The 400th anniversary as a tool of cultural development, Parts 1 & 2

Culture and Society

The 400th anniversary as a tool of cultural development, Part I

Jean-Thomas Tremblay

With the five presentations in Quebec City of an exclusive, purposely created Cirque du Soleil show on October 17th, 18th and19th, the celebrations around the 400th anniversary of the foundation of the city almost came to an end. Hence, only December 31st’one-million-dollar-worth countdown is still on the schedule of major events.  Daniel Gélinas, who had temporarily left the head of Festival d’Été de Québec to fill the task of President Director General of the Société du 400e anniversaire, will soon see his contract with the Société come to a conclusion after ten months of hard work, which stands as a sign that the celebrations now belong to the past.

In very short period, Quebec City managed to get rid of its inferiority complex towards bigger cities and to prove its willingness to promote culture on a large scale. With the contribution of the four most praised ambassadors of Québec’s culture around the globe, Robert Lepage, Franco Dragone, Céline Dion and Cirque du Soleil, as well as with British superstar Paul McCartney as a surprise visitor, the Société managed to build a schedule of events that did succeeded in fitting the population’s cultural tastes.

In a recent survey conducted by Radio-Canada and Le Soleil, one of the most vivid memories that locals and tourists keep from the festivities is the constant series or concerts, conferences and plays presented at Espace 400e, a recently refurbished area. The interest that is demonstrated towards these activities shows how a city grows in beauty and atmosphere when its streets are filled with festive individuals and groups.

The fear of a post-partum syndrome, meaning a downfall in the number and in the size of cultural offerings, is easily perceivable in Quebec City. What our city truly needs to avoid such a syndrome and to pursue this new tradition of artistic excellence is the promotion of existing cultural infrastructures through development. The Grand Théâtre is a recognized institution and a venue of great quality, which recent renovations made even more welcoming; moreover, the case of the centrally located Palais Montcalm is similar.

The announced development of the Capitole de Québec should act as the cornerstone of Quebec City’s artistic life by going further than the traditional hotel-spa formula that can be found all around the globe.

Next week, I will concentrate on how an alliance between Quebec City’s cultural institutions would bring to the city international recognition in organizing what the Société du 400e anniversaire has proven possible over the past year: a growing, state-of-the-art range of events and, as a result, an amazing local cultural life.

The 400th anniversary as a tool of cultural development, Part II

Jean-Thomas Tremblay

Now that Quebec City has proved its capacity to organize major artistic events and to build state-of-the-art infrastructures to support art of all kinds, the community is ready to enter the second phase of its cultural boom, which must be characterized by unity among local institutions.

In late September, Jean Pilote, owner of Le Capitole de Québec and producer of theater extravaganza Les Misérables and of smash hit Elvis Story, presented a massive development project for his property.  The plan includes an increase in the number of hotel rooms from 40 to 117, the construction of a 400-seat showroom in the basement and the opening of two new restaurants as well as an urban spa, filling the adjacent former YMCA building.

The project got immediate approval from citizens and shop owners of the area, who recognized the amazing potential of this major addition to the tourist landscape.

Le Capitole being situated at the very center of Downtown Quebec City, it will act as the cornerstone of an improved local cultural life.  The grandeur of the huge outdoor shows that were presented this past summer will not be reproduced in a near future, but the city shows a lot of interest in promoting existing buildings and cultural institutions in order to strengthen the artistic life and to transform Quebec City into a true international art destination.

Examples of the city’s excellence in culture relate to various artistic fields.  The OSQ and the Violons du Roy are ambassadors of the quality of the musical offering.  Robert Lepage, the genius behind The Image Mill is, without a doubt, the most important spokesman of the potential of Quebec City in being a center pole for artists from around the world.

Montreal’s Le Quartier des Spectacles (QDS), currently under construction, contains a variety of public spaces and culture-oriented buildings, such as an open area to house summer festivals and a new concert hall for the OSM.  In Quebec City, we are lucky enough to have access to equivalent structures that are, for the most part, already built and still perfectly functional.

One of the best perceived ideas in Montreal’s QDS is La Vitrine, a ticket office located Downtown that offers tickets for a variety of shows and exhibitions in various artistic fields and from a range of producers.  Here, Billetech has the monopole of ticket sales for virtually each and every show.  It would be convenient for Billetech to install a central ticket office in Le Capitole in order to offer tourists and locals the proof of a continuous cultural life.  As access to the shows is made easier, it is predictable that more people will be interested in trying new forms of art, which will create a considerably higher cultural diversity.

If Quebec City keeps its current strategy for its future development, there is no doubt that its culture will become even more diversified and charming than it is right now.