Ben Marc Diendéré will have his work cut out for him: after eighteen trying months for the cultural community, the entrepreneur and head of public affairs and communications for VIA Rail becomes chairman of the board of directors of the Conseil des arts de Montréal (CAM) . The organization, which has been in great demand since the start of the pandemic, entrusts its reins to a philanthropy “enthusiast” with a vast professional network to help him implement his action plan, shaken by the events of recent months.

“My first concern will be to diagnose the effects of the pandemic on Montreal’s cultural environment”, abounds Ben Marc Diendéré, met in the offices of the Arts Council before taking office. “And it is not over, this pandemic. With the 4e vague, we are currently discussing the vaccine passport and the questions that its application will have ”on the frequentation of cultural places by the public. The consequences of the pandemic “are a concern, and I compare [le diagnostic à faire] to a war effort: in a war, everything stops. To be able to set off again, we must first assess the damage ”.

The signs of this damage are already appearing. If all creators suffered during the health crisis, the different sectors are not all equal in the face of the effects of the pandemic, recognizes Nathalie Maillé, general manager of CAM. “The first feature that we saw appearing and which was not at all on our radar, is [la crise dans] circus arts, she notes. It was a tidal wave for a fairly simple reason: our circus artists pretty much just work internationally. Without the possibility of touring, they stayed at home ”.

[Les conséquences de la pandémie] are a concern, and I compare [le diagnostic à faire] to a war effort: in a war, everything stops. To be able to set off again, you must first assess the damage.

The dance sector and then the other performing arts also suffered greatly. “The more artists depended on the international market, the more CAM had to find a way to meet their needs. In 2020, the CAM received 66% more requests for financial assistance compared to the previous year. The sums granted represent 17.7 of an annual budget of nearly $ 21 million, 95% of which is paid by the Montreal agglomeration, the remaining 5% coming from donors and patrons.

The thorny financial question

Several specific measures have been put forward by the Council to support the community, such as disbursing as quickly as possible the sums allocated to artists and organizations and entertaining in direct aid programs those intended for aid to the export: “We were starting to set up programs to develop talent internationally, through agreements with other cities and [le financement] of creative residencies. We repatriated everything, ”explains the general manager.

In the medium term, the sinews of war evoked by the new Chairman of the Board will be financial. If, for the first time in its history in 2020, the CAM saw its annual budget cross the $ 20 million mark thanks to an increase of nearly 10% granted by the Plante administration, Ben Marc Diendéré and Nathalie Maillé recognize that the budget will be “insufficient” to meet the demands of a cultural milieu which will take years to recover from the effects of the pandemic.

“It is exceptional, the pool of creators in Montreal, we must support it, otherwise Montreal risks losing its status as a Canadian cultural metropolis” in favor of Toronto, warns the Director General. “I have not yet had a conversation with the candidates for the municipal elections, but we will get in touch with them,” assures the president, who was senior director of institutional relations, public affairs and corporate at Quebecor Media and who still sits on the board. CA of the University of Montreal.

As soon as he takes up his post, one of his objectives “will be to attract more funds from sponsorship, and I believe that I can be a spark plug for that,” says Ben Marc Diendéré. It would be good, for example, to start identifying certain areas [de l’économie] who might be interested in culture and the arts. You have to really get people interested, not just build a sponsorship program that you email yourself. […] In a city like Montreal, with its companies working in cutting-edge sectors, I am convinced that there is work to be done. I am convinced that entrepreneurs are also concerned about the quality and distinctiveness of their living environment ”.

Diversity even in sponsorship

Finally, another CAM priority is reflected in the appointment of Ben Marc Diendéré as Chairman of its Board of Directors: an openness to diversity that more faithfully reflects Montreal society. Thus, the Burkinabé of origin becomes the first black to chair the Board of Directors. “Shattering glass ceilings is the story of my life! ”, He said, underlining the opening of the CAM, whose board of directors has nearly a third of members (6 out of 21) from diverse backgrounds, and more than half are made up of women.

In addition, the amounts that recently increased the CAM budget have been directly invested in inclusive programs, says Nathalie Maillé: four new programs have been created to support Indigenous arts and nearly $ 2.2 million “have been devoted to artists, collectives and organizations resulting from cultural diversity ”.

Incidentally, part of the solution to CAM’s philanthropic challenge may well lie in diversity. “Who has ever gone to my community to find the richest man and get him interested in investing in culture?” Asks Ben Marc Diendéré. Philanthropy is no longer just a question of Anglophone or Francophone patrons. In Montreal, philanthropy is still the business of whites. And yet there are many people within [de la diversité] who can contribute, and I’m sure they would be very happy to do so. We have to go find those who would like to get involved – on this issue, we have forgotten them. You have to integrate them. “

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