Quartier des spectacles: NIGHTLIFE looks back on a summer's worth of partnerships, projects and pow-wows
Another Montreal summer is largely behind us, another completed round of the Jazz Fest, Nuits D’Afrique, Juste pour rire, FrancoFolies, MUTEK, and yet another season where the festival affirmed itself as king. But for the first year, this king had a fitting throne on which to sit on in the downtown core. Given, the Place des Arts and its surrounding theatres have been around for decades of history, but this summer concluded the first fully realized usage of the Quartier des spectacles and the many Montreal events spreading their wings in the partnership’s space.
From daily outdoor dances courtesy of the Montreal Complètement Cirque troupes to the more overwhelming fare of The Roots at Metropolis, the Quartier des spectacles’ territory in the heart of the city was as extensive as it was enjoyable this summer. Yep, for all the advance worries and complaints that faced the entertainment planners over at the Quartier, there finally came the rewards.
If you spent just one active evening along the Place des Festivals during the Jazz Fest, or a lazy late afternoon by Place Émilie-Gamelin you would agree that Montrealers are more than embracing the space. Sure, the renewed green enclaves and pretty overhanging constructions have been years of bad traffic in the making (and perhaps still some months ahead as well), but the Quartier is both a present and future home for cultural acts of all shapes and sizes. From the larger, corporate-sponsored affairs to the smaller scale, this new event-space has turned out to be just that: a Montreal space to be coloured by our art, our music and our performances.
Stéphane Poulin - Les Sphères Polaires
So now that it’s officially August, we can apply some retrospect and look back at the arts and cultural initiatives that were. Namely, the success of the big outdoor stages by FrancoFolies or Nuits D’Afrique and the accompanying multimedia (the Luminous Pathway and architectural lighting) along the Promenade des Artistes. So, to couple that with a little inside perspective, NIGHTLIFE spoke with Pierre Fortin, General Manager of the Quartier des spectacles partnership, about the city’s newly realized space. On the other end of things (and in Part Deux of our QdS feature) we chat with MUTEK’s artistic director Alain Mongeau and Pop Montréal’s Executive Producer Hilary Leftick about actual festival usage of the Quartier’s space. Despite pushing all their buttons a bit, they maintained a line of positives about the Quartier des spectacles’ work this year and a genuinely fair treatment to all types of Montreal talent moving forward.
So what are your goals as a patterning whole in the Quartier des spectacles?
PF: There are three aspects to the job: just hosting the events; the big groups—les FrancoFolies, Jazz Fest, Juste Pour Rire—they were here before, they don’t need us especially, so we just make sure the equipment and the space are ready for them. Secondly, we actively help some event groups, such as Nuits d’Afrique and Montreal First Peoples' Festival and give them a hand moving into the Place des Arts space. Lastly, we house new media projects, such as the 21 Balançoires [by Mouna Andraos and Melissa Mongiat] at the beginning of this summer, or les Sphères Polaires by Lucion media last winter.
Overall, the idea for the Quartier is both to present and consolidate events that are already there and—in the less busy seasons—initiate new artistic projects. All of these things intend to create a new kind of experience for Montrealers. Because, beyond the offer of concert halls, exhibitions and so on that were there before the QdS, we want to enrich the experience in the area so people can have fun on the street before and after shows.
©Mattera-Joly, Partenariat du QdS - 21 Balançoires
So when will construction on the Quartier be fully finished?
PF: Some parts of the Quartier will be open in the fall. In particular, Ste-Catherine will be open this autumn, which will complete three sides of the Places des Arts. And then there’s the last phase, the fourth side, called Esplanade Clark. And this is where there were initial plans for it to just be an open, grassy space. But now there are new plans to maybe add a skating rink next to Ste-Catherine. These new additions mean the decision process at City Hall isn’t done yet, but the work there is going to start in the fall in any case and should be fully finished by 2013.
Of course, people have found some of the construction work unpleasant and long-lasting, but actually it’s been on fast track here. If you compare it to the Big Dig in Boston, it’s not all that bad, I believe.
Picking up on that theme, is one of your active considerations to showcase Montreal on that bigger, international scale?
PF: Yes, in fact, what we wish is to simply reveal the potential of Montreal. Right now, what has been going on in the Quartier with the outdoor projects is that we’re taking Montreal artists and creators and just staging them, giving them a place to work. Whether it's multimedia, light projects or whatever, we really are allowing them to use the urban environment as a canvas to express themselves.
©Mattera-Joly, Partenariat du QdS
One of the worries with building a larger, consolidated space is that it is then handed over to the bigger groups and events—Jazz Fest, Complètement Cirque—with little consideration for the smaller events. Would you say you’ve actively been combating that?
PF: Yes, of course. Nuits d’Afrique, for example, is not all that big. We started working with them this year. We rely on the big festivals, yes, because they’re there in the primetime. But if you look at what we’ve been doing this month at Place de la Paix, we’re working with SAT and others, including smaller film groups such as Fantasia, CinéMetal, CinéOsheaga, and SPASM. These are partners that aren’t exactly huge and we’ll be showcasing them. So we’re trying to make space for everyone.
Even in our installations and artistic projects, for example, we’re very open to all of Montreal. For last winter’s installation, we had Champs de pixels, which moved to Place Émilie-Gamelin. Then, we went public on an invitation to designers, architects and all kinds of visual artists to propose plans on three areas, Metro Saint-Laurent, Place des Festivals, and Émilie-Gamelin. We had 27 proposals come in. So it’s becoming more and more obvious that the Quartier is open to creativity. It’s open to letting all Montreal artists play with the urban canvas.
©Mattera-Joly, Partenariat du QdS
Since you have so many partners, is there anyone who has asked for the space whom you’ve had to turn down?
PF: Well, we do have to manage our calendar. See, we’ve made it possible for Nuits d’Afrique to be here at the same time as Juste Pour Rire. So we do sometimes have to share space. The first time we worked with Montreal Complètement Cirque, they wanted to put a Chapiteau on the west part, and we talked them out of it to bring them to the Quartier Latin area, where they can work on the street and in Émilie-Gamelin.
One of our responsibilities of course is to allow people who live in the area to…live. We have entertainment, creation and everything, but we want people to be able to live here. Now, they understand it’s not exactly a quiet suburb, but there are limits as well. That’s why, at one point, we tried to cool down a bit on the intensity of the light projects and some of the volume as well.
So how has the local reaction been to those more daily projects—the Minutes Complètement Cirque, or perhaps your Luminous Pathway?
PF: I’d say, yes, one of the most spectacular successes has been the Luminous Pathway. It’s been very much appreciated. We’ve been working on three or four more projects in that area since the Pathway, including architectural projects on buildings along René Lévesque, facing Place de la Paix and Émilie-Gamelin. I’d say that, for workers and residents in the area, the most spectacular change has been Place Émilie-Gamelin. In the daytime, you have people enjoying the fountains, sitting down for lunch at Place des Festivals. There’s a real appropriation by people in that area. They’re not only public spaces for cultural activities, but they’re also real living spaces for daily use. As it used to be, we observed, people didn’t even cross Émilie-Gamelin. But now, everyone’s there, there are picnic tables, people have lunch there. You now have a big mix of clientele that you didn’t have before.
©Mattera-Joly, Partenariat du QdS
One last question for you: how do you deal with the Quartier area's storied history, from the now gone Red Light District and so on?
PF: Well, the decisions on buildings in the area are not under our control. We can carry an attitude or an opinion and we can express it. But for us, the rule for the QdS is that in respect to the soul of the area, you can’t just wipe everything away. I think it’s not the intent of anyone to wipe anything away, to forget and build over. So you have landmarks that should be preserved. And, above all, you carry the right attitude. I mean, the cultural history of Montreal has always been written here. The Red Light District was there before, but even in the Fifties, with the Librairie Tranquille bookstore, la Nuit de la Poésie in the 1870s at the Gesù and more. Everything was here—these are the roots. Lili St Cyr's ghost is still hanging around!
But yes, if we don’t respect that, if we don’t keep in mind that certain places must be there to stay, then we’re going to end up like Disney World. No one wants a coquille vide here. We have to maintain the local creativity. Because when tourists come as well, they do appreciate authenticity. When they go into the Belgo or L’Astral, they understand and feel that these are real places. They are not tourist traps. You have the real cultural vibrations of the city here, you’re with Montrealers. That’s the value of the place and that must not change.
©Mattera-Joly, Partenariat du QdS
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