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Artists, great ambassadors for Quebec

Quebec artists are frequently presented as the best ambassadors for Quebec, noting in particular the worldwide success of singer Céline Dion, playwright Robert Lepage, choreographer Marie Chouinard, director Denys Arcand, painter Jean-Paul Riopelle, the creator of the Cirque du Soleil Guy Laliberté, or the conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin. It is true that in proportion to its population, Quebec produces a large number of talented artists. Pioneers such as the poet Émile Nelligan were a bright light in the 19th century and today are part of Quebec’s cultural heritage, but it was only in the second half of the 20th century that Quebec artists truly blossomed. Since then, artists have benefited from training schools, cultural institutions, and government support programs, and have had access to a market in which they could make a living from their art. European influences, especially from France, as well as North American and multicultural influences, have also increased the creativity of Quebec artists and the originality of their works. Quebec offers a wide range of high-quality cultural and artistic products.


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Quebec’s artistic heritage

The artistic heritage of Quebec is celebrated in the names of theatres: Louis Fréchette Theatre (writer, 1839–1908), Wilfrid Pelletier Theatre (musician, 1896–1982), and Albert Rousseau Theatre (painter, 1908–1982). This heritage is also reflected in the names of prestigious awards: the Félix Awards (Félix Leclerc, singer, 1914-1988) and the Olivier Awards (Olivier Guimond, humourist, 1914-1971). It is also present in institutions such as the Cinémathèque québécoise (film collections) and Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (collections of printed works and sound recordings), in critical editions of old works such as the Bibliothèque du Nouveau Monde, or a vast synthesis such as the Dictionnaire des œuvres littéraires du Québec. It is alive and well and a source of inspiration for film, television and musical interpretations and adaptations, including the works of La Bolduc, Germaine Guèvremont, Claude-Henri Grignon, and Gaston Miron. The Quebec museums display works of art by Quebec painters from the 19th and 20th centuries, and collect the works of Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Côté, Clarence Gagnon, and Marc-Aurèle Fortin. Defining moments in the artistic history of Quebec, such as the appearance of the Total Refusal manifesto in 1948, are frequently mentioned, analyzed, and commented on.

However, these classic moments in the heritage of Quebec should not overshadow the proliferation of contemporary Quebec artists.

A diversified music industry

Although the songs of Gilles Vigneault, Jean-Pierre Ferland, Beau Dommage, Harmonium, Marjo, Offenbach, Ginette Reno, Robert Charlebois, Diane Dufresne and the Colocs, among others, are still played on the radio and are familiar to many Quebec listeners, today they are joined with the sounds of the Trois Accords, the Cowboys fringants, Éric Lapointe and Jean Leloup, the Boulay sisters, Pierre Lapointe, Safia Nolin, Marie-Mai, Yann Perreau, and so many others, as the music business in Quebec is especially dynamic. Televised singing competitions such as Star Académie or La Voix have impressive ratings, proving that audiences in Quebec have a longstanding interest in singing. In particular, the Gala de l’ADISQ and the Festival international de la chanson de Granby also help young artists to make a name for themselves and break out into the industry.

In classical music, several well-known pianists, such as Louis Lortie and Alain Lefèvre, the violinist Angèle Dubeau, the Violons du Roy chamber orchestra, and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra contribute to the good reputation of Quebec musicians and music interpreters at the international level, and help expand classical music in Quebec.

Quebec stars, on a screen near you!

On the small screen and the big screen, Quebec stars shine with their ingenuity and talent. Despite limited financial resources, the movie industry in Quebec has successfully created masterpieces that have won numerous awards at the Oscars and the Cannes Festival, including films directed by Denys Arcand, Denis Villeneuve, Jean-Marc Vallée, and Xavier Dolan. In Quebec, several films have left their mark, such as La guerre des tuques, C.R.A.Z.Y., the popular Bon Cop, Bad Cop and De père en flic, as well as the emotional Incendies, Monsieur Lazhar, and Mommy. However, the film industry is not very old in Quebec; the first full-length fiction movies were produced in the 1960s.

Quebec audiences were captivated by television as soon as it entered their homes in 1952: the dramas Les belles histoires des Pays d’en haut, Le Survenant, and later Les filles de Caleb, as well as the children’s show Bobino, are among the great Quebec classics. More recent shows, including La Petite Vie, Les Bougon, Un gars, une fille, and Virginie, and youth shows such as Passe-Partout, Bibi et Geneviève, and Dans une galaxie près de chez vous, have also been very successful. Today, series such as Unité 9 and District 31 compete with American series and have remarkable ratings. In addition, the record ratings of about three million viewers for La Petite Vie and some episodes of Bye Bye, Radio-Canada’s end-of-the-year review, represent about half of all Quebec television viewers and attest to the attachment that viewers have for the creators of these shows. A number of Quebec comedians have also made a name for themselves and launched careers in the United States and in France, including Caroline Dhavernas, Karine Vanasse, Évelyne Brochu, Suzanne Clément, Marc-André Grondin, and Sophie Nélisse.

Quebec literature

In the literary sphere, several 20th-century authors, including Yves Thériault, Hubert Aquin, Jacques Godbout, Réjean Ducharme, Gaston Miron, Claude Gauvreau, Marie-Claire Blais, and Denise Boucher, are among the classics of Quebecois literature. They are taught not only in Quebec and Canada, but also in literature departments in other countries. Today, dozens of publishing companies publish hundreds of titles every year. Several authors are quite popular, such as Dany Laferrière, a Montreal author of Haitian origin was recently accepted into the Académie française, Marie Laberge, Michel Tremblay, the Vietnamese Kim Thúy, and Victor-Lévy Beaulieu. All genres and all styles are represented: novels, poetry, theatre, essays, science fiction, fantasy, history, crime fiction, chick lit, young adult, etc. Each year, numerous book fairs in Montreal, Quebec, Rimouski and Trois-Rivières bring together thousands of authors and readers and are a strong promotion for reading. The literary industry also benefits from cultural promotion platforms such as the radio program Plus on est de fous, plus on lit! and the magazine Les libraires.

Quebec theatre, from Belles-Sœurs to Incendies

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Michel Tremblay at the Salon du livre de Montréal, 2017

Contemporary Quebec theatre first became known through pioneers such as Gratien Gélinas and Marcel Dubé. However, the Michel Tremblay play Les Belles-Sœurs, staged for the first time in Montreal in 1968, was a turning point. It had an immediate impact, and since then it has had long-lasting international success. Les Belles-Sœurs caused a sensation with its use of joual, the popular form of speech in working class neighbourhoods of Montreal. Quebec theatre then underwent a period of growth and diversification: the emergence of feminist theatre and experimental theatre, with Denise Boucher’s Les fées ont soif, Claude Gauvreau’s La Charge de l’orignal épormyable, and Ha ha!… by Réjean Ducharme, in particular. Artists such as Robert Lepage (La Trilogie des dragons) and Michel Marc Bouchard (Les Feluettes) have taken up the torch and ensured long-lasting recognition for Quebec drama. Today, more than sixty professional theatre companies offer varied programming, especially in Montreal and Quebec City. The Ligue nationale d’improvisation (LNI), created in Montreal in 1977, has also spawned several offshoots across Canada. The dramatist of Lebanese origin, Wajdi Mouawad, who was very successful in the 2000s with his tetralogy Le sang des promesses, is further evidence of the diverse influences enjoyed by Francophone Quebec, not only in the theatre, but also in several other disciplines. Lastly, publishing companies dedicated to theatrical works, such as Leméac and Dramaturges Éditeurs, promote the publication of dramatic works and contribute to the vitality of this discipline.

Quebec visual arts, displayed in Montreal, Quebec, Ottawa, and around the world

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Jean-Paul Lemieux, Claude Le Sauteur, and Francesco Lacurto at Isle-aux-Coudres

Several big names have marked the history of visual arts in Quebec: Jean Dallaire, Alfred Pellan, Jean-Paul Lemieux, as well as the signers of the Total Refusal, including Jean-Paul Riopelle, Paul-Émile Borduas, Fernand Leduc, and Marcelle Ferron. Today, the painters Marc Séguin and Corno have made names for themselves in the New York scene. Thanks to a well-developed network of art galleries, visual artists can make a living from their art. Museums are also acquiring works of art, such as the works of the BGL trio, who stand out in the contemporary art scene through their ability to shine on the international stage and connect with the general public. Associations such as the Regroupement des centres d’artistes autogérés du Québec and the Symposium international d’art contemporain de Baie-Saint-Paul allow artists to progress, publicize their works and advance their careers. Also of note are the major video game studios in Montreal and Quebec City, which hire graphic artists, designers, and artists in other technical-creative fields.

Cirque du Soleil, a Quebec business

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Cirque du Soleil

Quebec is also renowned for its circus arts, thanks to, among others, the international success of Cirque du Soleil, which has created an original form of “new circus.” Cirque Éloize and Les Sept doigts de la main, for example, as well as other young companies, have since continued to follow their own creative path, and perform in front of an enthusiastic public. The circus schools in Quebec City and Montreal make important contributions to the growth of this discipline.

Quebec comedy industry

In Quebec, Francophone Canadians can pursue a career in comedy, considering the remarkable development this industry has experienced in Quebec over the past thirty years. The École nationale de l’humour, created in Montreal in 1988, has a played a significant role in this expansion. Stars in the Quebec comedy scene are among the most popular artists, and new comedians regularly break into this market, which is still very much alive and well. Since the considerable success of the father of stand-up comedy in Quebec, Yvon Deschamps, in the 1970s and 1980s, audiences have been wowed by the stand-up formula used by Daniel Lemire, Louis-José Houde, Lise Dion, Stéphane Rousseau, Rachid Badouri, Mariana Mazza, and so many others.

Dancers in the Quebec and American spotlights

Dance is also a very dynamic industry in Quebec, especially in Montreal, with internationally renowned choreographers such as Édouard Lock (La La La Human Steps) and Marie Chouinard, who manages her own dance company and has a four-year position as director of dance at the Venice Biennale. Several star dancers have made names for themselves in classical and contemporary dance, including Louise Lecavalier, Kim Gingras, and Nicolas Archambault. Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal and Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal are well-established and reputable companies, who have done much to advance this art form in Quebec.

A prolific and lucrative cultural environment

Culture-loving Quebecers and visitors have a wide variety of options, thanks to the diversity of festivals, events, activities, and artwork of all genres available to them in the province. Institutions that support artistic heritage, producers, broadcasters, training schools, artists’ associations, and development and assistance programs through the federal, provincial and municipal governments, promote the growth of artists and the artistic environment in Quebec in all areas, even if it is still difficult to make a living as an artist compared with many other professions. Described as the best ambassadors for Quebec on the national and international stage, artists nourish, enrich and develop Quebec’s unique culture and make a significant contribution to the Quebec identity.


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