The CAM at 60

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This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

“To be innovative, you need to have the means to take risks.”

The Conseil des arts de Montréal is celebrating its 60th anniversary. To mark the occasion, La Scena Musicale takes a look at the high points of this institution’s history, its contributions to Montreal’s artistic scene, and the prospects for its continued development with president Jan-Fryderyk Pleszczynski.


What moments have been turning points in the evolution of the Conseil des Arts de Montréal?

One of the highlights is definitely April 18, 1956, the date that the institution then known as the Conseil des Arts de la Région Métropolitaine de Montréal was created. The idea came from mayor Jean Drapeau and aimed to promote the development of the arts in Montreal, which was seeing a great deal of artistic buzz at the time. The new Conseil des Arts was to fund the area’s artistic companies.

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There was a transitional period from the end of the 1980s until the mid 1990s. At the height of the CAM’s ambitions, the late mayor Jean Doré allocated significant funds to the institution, raising the budget from $2.6M to $9M and allowing us to increase the number of organizations funded from 90 to 207.

Another high point, in my opinion, was the first edition of the Grand Prix du Conseil on March 10, 1986. The Théâtre Sans Fil won the award for Le Seigneur des anneaux (Lord of the Rings). It was the only event that brought together artists, cultural entrepreneurs, municipal politicians, and businesspeople. And that’s still the case today.

The first decade of the 2000s was difficult, but testifying to our creativity, we continued to develop our activities all the same. We put programs in place that allowed us to include more up-and-coming artists and greater cultural diversity. Today, immigrants to Canada make up close to 40% of the population of Montreal. The CAM became a trailblazer for cultural diversity, for the next generation of artists, and for business-arts partnerships. We’ve also conducted a review of our governance.

Since 2014, mayor Coderre’s administration has injected another $500,000 each year. Our budget has now reached $14M, allowing us to increase some components of our activities and programs and to welcome collectives into our programs.

What do you think has been the most important achievement of the CAM?

The thing that most characterises us is our proximity to artists and the organizations on the ground. The presence of our employees in every kind of artistic experience that Montreal has to offer is a powerful thing. Add to that the expertise of more than 80 volunteers, artists, and cultural administrators who are involved in our peer committees (a practise established by my predecessor, Mrs. Louise Roy). We have a dynamic of enriching exchanges that promotes innovative new ideas and a plurality of viewpoints. We can anchor ourselves in the reality of our clientele in order to adequately reflect on the issues of creativity.

I should also mention the Conseil des Arts de Montréal en Tournée program. For more than 30 years, artists from various disciplines have been presenting their works all over the island of Montreal within two distribution networks. We work hand in hand with Accès Culture and with the Association des Diffuseurs Culturels de l’Île de Montréal, and these partnerships have a significant impact. Works that previously would have been presented downtown only are now available at over 150 venues, to the great joy of Montreal artists and audiences.

The Grand Prix is definitely also a great achievement. This annual event presents artists that have had an impact on the artistic scene and is a major part of Montreal’s landscape.

Does the CAM have the means to achieve its ambitions? What are the biggest limits to realizing its goals?

The CAM currently has extraordinary support from the city of Montreal. Our budget has increased each year for the last three years within a difficult context. I’m happy to see that our elected officials recognize the importance of the arts to Montreal. Up to now, their actions seem to support the idea that culture is an economic driver.

But the continued development of our programs requires even more support. All in all, we have little means compared to our needs – for example, large-scale theatrical productions and museum installations, which require large budgets. The same is true for the creators who, with their collectives, explore new forms of expression. In order to be innovative, you need to have the means to take risks. I also believe that the question is to know what the field of action is that differentiates the CAM from other funding organizations, and the reply is simple: the CAM acts as a spark plug, that is to say, we give artists leverage to be able to obtain financial aid from other levels of government and from the private sector. In addition to grants, we support companies and collectives. It requires a lot of investment. And to quote author Dany Laferrière, an honorary member of our board of directors, “The CAM is more than an institution that distributes grants to artistic groups, it’s also an institution that stimulates creativity.”

Translation: Rebecca Anne Clark

This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

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