My little family celebrates St. Nicolas on Dec 6 each year, happily paying respect to a tradition celebrated by my partner throughout her Belgian childhood. Transported into our Halifax house it is as much about gathering friends as anything else, and for the past several years two of my daughters best friends have come to spend the night and share in the excitement of waking up to see what St. Nicolas has left in their shoes. Marzipan, chocolate, mandarin oranges, and speculoos cookies…
While our little household uses the 25th as a great reason for gathering together friends and enjoying time together, I can’t help but finding myself wanting to load the tree with presents so that my child may delight in “Santa Claus” and the abundance that I was privileged to experience as a child. Ah, Christmas… While the importance of gathering remains, ideology from our consumer driven society certainly sits more than comfortably at the table. I guess this is so present in my thoughts as I just braved a trip out shopping on Dec 23! Wow!
So, what has this to do with dance anyways?
Part of my wonderful job as an arts programmer involves traveling to different festivals and events to network with colleagues and, well, shop for dance. At the very beginning of December I had the opportunity to spend a few days in my old stomping grounds of Montreal, Quebec for an event called Parcours Danse. A few days in Montreal is all that was required to remind me that some cultures really value their artists and hold a deep respect for the presence of arts and culture within society as a whole. This was profoundly brought home each morning when I showed up at the sire of our meetings at the Centre Culturel Intergenérational in Outremont. Arriving at the CCI (two blocks off a main drag in the heart of a residential neighbourhood), it’s gorgeous architecture announces that you have arrived at something special. Step inside and you realise “intergenerational” is a truly integrated into the Centre’s concept. A small cantine with a bunch of internet stations overlooks a full size ice rink with seating for about a thousand. Continue along the corridor overlooking the arena and you eventually end up in the large conference room where most of our meetings were held. Head up the stairs and you’ll find a number of dance studios… While I didn’t manage a full site visit, what was abundantly clear was that the Centre served the needs of many different groups and these groups were using it. It gave me warm fuzzies soaking up the building’s wonderful energy, pleasing architecture, and just downright progressiveness of thinking.
After a day at the CCI I had to rush off to catch a show at the Maison de la Culture Montreal Nord. Anyone who knows Montreal, knows how incredible their chain of “Culture Houses” are: located throughout the city, the MdlC each have something specific going for them… maybe a theatre, or art gallery, or library, or any combination of these. The MdlC Montreal Nord is far away from downtown; hell, it’s far away from everything! In the same time it takes to drive to the MdlC Montreal Nord you could go from downtown Halifax to Herring Cove!! Imagine getting there on public transport! OK, so you’ve arrived out on the very fringe of North Montreal in what feels like an industrial wasteland and there you find a gorgeous little 200 seat theatre that is brilliant for dance. And you know what else? It’s full!! It’s when I walk into a space like that, out on the very fringes, for a contemporary dance show, and see a curious public manifesting itself in strong numbers I realise the Quebecois have got something going that the rest of Canada just doesn’t get.
With all the hubbub about the Creative Economy, it seems the people of Quebec are well ahead of the curve. Not only do they have an abundance of mechanisms in place that support arts, culture, and creativity across broad demographic and geographic spectrums, but it’s working! People, from children to senior citizens, from posh neighbourhoods like Outremont to more challenged ones like Montreal Nord, are getting and getting involved. It is truly inspiring to witness.
So, what do I want for Christmas? In a nutshell, I want to live in a community where the arts and culture are held in such high esteem that centres devoted to them thrive with activity each and every day. Is this possible in Nova Scotia?