Jean-Paul Baillargeon, editor - The Handing Down of Culture, Smaller Societies and Globalization


Québec, its Cultural Policies
and the Handing Down of Culture
in a Time of Globalization

Diane Saint-Pierre*

Québec society is living a paradox common to other “smaller societies,” which are numerically and linguistically in a minority: on the one hand, they aspire to the economic advantages globalization might bring; on the other hand, they need to protect their culture, the core of their identity and its specificity, in order to hand their culture down to future generations. For forty years, governments in Québec have played a decisive role in the development and protection of the arts and culture of Québec. They have created institutions, improved infrastructure and helped support the creation of professional organizations.

The central question raised by the theme of this colloquium, but also by the mandate given to us by its organizers is the following one: in the context of globalization, whose principal characteristic is a struggle to be free of government controls, do Québec’s cultural policies offer a sufficient number of guarantees which at the same time ensure access to the world, strengthen Québec culture, and ensure its handing down to the next generations? I shall try to answer that question in two steps.

The first one is meant essentially to briefly recall the role played by the government of Québec in recent decades. It established a powerful link between Québec identity and the handing down of its culture. The second step brings us to the idea of “thinking globally, acting locally.” In that sense, I shall talk briefly about municipal cultural policies, one of the channels for the handing down of culture. But before that, let’s have a look at the origins of the notion of “cultural policy.”

During recent decades, several international authorities and organizations have tried to define cultural policies, to map them out them, and to give them new orientations. Literature on the subject has proliferated, concerned not just with the notion of “cultural policy” but with themes closely related to it, such as “cultural needs,” “cultural rights,” “cultural development,” “the democratization of culture,” “cultural democracy” and, more recently, themes of “cultural exception” and “cultural diversity.” Like other Western countries, the cultural operations of the Québec government have been influenced by international policies and organizations. Let us look briefly at the evolution of public interventions in that area in recent decades, where several of these central themes can be found.

In Québec, during the 1960s and 1970s, public interventions in the field of culture contributed to the development and of a consciousness of identity as a Québec nation, mostly francophone, and the heir of a rich heritage. Cultural policies and public programmes allowed for the emergence, the building up and the assertion of a new collective consciousness. Cultural institutions, along with cultural production in the literary and artistic realms, heavily supported by the State, are all excellent instruments not only for the handing down of culture, but powerful instruments for solidarity and cohesion through which every citizen of Québec can build up identities, both individually and collectively. The emergence and the development of a Québec identity — no longer simply French Canadian — have outstripped Québec’s politicians with respect to the federal Government.

One of the first developments in that direction was the creation of the Ministry of Cultural Affaires in 1961: Québec’s government asserted its role and responsibilities for the flourishing of the arts, but also for the protection and dissemination of a cultural identity based mainly on francophone language and culture.

Some years later, in a vast survey which ended up with the White Paper on Culture (1965), the Liberal minister, Pierre Laporte, proposed a “cultural action plan,” whose foundation was “cultural identity.” In fact, Laporte tried to expand the scope of his ministry, which had been created four years earlier, over the entire domain of the arts, including cinema, arts and crafts, cultural commodities, sciences, etc.

Chapter 11 , continued >


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