Last October 21 2015, more than three hundred artists and cultural workers convened at Théâtre Aux Écuries in Montreal to take part in the first Journée sans culture (JSC) for day of reflection that doubled as a symbolic strike. They were joined by numerous other groups and organizations from Montreal and elsewhere in the province who manifested their support in a variety of ways. The day as a whole was dedicated to marking a moment of collective pause from the frenetic rush that often sidetracks us from a fundamental question: what do we want?
The Journée sans culture is a thinly veiled indictment of the Journées de la culture, an event that sings the praises of cultural “wealth” yet fails to provide appropriate compensation to the artists and organisations at its centre. It is, more broadly, a pointed response to initiatives that are content to cheer on a consensus that is simply nonexistent: policies are being drafted in our name but without our consultation, and lauded decisions are being made that leave us in a state of precarity that has become humdrum and, unfortunately, systemic. The situation is alarming. We seem to be caught in a political paradox where culture is touted as a mighty economic engine, but where everyone wants to skimp on the investments that would ensure its healthy development – an attitude that became glaring in the recent $2.5 million worth of cuts to culture from the province.
Sustained by the work of close to fifty volunteer artists and cultural workers, this initiative was and continues to be conducted in a spirit of self-management, at a distance from existing institutional frameworks. In 2015, at Théâtre Aux Écuries, but also in other locations in Quebec, we were joined by colleagues from across the disciplines – theatre, cinema, dance, visual arts, media arts, illustration, literature, puppetry, art history, etc. – to talk about urgent and essential issues. Together we compared experiences, shared ideas, and even traded a few volleys over the badminton net.
Eight thematic discussion tables were set up, moderated by individuals from the arts milieu. A toolkit provided participants with basic questions concerning each of the subjects, addressed in an open manner between 9 am and 5 pm:
- Between gift, resilience and exhaustion: how to work and up to what point?
- Market, philanthropy, or state: who supports whom?
- Community, investment and capture
- The artist-as-entrepreneur: the only horizon that remains?
- Between monologue and dialogue: how to resonate in the social field?
- Thinking new models of organisation
- Speech and frozen tongue: the beginning of a lexicon
- Nous & Nousses