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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 8, No. 1

Le Centre Pierre-Péladeau Marks 10 Years

by Jay Alexander Poulton / September 2, 2002

Version française...

The objective is to break the tendency to view the arts as something separate from people's daily lives and to convince governments and private companies of the viability of the artistic community.

When the house lights go down and the audience begins to murmur with excitement, few of those murmurs are about the work that goes on behind the scenes. That excitement is a testament to the months of marketing, sales, and artistry that go on prior to raising the curtain. Such is the case for the Centre Pierre-Péladeau. Since its opening 10 years ago, it has gone from a simple venue for music and dance, to a cultural centre whose mission is to bring to its stage a wide variety of artistic talent from around the world that continues to challenge the diverse audiences of Montreal.

Director Eric Larivière considers the arts to be for the community, part of the culture that can bring quality into people's lives, but he admits that there is a delicate balance between business and the arts. "It is the job of the presenter to reach the artist and the public and bring both of them together," said Larivière.

To say that culture is a growth industry in Montreal would be an understatement. From classical music to contemporary dance, Montreal is awash in a variety of cultural shows and events that would satisfy any palate throughout the year. For Larivière, this growth provides a unique set of challenges for a non-profit organization trying to survive in an increasingly competitive market. Emphasizing this point he said, "The first challenge in this city is to find a niche within a market that is extremely competitive. The second challenge and probably the most difficult for a centre like ours is simply funding." As a multipurpose venue the Centre Pierre-Péladeau does not qualify for many grants, such as those for concert presenters from the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec, nor grants for presenting foreign artists from the Canada Council. Cash flow is the bane of every non-profit organization's existence. "It's impossible to get a regular loan by ourselves. If we weren't backed by the Université de Québec à Montréal, we wouldn't be able to qualify for the loan we do have."

"I think to a certain extent we have succeeded but there is always room for improvement," Larivière reflected. "In the beginning, we had no money for programming. When I came here in 94, my mandate was to bring people in, so I rented the venue out just to make some money."

The objective, for Larivière and the Centre Pierre-Péladeau, is to break the tendency to view the arts as something separate from people's daily lives and to convince governments and private companies of the viability of the artistic community. "I prefer to focus my pitch to the various organizations on what they will contribute to the artist and the community and what we contribute to the public, rather than the economic activity."

Lately, however, that pitch has become harder to get across. With the recent downturn in the economy and the reluctance of cash-strapped governments to invest in the arts, the competition for grants and private money has become an increasingly difficult arena for non-profit groups. This has forced venues like the Centre Pierre-Péladeau to come up with increasingly creative ways to sell their ideas to the government and private companies. "The challenge is to get the business community interested in the project you are trying to put together and get them to like it," said Larivière. "Then you can develop a relationship." To this end, the Centre has allied itself with companies like GE Capital, Hydro Québec, Caisse de Dépôt, and Caisses Desjardins. Developing those relationships is essential for groups seeking a platform to get their art out into the public sphere.

In addition to offering artists a venue for their work, the Société du Centre Pierre-Péladeau does promotional work as well by printing over 300,000 glossy programs to market the shows, distributing the tickets, and working with media partners like Radio-Canada to advertise the events. The Centre has also set up a program called Top 5 that offers a special ticket price for High School and CEGEP students between the ages of 12-18. Without this support system many shows of the kind presented at the Centre might not normally be seen on any other stages in Montreal. Many venues survive by presenting a more popular series of concerts that attract the large audiences and the advertisers that come with that popularity. Larivière admitted that a more popular program would make things easier but responded confidently: "Concert music is what I call high art but it can be popular too. I could try to bring in someone like Bruno Pelletier and we would sell tickets for sure, but that is not what the Centre is about. We let other venues take care of those types of show."

For its tenth anniversary the Société du Centre Pierre-Péladeau plans a special series of concerts representative of the Centre's history and what its administrators hope to feature in the future. The main gala on Sept. 5, will show what Larivière calls a concert of classical and world music made in Canada. Artists from different cultural backgrounds and communities throughout Canada will gather for a show that he says represents what the Centre's mission is about. Larivière added that they are using the anniversary as a means to raise money for a fund to help develop young talent. "It is through events like this that we show what we have been and what we intend to become." 

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