Blue Rooms | Who needs new museums?

A year ago, the Legault government launched the ambitious Blue Spaces project, a network of museums that will testify to the history of Quebec’s regions. Welcomed by some and criticized by others, this concept raises concerns and questions, above all: Do we need 17 new museums?

Posted at 5:00 am

Mario Girard

Mario Girard
The press

No doubt the CAQ loves blue. After the Blue Basket, the schools of the future decorated in blue, a blue national holiday, the Blue Spaces project is now taking shape.

A year ago, on June 10, 2021, the government unveiled a major museum project, renamed “Cultural Centers” in recent months, to be built in Quebec’s 17 major regions. The interesting aspect of the project is based on the operation of requalified listed buildings.

“This is the largest cultural project in Quebec in the last 40 years,” says Stéphane Laroche, President and CEO of the Musée de la Civilization de Québec (MCQ), who will act as project coordinator, particularly in relation to the acquisition of buildings, their transformation into museum space and the orientation of the content. “Of course the Maison symphonique is a big project. But that of the Blue Spaces encompasses the entire territory. It’s very exciting. »

Quebec has 300 museums, exhibition centers and interpretation sites that are members of the Société des Musées du Québec (SMQ). But in truth there are more of them, because in 2019 almost 400 museum institutions participated in the Quebec Observatory of Culture and Communication’s survey on the presence of museum institutions.

However, if we observe their spread over the vast territory of the province, we find that the reality varies greatly from region to region. Some are richer than others.

A complementary network?

Could the establishment of a network of ‘cultural poles’ with a specific mandate, namely the presentation of regional heritage, unbalance the existing ecosystem? The tenors of this project ensure that this network is complementary and developed in partnership with other regional museums.

We don’t want to cannibalize what is already being done in the regions. On the contrary, we would like to add, we want to ensure that the Quebec network becomes even richer.

Stéphane Laroche, President and CEO of the Musée de la Civilization de Quebec (MCQ)

When this project was unveiled, members of the Société des musées du Québec expressed certain concerns, including fears that duplicates might appear on behalf of certain regional museums. “We have made it clear that we should not build a Blue Space in a city where there is already a museum presenting the heritage of the region,” says Stéphane Chagnon, Director General of the SMQ.

The SMQ is concerned that there are no impact studies on the arrival of these new actors. “Our other concern is the budgets allocated to museums. Do we take money from Job to give to John? »

A limited budget

A sum of 259 million has been allocated for the development of the Blue Spaces network. It is used for acquiring and converting buildings. A dozen people have been hired so far. More professionals will be added soon. For some observers, this sum is far from enough.

Marie-Claire Lévesque was Director General at the Ministry of Culture and President of the Council for Arts and Letters. The world of culture no longer holds any secrets for them. “Two hundred and fifty-nine million dollars is nothing,” she said. That doesn’t get them very far. With this sum we will be able to develop a few projects, nothing more. »

Stéphane Laroche realizes that the sum will probably not be enough. “Will we reach 17 projects with a budget of 259 million? Maybe not,” he says.

  • Digital model of the Frederick-James villa in Percé with the result of the renovation work

    Image provided by the Ministry of Culture and Communication

    Digital model of the Frederick-James villa in Percé with the result of the renovation work

  • Digital model of the Frederick-James villa in Percé with the result of the renovation work

    Image provided by the Ministry of Culture and Communication

    Digital model of the Frederick-James villa in Percé with the result of the renovation work

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Quebec has already announced 21 million to transform the Frederick-James villa in Percé into the Espace Bleu, which will be inaugurated in Gaspésie in spring 2023, and 25 million for the site of the Vieux-Palais d’Amos, the doors of which are opening you a year later. Development work worth US$47 million is also underway in the Camille Roy Pavilion at the Séminaire de Québec. That’s more than a third of the budget for almost three Blue Spaces. More announcements should be forthcoming, particularly in Charlevoix for a late 2024 opening there.

  • Digital model of the Séminaire de Québec Camille Roy Pavilion currently under development at a cost of 47 million

    Image provided by the Ministry of Culture and Communication

    Digital model of the Séminaire de Québec Camille Roy Pavilion currently under development at a cost of 47 million

  • Digital model of the Séminaire de Québec Camille Roy Pavilion currently under development for 47 million

    Image provided by the Ministry of Culture and Communication

    Digital model of the Séminaire de Québec Camille Roy Pavilion currently under development for 47 million

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Marie-Claire Lévesque also deals with the issue of the operating budget. “We must not forget that we are in the post-COVID era. We have announced many financial aids. It will catch up with us. »

Stéphane Laroche also confirms that an additional sum of 34 million has been released for the Blue Spaces over four years.

tensions between regions

As project manager of this project, the Musée de la Civilization de Québec will own the buildings that will house the Blue Spaces. “In some cases, the lease can be long-term or emphyteutic,” explains Stéphane Laroche.

Marie-Claire Lévesque judges that the nature of this project is an “insult” to professionals working in the regions.

I find it absurd that the Musée de la Civilization should be commissioned with this project when regional expertise has developed in recent years.

Marie-Claire Lévesque, former Director General of the Ministry of Culture and former President of the Arts and Letters Council

For Christine St-Pierre, the opposition’s official culture spokeswoman, the insult is aimed more at the character of Quebec’s museums. “Mr Legault presented these as places that will not be ‘dusty and boring’. Translation: Our museums are dusty, boring places. »

According to Stéphane Laroche, this project arouses real “enthusiasm”. Without doubt. But also tensions in connection with “regional pride”. On the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, we don’t like the idea that the Espace bleu of the Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine region is in Percé. Mayor Jonathan Lapierre can’t believe that this future museum will be able to tell the story of both the Madelinots and the Gaspésiens.

Twelve months after launch, the Blue Spaces concept is slowly taking shape. “We see more clearly,” says Stéphane Chagnon. There were many phone calls and meetings. There is a dialogue. However, a gray area remains in terms of the management model to be adopted. How are these places run? Our members have many questions about this. Will it be NGOs? »

The decision aspect also concerns the liberal cultural critic Christine St-Pierre, who declared last April that these Blue Spaces are “just a political patent to please François Legault”. The member believes that this project serves certain political interests a few months before the elections.

“We’ll tell ourselves, it’s political marketing,” she said. The government turns blue everywhere. […] We got our hands on the minutes of a meeting that took place in an area with officials. It says that it is the regional minister who decides where the Blue Space will be built. There will be big political paws there. »

We tried to get an interview with Nathalie Roy, Minister for Culture and Communications, so she can explain her vision for the project a year after its launch. After several days of waiting, her spokeswoman informed us that the minister and her team were very busy. We were asked to submit our questions so they could be answered via email. We declined.

What will we find in the Blue Spaces?

Each Blue Space must highlight the history of the region in which it is located and paint the portrait of certain “local prides” that have excelled in different fields such as sport, culture or economy.

At the unveiling, François Legault mentioned the names of Ginette Reno, Bruny Surin or Serge Savard. “Pride is a powerful engine,” he said. Powerful for individuals, powerful for nations. I’m proud to be a Quebecer, proud of our language, our culture, our history. »

Immediately after the announcement, we learned that the Camille Roy Pavilion at the Cité du Séminaire de Québec will be at the forefront of this network, which will be dependent on the Musée de la Civilization.

If this project involves the reuse of old buildings, it still aims for innovation and novelty. “We are developing an approach that focuses on the present, is immersive and gives way to digital technology,” adds Stéphane Laroche, Director General of the Musée de la Civilisation. We want these places to be participatory, interactive and collaborative. »

The museum is working on concepts that serve the different Blue Spaces, because it should be noted that each location will offer a permanent exhibition and will host exhibitions that will migrate from one pole to the other. These deal with identity issues such as the French language, the Saint Lawrence River, Aboriginal communities or song.

Montreal will have its Blue Space

There will be a Blue Space in Montreal, confirms Stéphane Laroche of the Museum of Civilization, but it won’t be based in Saint-Sulpice’s old library, which has been looking for a future for years. “There is no shortage of monuments in the metropolis,” says Mr. Laroche. A selection process is in progress. The challenge for the designers of Montreal’s Blue Space is to create a character that does not interfere with the mandates of the Center d’histoire de Montréal and the Pointe-à-Callière and McCord museums. “It is indeed a great challenge,” says Stéphane Chagnon, director general of the Société des Musées du Québec. Stéphane Laroche doesn’t seem concerned. “We’re going to do it in Montreal the same way we do it anywhere else,” he replies. We will talk to and involve regional partners. Together with you, we develop a clear guideline. »

400

Approximate number of museums, exhibition centers and interpretation sites in Quebec

More than 15 million

Number of visitors received by museum institutions in Quebec in 2019

74%

of visitors were received by the 30 most visited institutions in 2019. The approximately 370 others shared the remaining 26%.

18%

Percentage of Quebec museum facilities in the Montreal region. However, they attract 45% of visitors.

68%

of the member museums of the Société des Musées du Québec receive an operating budget of less than US$300,000.

Sources: Quebec Society Museums and Quebec Observatory for Culture and Communication

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