicago and Rio de Janeiro for a third consecutive year. It should also be emphasized that Montreal ranked in the Top 5 of Intercultural Cities, according to the co-chair of the Cultural Commission of United Cities and Local Governments, an association of cities responsible for the cultural implementation of Agenda 21, the sustainable development action plan of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. As for the accomplishment of major cultural institutions, the most inspiring example currently, according to Goya, is provided by the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal’s successful launch of the exhibition La planète mode de Jean-Paul Gaultier, which has been on a worldwide tour. This exhibit, which will be presented in Paris next year, was met with worldwide resounding acclaim after touring Dallas, London, Madrid, Melbourne, New York City, Rotterdam, San Francisco, and Stockholm.

A Call for Projects

The Society for the Celebration of Montréal’s 375th Anniversary invites creators to propose projects exclusively designed for this momentous milestone. Their legacies must leave their marks well beyond the 2017 festivities. This call for projects was launched at a press conference with the participation of Montréal Mayor Denis Coderre as well as the Minister responsible for the Montreal region, Robert Poëti. The Minister of Infrastructure, Communities and Intergovernmental Affairs and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Québec Denis Lebel was also in attendance. Proposed projects must follow the guidelines and fulfil the following criteria to be eligible: the project must be exclusively designed for the 375th, it must be held during the celebrations between the December 21, 2016, and December 31, 2017. The project must also provide tourism or socioeconomic benefits that leave a lasting impact beyond 2017. A second appeal will be launched in 2015, which will involve projects with a more local influence to celebrate the 375th in Montréal’s neighbourhoods. As President of the 375th Society, France Chrétien Desmarais advises that “programming choices will be based on the investment gains which will be generated from renewed pride, tourism and socioeconomic benefit.” The 375th Society invites the public to submit proposals via the website at www.375mtl.com/en/call-for-projects

I see mtl – 120 Civic Projects

I see mtl – the civic movement which was recently launched by individuals from the business sector in conjunction with a group of community leaders, hosts a grand debate on November 17 at Place-des-Arts to showcase 120 proposed civic initiatives. One thousand dedicated citizens will take part in this public consultation in order to inspire a new momentum for Greater Montréal.

The organisers of I see mtl invited all Montrealers to share and comment on the project via jevoismtl.com and to lend their support to initiatives contributing to the greater prosperity of Montreal.

I see mtl was developed following the publication of the joint report entitled “Building A New Momentum In Montreal – A Ten-point Revitalisation Programme”. The recommendations made in this report concern four key priority challenges: talent and expertise, business, and quality of life and the environment. One plan suggests creating a scoreboard for Montreal to follow the proposals and measure their impact. The report also recommends that Montreal adopt an index “to facilitate comparison in performance with other Canadian cities.”

Translation: R. K. Basdeo

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