Liza Frulla, cultural ambassador of the city

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The new president of Culture Montréal wants to build the reputation of Quebec’s largest city. On her radar, we find art and literature, but also heritage, design, fashion and even gastronomy. An interview with this passionate woman.

Culture Montréal’s Director of Communications, Marie- Claude Lépine, recalls that the entire team jumped with joy last fall when they learned that the former Minister of Culture of Quebec, then Minister of Canadian Heritage in Ottawa, was interested in the position. And for a good reason—the organization had found quite an ambassador.

Liza Frulla is the author of the first (and only) integrative cultural policy in Quebec, adopted in 1992. A quarter of a century later, she argues in favour of a public reinvestment in the cultural sector and does not hesitate to draw a direct line between culture and economic growth.

Montreal, in her opinion, is among the major culture hubs of the world, on the same level as Boston or Barcelona, and its attractiveness benefits the rest of Quebec. “It’s simple: no decision-maker in 2017 can deny the social and economic benefits generated by culture,” she asserts. “Montreal’s cultural offering makes this city attractive for investors. You catch more flies with honey! The profit investment ratio is easily multiplied by 10.” The new President of Culture Montréal, who is also the Director General of the Institut   de  tourisme  et  d’hôtellerie  du  Québec  (ITHQ),  believes that a cultural policy worthy of the name has to incorporate the arts (theatre, digital, etc.), heritage, design, fashion and, of course, gastronomy. “Grouped together, this represents 3.3% of Quebec’s GDP—it’s huge,” she explains.

Strength in collaboration

A true unifier, Frulla enjoys the “exciting time” that the current cultural politics in Quebec, Ottawa and Montreal are generating. “It’s fantastic, because it allows those in the field to plan and adopt a common vision, in order to contribute to their own development,” she explains. “For us, it’s the only way to do it. Everyone fights to have their part of the budgetary pie, so culture has to speak loud and clear.”

Moreover, the President of Culture Montréal has very high praise for her former colleague in the Federal Cabinet, Denis Coderre, who is currently mayor of Montreal. “We are lucky to have a decisive, determined mayor who is listening to our needs,” she praises. “He promised $500,000 per year to the Conseil des arts de Montréal [whose board Frulla sits on] and he has delivered on his promise.”

A fine politician, she also has some good words to say for the borough mayors: “Knowing a few of them, they are very proactive.” A synopsis of Frulla’s vision as the head of Culture Montréal would be: positive, based in partnership and dialogue.

Culture for everyone!

Beyond its economic importance, the former Minister conceives of culture as a social benefit that contributes to the community well being. “If there is one domain that can help us to counteract hatred and to build bridges between individuals, it’s definitely culture,” she states. “That’s why the support of decision-makers is essential: culture is a tool of social cohesion. Montreal is poetry, theatre, music, gastronomy, but it’s also a lot of different cultural communities. That’s what makes us such a rich society.”

And it’s that same ubiquitous cultural diversity that inspired an institute like the ITHQ, which will be turning  50 next year. The anniversary will, of course, be celebrated in great style in 2018, by the Montréal en lumière festival, which will honour the institute alongside some ten prestigious schools like the Institut Bocuse and the École hôtelière de Lausanne.

But Frulla insists that you don’t have to go into debt to eat and drink well! You just have to pay attention to the quality of the products that you use. “Take a good fresh bread, a ripe tomato, some crispy lettuce and a homemade mayonnaise, and you’ve got a gourmet sandwich!”

Whether it’s about art or gastronomy, this former politician is animated by the same desire to bring culture to everyone. She wants to democratize, to be done with elitism. “Go toward what brings you joy,” she says. “The simple act of immersing yourself, of taking a pause from the commute- job-sleep routine... often it becomes something that you eventually do out of habit.”

This crucial cultural democratization happens, in her opinion, first and foremost through proximity. “Culture should be found in the neighbourhoods so that residents can enjoy it,” she insists. “It could be a group that plays a game near your house, you join in and soon, you’re saying to the guy next to you, ‘This is fun, right?’ and he responds, ‘Well, yeah!’ And there you have it, people are talking who wouldn’t have been talking otherwise. That’s what culture is, and it’s for everyone.”

Frulla reminds us that creators are the first to be inclusive of everyone: “You don’t have to worry. For example, open houses in museums, that’s what they’re for. Artists are delighted to welcome you. They are passionate people, who want to tell you about what they do. For them, it’s a gift that you’re there.” It’s impossible, throughout the course of our interview, not to include Frulla herself in the category of “passionate people”. “As soon as there’s a creative process, there’s a spark,” she says. “That’s what it is, culture in the social sense. It’s the love of beauty. And if you don’t have culture, you don’t have life!”

Liza Frulla and Culture Montréal—it’s clearly a match made in heaven.

TEXT: Marilyse Hamelin

PHOTO: Sylvain Légaré


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