Simon Brault on art and culture in Quebec and Canada
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Simon Brault on art and culture in Quebec and Canada

September 9, 2019

I am Simon Brault. I am the CEO of the National
Theatre School of Canada and still, for 3 weeks, the Vice-Chair of the
Canada Council for the Arts. The past 10 years
have been incredible ones for the arts in Canada. Over these 10 years I have seem
truly profound transformations – in society itself, with the
evolution of technology; with the increasingly
significant role of cities; with stronger cultural
initiatives coming from the cities and the
provinces; with a change in federal cultural policy. But also, when I first
arrived at the Canada Council 10 years ago, for example,
the iPhone did not exist. During these years, we have seen
profound changes in terms of access to culture, the
relationship that people have with culture, with
dematerialization, mobility, instant access. All these phenomena have
emerged very powerfully in the past 10 years, I would
even say in the past 5 years. I feel that I have had
an extraordinary chance to be able to observe,
try to analyse, comment on, discuss and in a way
‘act’ on all of this at all kinds of levels: as
the director of the School, as chair of Culture Montréal,
but also at the level of the Canada Council for the Arts. At first, I saw the Council
primarily as an organization that funded the arts,
and over the years, I have increasingly come to see
it as an organization that could and must influence the
course of events with respect to the place the arts hold in
our society, in our daily lives. There were many highlights
for me over the last 10 years. I will mention 2 or 3. Maybe one of the most
interesting parts at the very beginning was the chance I
had to work with Karen Kain. Like many Canadians, I admired
Karen Kain before working at the Canada Council. I never thought I
would work with her. And I had that chance of
working with a great artist who achieved an
incredible artistic career. But she was not per se
someone doing cultural policy or managing a board. For her, it was a kind of a
new territory; and for me, it was a chance to interact with
someone coming from a world that I was quite ignorant
of, because I am working with theatre people,
not with dancers, not with classically-trained dancers. It was for me a very
interesting experience. I think we succeeded in
developing a chemistry that was really interesting and
useful for the cultural milieu and for the
Canada Council itself. One of the very defining moments
was when we were contemplating the possibility of doubling the
budget of the Canada Council. It was very exciting even if
did not eventually happen. It was very interesting
to contemplate what if we
could double the budget. What could we do? There were many discussions. And I realized at one point
that it’s not only about money. The future of art in this
country is not all about money. Money is important, but the
recognition of the central place of arts in society is much more
important than anything else. Money will come after, if
the arts are more integrated. Over the last few years,
I’ve had the chance to work with another chair, Joe Rotman. Again it was someone coming
from a very different background than mine, different generation,
and different life experience. And, I think, [what I achieved]
with him and my colleagues on the Board and the
staff at the Council, what probably would be my legacy
– if I have any legacy at the Canada Council -is all this
work around public engagement. This work started with a very
large and vague discussion about notions such as
cultural participation, cultural supply and demand. And I think we all succeeded
over the last few years to articulate something that is
profoundly important in terms of repositioning the Canada
Council for the future, in terms of giving some kind
of new legitimacy for public support of the arts. It is clear for me that if we
only argue the Canada Council is important because it gives
money to artistic organizations and deserving artist, we do
not have a very strong case. But I think if we do what we do
because we want to give access to best of the best of what
could change the lives of the citizens no matter of their
status or their origins, no matter where they live
or where they want to go. I think then we would
have a very strong case, and that case has to be made. For me the re-connection of the
2 aspects of the mandate of the Canada Council – the quest
for excellence in arts and the enjoyment of arts (the
participation in the arts) is something really,
really critical. And I am very proud I had the
chance to be part of these conversations and to play a role
in articulating this vision, and to carry the ball in terms
of communicating it to the general population and the
clients of the Canada Council.

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