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ELAN: Quebec's Anglo artists embrace out-of-sync identity


Any English speaker in Quebec knows from firsthand experience that language can be a touchy subject in the land of language laws. But over the years, Montreal and nearly all areas of La Belle Province have played host to a vibrant arts scene and the creative English-language endeavours of  artists across nearly all disciplines.


When the English Language Arts Network (ELAN) was founded in 2005, visibility and recognition for ‘Anglo’ artists was low despite a rich history, booming production and ever-increasing quality. A non-profit and artist-founded organization, ELAN’s primary motives of exposure and access have essentially become a delicate matter of navigating Quebec’s linguistic milieu to bring together, showcase and stimulate the production of Anglo art from all disciplines.

 

With Arcade Fire’s big wins at the Grammys and the Juno Awards and Paul Giamatti’s acceptance speech for Barney’s Version at the Golden Globes, among other triumphs, Montreal’s arts & cultural scene has made serious headway on the international stage this year. So much so, that the National Assembly of Quebec’s recently passed resolution to congratulate the province’s artistic achievements specifically noted the integral contributions of Anglophone artists.

 

I spoke with ELAN’s executive director, Guy Rodgers, whose enthusiasm for the arts scene in Quebec, and its English language contributions in particular, demonstrates a proudly unique linguistic-cultural heritage that’s equally embodied by the artists his creative-diplomatic efforts seek to promote. “There’s a lot of very interesting stuff going on, but there’s no sort of brand,” Rodgers says of an English language scene that he laments “is not very strong in peoples’ minds.” Where ELAN comes into this matter, he states, is on a “political, sociological level.”

 

Quebec’s cultural dynamism and the explosion of artistic talent over the last 20-25 years, no small part of which has been Anglophone in origin, have been cited by Rodgers and local artists alike as not only a product of the city’s linguistic diversity, but a viable catalyst for it. Still, as Rodgers notes, “the big problem, the elephant in the room, is whether or not a vibrant Anglo scene threatens Francophone culture.” That, he says, is where ELAN comes in and has a very important role to play with federal, provincial and municipal governments, as well of course, as the Quebec and Canadian public. ELAN’s daunting task, as such, is to convince sceptics that English language culture is not a threat.

 

Rodgers contends, “The real problem is that English language culture is an international juggernaut and a problem almost everywhere in the world. They’re in a serious competition with local culture almost everywhere. Quebec struggles with this and sometimes the English speaking community here gets blamed for being part of that. What we’re trying to do is separate this notion from people who live here, who speak French, who are proud of Quebec, who are great ambassadors of Quebec. We should not be looked upon as the enemy, or even part of it. We’re all dealing with that same problem, this international deluge of foreign culture, and we’re trying to create something that’s indigenous, local, and authentic to the promotion of Quebec. And we can collaborate with our Francophone colleagues to help promote their work.”

 

Noting the benefits of Anglo artists working together as well as with others, in terms of building alliances, doing advocacy and lobbying work and, perhaps most importantly, networking, Rodgers’ intent is to unify a perhaps otherwise fragmented and marginalized Anglo art community while also furthering its integration into the Quebec community at large. The most popular event ELAN hosts is a monthly schmoozer, in which artists are invited to meet, greet, network and collaborate. “Just bringing people together and sharing ideas has been very positive for the community,” Rodgers says, seeming to speak of a community that is anything but exclusive or self-isolating. Rather than countering marginalization with self-seclusion, ELAN promotes an English language arts community that is indeed proud of its unique cultural heritage, yet consistently seeks collaboration outside a homogenous bubble.

 

In fact, ELAN-profiled artists like poet and writer Carmine Starnino, as well as Rodgers himself, cite Quebec and particularly Montreal’s multiculturalism and distinctive linguistic make-up as a direct and prominent source of inspiration for artists of all disciplines. Rodgers asserts that even artists for whom Quebec is only an adoptive home feel a very strong affinity and connection to it. “Even elsewhere in Canada, though they share a language, they feel very distinct,” he notes, suggesting, “It’s probably healthy for an artist not to be too comfortable. By being in Quebec, we’re not fully integrated in the Francophone scene, but we’re stimulated by it and we feel connected to it and it inspires us and makes us different than the rest of Canada. So there’s some kind of an identification that goes on there.”

 

 

With the upcoming launch of an all new website for its now two year old project, RAEV.ca (Recognizing Artists, Enfin Visibles!), ELAN has compiled in depth profiles of 150 artists from a diverse array of backgrounds, artistic genres, styles and influences, as well as a variety of career stages and artists from different regions throughout Quebec. Kicking off a new interactive, user-uploaded mapping service that will use Google maps to show at a glance where English language artists and ELAN members are working, performing or exhibiting in Montreal and across the province, CultureàlaCarte.ca will be the subject of ELAN’s upcoming virtual vernissage. With the site, Rodgers and ELAN are “hoping to collect a history that exists nowhere,” and with the public community entering the material online, including their own thoughts, knowledge and memories, the hope is that the site will become something of a central collection point and a springboard for an entire cultural geography whose future looks bright.

 

Launch Party: RAEV.ca & Culturealacarte.ca
March 31 | 6 to 10 p.m.
Eastern Bloc | 7240, Clark
Free entry + complementary drinks & snacks
Quebec-elan.org