Diversity: Report on the Montreal Session

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

Report: Jennifer Waring

The final session of CNMN’s rolling national conversation on diversity focused on the issue of mandate – specifically, the ways mandate might help achieve diversity goals, and the ways that aesthetic mandate might conflict with diversity goals.  The discussion ranged widely, though, as people spoke about the all the pressing diversity issues.

The session began with a moderated full group discussion involving invited guests and audience seated in circle formation; it was also available to others via live streaming. Afterwards, a short trust-building exercise helped participants change gears in preparation for intense, break-out discussions.

The Panel


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.

Opening remarks moderator by Patricia Bouschel:

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

Key comments & ideas:

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.
  • Age, income, gender identity, sexual orientation.
  • Giving opportunities to marginalized communities.
  • Manifesting diversity in all steps of the production of a work of art.

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

Funding: Arts councils versus other forms of support
Some background

Arts councils came into being following the Second World War. The world we live in, as artists, is 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, signatory countries were encouraged to foster arts and sciences. 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. – Tim Brady

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


  • Some level of financial security is necessary in order to be able to dream artistically.
  • Arts councils and other public funders don’t always recognize and reward people who create outside the norm. By their nature, councils can only assess work and artists through certain points of reference, or dimensions.
  • It’s important for the community to figure out how to operate independent of public support.
  • Collective action is necessary in order to take control of the situation and ensure fair access and fair pay.
  • Grassroots fundraising is another means of funding.
  • In situations of oppression, it is up to the people in power to share their privilege. They should ask how they can help.


  • Pursuit of diverse practices in music should begin with early learning.
  • It is important to acknowledge every community’s right to define its education system.
  • New Music as currently practiced requires a lot of training. Not a bad thing, but it amplifies the challenges to participation.  And it intersects with other systemic problems, such as pedagogical models that come out of an historical Western European art form dominated by white, male practitioners. Instead, we need to connect with other modes of access and ways of creating that are not coming from restrictive traditions.
  • An audience member nervously offered that as a white male, at music school he did not feel he was a part of any privileged Western European white male tradition, and he doesn’t he feel part of any other model, either. Doesn’t know where he fits – hasn’t been given a lot of support.
  • Observation: most people 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. More diversity at the performance end requires more diversity in early music education.
  • Harvard University has recently made a change to its music curriculum, removing traditional theory courses, replacing them with critical listening course and courses in how to think about music.

Role Models

The question of models is really important… having visible models, this is true of all careers and fields for that matter.  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 (the first woman to receive a doctorate in electroacoustic composition from the Université de Montréal)

  • How has society changed in the past few decades? 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 the issue. – Ida Toninato

  • There is a need for organizational role models, as well. Said one audience member: 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.
  • Organizations need to reflect values that are outside the market economy, outside hierarchical models.

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: encouraging equity and diversity

  • Performers need to look for repertoire from diverse composers.
  • Many factors to consider in programming. You may not be able to achieve everything in every concert. You have to find a balance between addressing the issues and maintaining artistic liberty.
  • By default, we are participating in the systems that have been put in place by a colonialist society with racial and gender biases.
  • An example of the artistic mandate challenge: the mandate of Martin Heslop’s series Les Sympathiques is to program music that is interesting (technically or semiotically) or innovative, and this already skews the available pool of candidates. It’s a challenge to figure out how to reach out to other demographics than your own.
  • Equity in artistic programming is not just a problem in music: 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.
  • Importance of developing a daily artistic practice that includes an awareness of being part of a diverse culture.
  • Artistic decisions should not be made only to meet diversity criteria.
  • Orchestral music programmers and mainstream cultural programmers also need to have this conversation because their programming practices lack cultural diversity.
  • Tokenism: It is insulting to be programmed 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 countered that observation with a different example: 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 of SuperMusique: not enough women are making music. It is thirty years later, have things really changed as little as that?

It’s true of SuperMusique. Punk group (5 women), DJs (2 women), same story as SuperMusique (same goals as Joane Hétu and Danielle Palardy-Roger). – Ida Toninato

Perhaps the discrepancy between male and female might travel across cultures, but as a jazz musician if I’m playing something from my traditional repertoire, I’m dealing with compositions that are exclusively white. – Martin Heslop

Production, audience

Three useful actions for presenters/producers:

  • Keep your door open (research continually, reach out habitually.)
  • Ask yourself whether the people you want to attract are there, and if not – why not?
  • Evaluate outcomes. How much responsibility are you willing to take?

Performers need to think about how people might feel more at home in classical music performance spaces.


Summing up

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 suggests 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.

Smaller group discussions

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