Les Journées de la culture was launched in Montréal in 1997 at the initiative of several individuals who shared a concern about the accessibility of arts and culture. They believed that a significant part of the Québec population was excluded from the benefits of arts and culture. In parallel, non-mainstream activities, including those that were a product of different cultural traditions, had limited access to the ‘cultural market’. A link was made between these two problems, i.e. people ill at ease as spectators/participants in cultural and artistic activities would be less likely to support the arts or become artists, resulting in fewer producers and a smaller audience for diverse works.
The core objective of Les Journées de la culture is to provide free and welcoming access to a broad range of artistic and cultural experiences (including participatory and behind-the-scenes activities) for three days each September. The organizers hypothesized that a first experience in this context would increase the chance of participation in similar activities and experimentation with new activities in the future. A range of complementary initiatives were developed, including public art projects created through collaboration between artists and citizens with support from municipalities, sophisticated communications strategies and high profile events. The Carnet de la culture (Cultural Logbook) was developed to demystify culture for schoolchildren and facilitate cultural experiences that will prepare them to engage with arts and culture (as both producers and audience) throughout their lives.
The founders correctly assumed that Les Journées de la culture could be organized with limited resources by relying on existing efforts of actors involved in arts and culture. They also realized that calling upon the cultural and artistic community to engage in this effort would have a secondary effect of reinforcing the network of actors who could subsequently create other collaborative projects and would become a political force for defending the right to access to culture. The success of this movement can be partially measured by its definition of a new field of ‘cultural mediation’, which incorporates diverse approaches to creating new links between citizens and culture. Cultural mediation is increasingly recognized as a necessary skill for any producer of arts and culture.
Les Journées de la culture was rapidly replicated in cities across Quebec and later across Canada. Culture pour tous has contributed to the development of a pan-canadian version, Culture Days, which launched in 2010. In the 2013 edition 1.7 million people participated in 1573 activities in 825 communities.
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