Diversity: A Rolling National Conversation
Report on the Montreal Session: Mandate, a Sticky Issue

Report: Emily Hall

Monday, May 1, 2017 | 1 – 4 PM EST
La Sala Rossa – 4848 boul. St-Laurent, Montreal, QC
Co-presented by the Canadian New Music Network, Innovations en concert and Suoni per il popolo
We would like to thank our partners and sponsors for making this project possible.

The final session of CNMN’s rolling national conversation on diversity focused on the issue of mandate, though the discussion ranged widely – people spoke about what felt most pressing to them. The session began with a two-hour moderated full group discussion with invited guests and audience (twenty-two people) seated in circle formation. This part was also available to anyone connecting via the live stream. Afterwards, a short trust building exercise helped participants change gears in preparation for intense discussion in smaller groups.

Patricia Bouschel, producer / board member of Innovations en concert (Montreal)

Darren Creech, pianist/multidisciplinary artist (Toronto)
Martin Heslop, bassist/co-owner of Café Résonance/concert series organizer (Montreal)
Cléo Palatio-Quintin, flutist/improviser/composer/producer (Montreal)
Ida Toninato, saxophonist/composer/improviser (Montreal)

Isak Goldschneider welcomed participants and acknowledged the traditional territory:

We respectfully acknowledge that the land on which we are gathered is the traditional territory of the Kanien’kehá:ka people. The island called “Montreal” is known as Tiotia:ke in the language of the Kanien’kehá:ka, and it has historically been a meeting place for other Indigenous nations.

Patricia Bouschel gave the opening remarks:

Diversity, multiculturalism, inclusion, audience development; all these keywords have become the lingua franca of public funding guidelines in Canada, guidelines that are strong influencers on the mandates both individual artists and arts organizations adhere to which, in turn, shape the new music community and its output, such as programming and new creations. Let’s assume one speaks against a homogeneously white and male establishment that sets the rules of access to performance spaces and creation opportunities in order to create better mechanisms that will increase participation and foster the careers of those underrepresented by skewed historical paradigms. If great art must reflect the society from which it emerges, can we assume such mechanisms will in fact generate a large enough wave of change that will adequately represent and be relevant to our society today? Is the establishment truly seeking diversity and inclusion that would level access and privilege? Is it merely about acquiring the appropriate language? Are there still valences in the programming and funding that accommodate some groups over others? How is the focus on diversity affecting the mandates of both individual artists and arts organizations in the new music community? What is the interplay between mandates and the elements and dynamics of diversity as they relate to culture, identity, communicating across difference, power differentials and funding policy expectations? Are our mandates truly effective at opening access and invigorating creation? We’ve assembled members from Montreal’s new music community to discuss these notions, among others that will emerge organically from the discussion.


NOTE: the content that follows is often, but not always, presented in the order that it was brought up during the circle discussion. For the benefit of making the information the most useful post-meeting, the content is, instead, organized by topic. Thanks to Stephanie Moore for her note-taking assistance.

Setting the basic terms: what do you understand diversity to be?

Responses from those assembled included:

  • Culture, gender, ways of thinking and creating.
  • The Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (CALQ) has recently adopted a very different definition: diversity is represented by people who are immigrants or first generation citizens from cultures other than British or French [ref. Plan d’action pour la diversité culturelle du CALQ, p.3]
  • People of all different backgrounds.
  • All demographics – such as age, income, gender identity, sexual orientation.
  • Representing the diversity we see outside on the street.
  • Giving opportunities to marginalized communities.
  • Manifesting diversity in all steps of the production of a work of art.
  • Including as many voices as possible at all levels and steps (ie. artistic, administrative, audience…)

“People are in different positions to address diversity in different ways. We need to dismantle systemic barriers personally and collectively at all levels.” Darren Creech

Money 1: Arts councils & other forms of financial support

  • In order to be able to dream about a career in music you need to have a level of financial security.
  • It’s great to have organizations funding art, but if there’s an individual who wants to stand apart, it can be hard for them to get funding. Blues and jazz were not initially considered intellectual art forms.
  • “We live, right now, in a nation primarily descended from European cultures so if you’re trained in that tradition, you’re dealing with that repertoire. The people controlling the funding are often people who have also been trained in those traditions – so that’s the music they recognize as the most valuable, the most interesting, the most profound – so [a lack of diversity] is not really their fault if that is their frame of reference. If you want to change that from a funding perspective, you really need to involve more people from other cultures … [who can expertly identify the projects rooted in non-European cultures to support]. Without that, there’s really no way to bridge that funding gap. I don’t know how you change that otherwise.” Martin Heslop
  • The notion of arts councils came into being following the Second World War. The world we live in is, as artists, profoundly influenced by UNESCO, which stated in a 1945 declaration that if you build a world on commerce and politics, it inevitably leads to conflict. But, if you build a world on commerce, politics, science and art, you will have a chance for peace. Therefore the message to all countries that signed was that if they wanted to facilitate science and the arts in their respective countries, they had to do something about it. Canada initiated the Massey commission in 1949, which eventually led to the creation of the Canada Council for the Arts in 1957. Most of the arts councils in the Western world are all post-war – except for the Saskatchewan arts council, which was created in 1942 thanks to Tommy Douglas’ initiatives with regards to the arts and health care. The whole model which we live in is a profound reaction to WWII and trying to find a solution, in order to avoid the next world catastrophe, through investment in science and the arts.

Money 2: fair access and fair pay

  • We need to take control of our own situation to collectively ensure fair access and fair pay. There is no union acting on our behalf to verify that we all have an equal chance of getting paid equal amounts for our work, and to ensure that marginalized people get equal pay.
  • There’s not always enough money to go around from funders. You don’t always need to go to funders – grassroots organizations are another means.
  • There are so many different tools an artist must possess in order to survive.
  • Societal attitudes can make it difficult for artists to manage the monetary value of their creative work. For example, it’s common for music students to come out of the educational system without having been taught how to ask to be paid for their work, and instead, have felt obligated to take part in unpaid projects – that they should feel lucky enough that people want to listen, that they are doing music at all.
  • In situations of oppression, the oppressors need to give power to the oppressed. It is up to the people in power to share their privilege. They should ask how they can help.
  • Any system that has grants at its foundation is going to leave a lot of people out because it picks a certain number of points or dimensions to break down a population. It’s great that public money exists and has these kinds of mandates, here we are discussing these things that aren’t always on the table elsewhere (private organization may not necessarily be concerned about this perspective, for example). But we do need to focus on figuring out how to make this work as a community and as individuals independent of public support because, at the end of the day, that’s where a vast degree of great art has come from.

Education 1: Childhood Music Education

  • The path towards diversity must begin in childhood. There are barriers that prevent children from studying, creating and experimenting with music.
  • It is important to acknowledge every community’s right to define its education system.
  • Education in whatever form it takes.

Education 2: Higher Learning Education – increase access, change how and what is taught

  • New Music requires a lot of work and training in order to create it, to participate in it, and to listen to it. This isn’t a bad thing, but access to education is an amplified challenge with this type of music because it asks for a lot of investment. This challenge intersects with other systemic problems about how we teach music. The pedagogical models currently in practice remain deeply engrained in the historical art form dating from approximately 200-300 years ago in Central Europe, with largely white, male practitioners. Instead, we can connect to a lot of other modes of access and ways of creating that are not coming from traditions that are very restrictive.
  • An audience member stated that, speaking candidly from a white male perspective, as a music student he did not feel he was a part of the central European white male tradition, but neither does he feel a part of a lot of other models. He is finding it hard to see where he fits in to all of this and he hasn’t been given a lot of support with the things he’s been trying to do.
  • A lack of diversity in education can lead to challenges down the line. For example, a lot of the people involved in Martin’s concert series Les Sympathiques studied jazz in school (as he himself did) where, off the top of his head, 85% of the students are male and 95% are white.
  • Harvard University has recently made a profound change to its music curriculum. It has removed the traditional theory courses and replaced them with (1) a critical listening course and (2) a course about how to think about music. 

“It makes more sense to start by just learning how to listen … because fundamentally the act of listening is the same [no matter the history or genre].” Tim Brady

  • According to history books, composers have been white men. Patricia thinks that institutions have played a part in erasing other people’s contributions. Ideologies are based on upholding these canons, and part of the purpose of this conversation is to explode those canons.

Role Models 1: Individual role models at the professional level and at higher learning institutions 

  • “The question of models is really important… the fact of having visible models, this is true of all careers and fields for that matter; it’s the same thing. A woman, a young girl or a child will not imagine herself in a profession if she has never seen a model, which she can relate to, doing that profession. So, for me, it’s obvious that it’s the same thing for music.” Cléo Palacio-Quintin [Trans. from original French]
  • One of the major challenges is to understand the society in which we live at the moment. In school, our models are our teachers but their experiences date from 20-30 years ago.
  • [I thought that I would] have the same conditions as them. I didn’t realize that the world was changing so fast that I would have to adapt much faster. …What we do with what we have and how we can make it better for everybody is a huge question.” Ida Toninato

Role Models 2: Organizational Role Models

  • There is a need for organizational role models: “the absence or invisibility of something can be debilitating. It means that you have to use so much of your imagination just to create something out of thin air,” said one audience member.
  • It’s also a question of what our values are deep down and what we believe in. This is key, because it leads to community organizations concerned about what is important to give to other people. It leads to tackling issues that are more important than money. It leads to an immense opportunity to work collectively: sharing realities and situations, finding ways to be part of a better community, a better society. Society is something we have built ourselves – it’s our own.

We have to make decisions that reflect what we think and what’s important to us because this is what we will leave to others.” Ida Toninato

Artistic Programming: representing equity and diversity through your own choices

  • Performers need to diversify the people whose work they play.
  • In programming, there are so many factors to balance in every concert. You can’t achieve everything in every concert. Some concerts will be all men, but there is a broader context behind making this decision. You have to find a balance between addressing the issues and maintaining real artistic liberty, even though it’s really complicated. Awareness is 60% of the battle.
  • By default, we are participating in the systems that have been put in place by a colonialist and racist society. We need to seek out the voices that we want to program or commission. We need to find a balance and the work is forever ongoing. In spite of the huge canon of orchestral repertoire, only about 1.8% is written by women.
  • The mandate for Martin’s concert series Les Sympathiques is to program music that is interesting (technically or semiotically) or innovative, which already skews the available pool of candidates. Figuring out how to reach out to other demographics that are not your own is a challenge.
  • Patricia points out how artistic programming is not just a music problem: only 4% of the art in national galleries is by women despite the fact that 60% of the artists who have come out of academies since 2000 have been women.
  • It is important to develop a daily artistic practice that includes an awareness of being part of a diverse culture. Artistic decisions should not be made solely upon meeting diversity criteria.
  • Orchestral music programmers and mainstream cultural programmers also need to have this conversation because their programming practices lack cultural diversity.
  • It is insulting to be approached with a programming opportunity just because you’re a woman.
  • New music creators are inherently looking for diversity, and they give lots of value to someone who comes from elsewhere. Improvised music in particular celebrates new approaches to music making. Cléo gives the example of Ensemble SuperMusique. She has noticed that the diversity found among its members reflects that diversity found in Quebec society. They really value someone who has come from elsewhere, who brings new attitudes, new ideas, new ways of playing. The programming situation is much tougher for orchestras. In the classical canon, there is such a long, predominantly male, tradition of music composition. It would be easier to ensure diversity if classical ensembles played more new music.
  • Ida adds another example to Cléo’s observations about improvised music and about the programming with l’Ensemble SuperMusique. She recently participated in a panel discussion where a punk group comprised of five women and a DJ duo comprised of two women presented their work. Both groups formed for the same reason as Joane Hétu and Danielle Palardy-Roger (SuperMusique): not enough women are making music. It is thirty years later, have things really changed as little as that?
  • The discrepancy between male and female might travel across cultures, but as a jazz musician if I’m playing something from my traditional repertoire [which is predominantly black American music], dealing with compositions that are exclusively white is not an issue.” Martin Heslop

Production, audience

  • Useful actions for presenters/producers:
    • Keep your door open.
    • Ask yourself whether the audience you want to attract are there – and if not, why not?
    • Find methods to evaluate outcomes. How much responsibility are you willing to take?
  • Performers should think about what they can do to make more people feel at home in classical music performance spaces.

All-encompassing points

  • “When you’re trying to change a system, it’s very long and it’s very slow.” Tim Brady
  • The lack of diversity is a huge systemic problem. However, the flip side is that each little gesture does make a difference.
  • Creative musicians are the first people to feel the next change, to experience first what the rest of society will feel about 25 years later. In his book Noise (1977), French philosopher Jacques Attali sums up the history of music, starting with the invention of music notation, and states that music making is always the canary in the coalmine. All major social, political and economic transformations in society start with music makers. He predicted, back then, that the digital era and recording technology would radically transform the world. A lot of the problems musicians are experiencing will eventually become an issue in other fields as well.

“It really is important that we have these discussions and it really is important that we figure out some solutions because music makers are going to be the ones to help others. … They’re going to be giving away cars in 20 years and car manufacturers won’t know what to do. Musicians are already experiencing the de-valuing of music on the web.”  Tim Brady


For the second part of the session, participants broke into smaller groups to discuss cards containing shortly phrased thoughts written by fellow participants and redistributed anonymously. The full group reconvened to share summarized ideas.

Community Cards from Halifax, Victoria and Montreal