There was much excitement during the inaugural general assembly for DestiNATIONS in the cavernous atrium of the Gaston-Miron building of the Maison du Conseil des arts de Montréal. The names of great writers engraved on the upper echelons of the atrium highlighted the euro-centric nature of most arts institutes in Montreal and the rest of Canada.
Although a good part of the assembly was focused on procedure and the election of the board members, there was plenty of energy in the room thanks to the artists’ performances and the prospects for a new Aboriginal cultural initiative in the city.
By providing a central point for Aboriginal culture in Canada, DestiNATIONS hopes to break this trend with its opening in 2019. After years of work by a diverse cross-section of Aboriginal organizations and artists, the idea to have an international Aboriginal arts and culture centre in downtown Montreal is set to materialize.
Founded as a non-profit by the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network, the DestiNATIONS cultural centre will host several Aboriginal organizations, including Wapikoni Mobile and Terres en vues. The organizations have already begun planning for the increased collaboration encouraged by the coming cultural centre.
The road to get to this point has been long and arduous as recounted by Terres en vues President André Dudemaine, who is also a board member of DestiNATIONS. At first the project seemed monumental with many saying that it cannot happen since every First Nation would want its own cultural centre.
“Unity behind the idea was key,” Dudemaine said of the decision to go with a singular centre representing all Aboriginal peoples of Canada. “If [all the 11 nations of Quebec] went their own way, it would take us nowhere.”
With persistence, the idea for an international art and culture space dedicated to research, education and the dissemination of the arts gained traction and obtained funding.
With the Cree Cultural Centre in Oujé-Bougamou as an inspiration and model, the building will serve as a creative and exhibition space for Aboriginal culture. The goal of the organization is to become self-financing with a potential of over 375,000 visitors annually – tourists, students and city residents would take part in workshops, shows and festivals.
The building itself will be a massive 5,800 square-metre facility in the heart of downtown Montreal. As Dudemaine put it, “proudly announcing that we are here in the city.” The building will house a permanent exhibit, office space, stores, restaurants and a medicinal garden. It will also serve as a gateway to the remote communities as there are plans for collaborations with First Nations and Inuit communities for discovery packages for tourists.
No design has been selected yet, but with only two years until the expected ground-breaking for construction in 2017 there will be much to decide on in the coming months for this non-profit centre, which opened its membership to the public during the general assembly.
Four years from now, the cultural centre will open its doors and host an international conference on Aboriginal people, but until then there is much to be done.