blog

Interview with Guy Rodgers of the Quebec English Language Arts Network (ELAN)

The Quebec English Language Arts Network (ELAN) is a Montreal-based organization that provides support, services and networking opportunities to English-speaking artists of all disciplines in Quebec. Since 2005, this organization has organized various initiatives and events to promote Quebec artists and foster collaborations and networking between them. The organization has a lot to offer anglophone artists who have recently arrived in Quebec and are looking to get connected with the wider community.

Making It Montreal's Louis Rastelli recently interviewed ELAN's executive director, Guy Rodgers, to discuss what the organization and its recent RAEV project are all about.

All visitors are welcome to register and comment on this interview-- have you had any experiences with the organizations mentioned? Do you know of other organizations or projects useful to Anglophone artists in Quebec? Don't be shy! (Feedback can also be provided by emailing admin@makingitmontreal.org).

Guy Rodgers

Executive Director, ELAN

MIM: Tell us a bit about what ELAN has to offer to artists, writers, musicians etc. who arrive in Montreal looking to develop their career in the arts.

Guy Rodgers: ELAN creates a place for newly arrived artists to connect with other artists/ collaborators in person or on-line. The website and monthly newsletter are a convenient single source of information about what is happening across all artistic disciplines. ELAN provides information - in English - about support services and employment opportunities, and can direct newcomers toward discipline-specific artists associations in English or French. ELAN offers a language exchange program that pairs English-speaking artists with French-speaking artists so both can improve their language skills.

MIM: As a longtime participant yourself in the Anglophone arts community in Quebec, how would you say it’s changed in the past ten or fifteen years? Any broad trends, such as closer ties with the Francophone community; demographic changes (older/ younger community, more or less Anglophone artists from outside Quebec); size?

GR: There was a thriving English-language artistic scene in Quebec during the 50s and 60s. A few people moved between the two solitudes, but they were rare. The entire Anglo arts scene imploded during the 70s and 80s, making it difficult for artists to base their career in Quebec. A lot of people left. Fortunately, low rent provided an incentive for others to stay, return or migrate to Montreal. The dynamic Francophone arts scene was also an attraction for many artists. According to the 2006 census, more than 8500 English-speakers work in arts and culture related fields. More than 3,000 Anglos work in film and television alone.

What are some striking changes? Most obvious is the level of bilingualism among Anglophone artists and strong connections with Francophone colleagues. Recent studies indicate that Anglo artists are increasingly bilingual - at significantly higher levels than the general population. Organizations like ELAN, Culture Montréal and Diversité Artistique Montréal help build bridges between communities.

In the 80s, most English-speaking artists felt that living in Quebec had a negative impact on their career. According to a 2010 study, fewer than 50% now feel disadvantaged. The artistic scene in Montreal attracts English-speaking artists from across Canada and around the world. It is also increasingly common to see professional artists based outside Montreal in the Eastern Townships, West Quebec (Gatineau) and other regions.

MIM: Do you recall how you first found yourself part of an arts community in Montreal? How have the challenges facing an Anglophone starting a career in the arts here changed since then?

GR: I came to Montreal to study Playwrighting at the National Theatre School. When I graduated in 1983 there were few work opportunities and little support for Anglo theatre artists, except for Playwrights' Workshop Montreal and an annual amateur event called the Quebec Drama Festival. A few of us got together to re-invent the festival as a professional association, which was renamed the Quebec Drama Federation. The success of QDF inspired the creation of the Quebec Writers' Federation, which in turn inspired the English-Language Arts Network.

The struggle in the 80s and 90s was to stay in Quebec. It was much easier to relocate where these was more work and opportunities. Before the creation of le Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (CALQ) in 1993 there was a distinct impression that provincial arts funding was difficult to obtain for Anglo artists. This is no longer the case. CALQ has been proactive in including non-francophone artists and ensuring that they receive equitable funding. In 2001, the Canada Council and the Department of Canadian Heritage signed a matching grant agreement to provide additional support for English-language artists in Quebec. During the seven years it was in operation, the IPOLC program assisted many artists.

A career based in Quebec is now completely viable in most disciplines. It is easier to find information, support services and collaborators. The downside is that there is a lot more competition for media attention and consumer dollars. The challenge for individual artists and umbrella groups is to increase visibility and reach audiences. 
 MIM: What are some of the other organizations, associations or networks here that can help new arrivals integrate into the arts communities and advance their artistic careers? Do you have specific advice to Anglophone artists working in Montreal?

GR: The Quebec Drama Federation, Quebec Writers Federation and the Montreal Film Group provide good support and resources for their artistic disciplines. Studio 303 is a good resource for dancers. Visual artists and musicians share the challenge of working in disciplines with large numbers of individuals who work in fragmented subgroups (i.e. rock, blues, jazz, techno, DJ, classical etc., see next question.)

MIM: ELAN is a pluri-disciplinary organization-- however, have you noticed any one artistic discipline taking part in ELAN activities more than others? Would you say some artistic disciplines are more challenging to pursue in English in Quebec than others?

GR: Quebec offers a multitude of professional associations. Some make significant efforts to assist Anglos, others not so much. There is a tremendous amount of diversity among styles of music and visual arts. Both disciplines are fragmented and lack support structures, particularly in English.

It is a myth that language is irrelevant to artists working in non-linguistic disciplines like music and dance. The largest single membership group in ELAN is visual artists. A paintbrush has no language, but the artist behind it has to write grant applications, fill out tax returns, and communicate in a multitude of ways. All these essential activities require language. Artists have two options: become fully bilingual, or obtain the information they need in their mother tongue. That is why associations like ELAN exist, both to provide support in English and to help artists increase their French language skills.

It is doubly challenging to work in language-based disciplines. An actor's access to roles is directly proportional to language skills. A singer who can speak to both English and French audiences has greater opportunities to perform. Language-based performing arts remain the greatest challenge to pursue in Quebec. 

 MIM: Would you say that some artistic disciplines lend themselves more to collaboration or participation in group activities more than others?

GR: No. Individuals are more or less inclined to be 'joiners' but all artists have the same need for collaboration and group activities.

MIM: Tell us a bit about the new ELAN project, RAEV, what it has done so far and what is set to come.

GR: The RAEV (Recognizing Artists: Enfin Visibles!) project is a direct response to the proliferation of artists in recent years. RAEV is all about visibility and connecting artists with audiences. The English community in Quebec has a hard time keeping up with all the artists currently working in Quebec. The Francophone community has little idea how many nationally and internationally renowned English-language artists call Quebec home. With the exception of the music scene (Arcade Fire et al), audiences outside Quebec only think of Quebec artists as francophone. English-language artists from Quebec tend to be classified as generic Canadian (Toronto? Maritimes?)

The first phase of RAEV invited fans and friends to recommend artists who deserved to be better known. We hoped to receive a few hundred names but received almost 2,000. Juries then selected a sampling from each discipline that represented sub-genres (eg rock, jazz, classical) as well as regional and emerging artists. The 'group portrait' of 150 artists was unveiled in April 2010 and has been an eye-opener. Most of the people who have responded to our on-line survey discovered more than half the RAEV artists for the first time. (www.quebec-elan.org or www.raev.ca )

The second phase of RAEV is currently in production. It consists of short video profiles of 25 artists and a series of informative articles about how and why each of the disciplines has exploded with creativity. The launch of phase II in 2011 will greatly increase the visibility of English-language artists in Quebec. We are not trying to create a “Anglo Quebec Brand” but to present an accurate portrait of this artistic community, which is still invisible for too many people.

MIM: Have you or your organization learned anything new or notable about the nature and state of the Anglophone arts community through the RAEV project?

GR: The quantity of names submitted to RAEV confirmed beyond all doubt the astonishing number of English-speaking artists now working in Quebec. Almost all are bilingual and actively increasing their language skills. Long-time observers of the scene are uncertain whether this boom is a temporary phenomenon, or the core of a community that will become increasingly visible.

MIM: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Guy, your work is very much appreciated!

To become a member of ELAN, please consult the following link.