Blue Rooms | The bill is already rising to 300 million while everything still needs to be done

(Quebec) No sooner has the Blue Spaces odyssey begun than the bill is skyrocketing while there is still work to be done.

Posted at 5:16 p.m

Jocelyn Richer
The Canadian Press

And no one in government will dare to predict how much this mega-project will cost for a network of regional heritage sites, a new type of initiative dear to Prime Minister François Legault and whose formula has yet to be defined a year after its launch.

When the project was announced on June 10, 2021, the network of 18 Blue Spaces across Quebec was expected to cost $259 million. Today, the Ministry of Culture estimates it at around 300 million, while the project is still in its infancy.

A year later, an artistic vagueness surrounds this cultural project with ill-defined contours, the exact nature of which and, above all, the final cost do not want to be specified. Blue Spaces seem to have a blank check.

To set the overall bill for Blue Spaces would be “pure fiction,” admits the project supervisor, the director of the Museum of Civilization, Stéphan La Roche, in a recent telephone interview with The Canadian Press, a year after the start of the project to bring point. He admits that “I can’t answer that question.”

Since the initial announcement, the government has refused to say when visitors will be able to access the entire network of these cultural sites dedicated to the history of the regions and their specific identities. Today we risk bringing forward 2026, that is, at the end of the next mandate. “That is our hope and our ambition,” summarizes Mr. La Roche cautiously, but does not promise any dates.

And what is the status of the work a year after the start of the Blue Spaces project?

None are open to the public yet. Out of a total of 18 promised new cultural sites (17 Blue Spaces in the regions, plus the Quebec headquarters), only three projects are currently in progress: Quebec, Percé and Amos, which is in the plans and specifications. A fourth is due to start shortly in Baie-Saint-Paul.

Elsewhere, that is to say in the vast majority of Quebec’s regions, everything remains to be done: find and select plots of land, acquire historical buildings, renovate in accordance with the regulations for this type of building, develop places, etc. The first Espace Bleu should in principle be in Percé in the summer of 2023 open its doors to visitors.

It is still unclear what the type of administration and operating budget of these state-funded quasi-museums will be. According to Mr. La Roche, it is “too early” to give a figure on the approved operating budget. “The management model is currently being defined,” says the Ministry of Culture, for its part, in response to a request for information on the subject.

One thing is for sure, discovering the places will not be free. As in museums, visitors must buy their entrance ticket. The amount has yet to be determined. The Blue Spaces must therefore have independent income, the meaning of which is also still to be clarified.

We do not want these new cultural sites to compete with existing regional museums by “complementing” them with a different offer. From the beginning, the Society of Quebec Museums had expressed concerns that Blue Spaces should not be established in cities that already have a regional museum.

In terms of content, the formula is still in the making, to refine the concept. Mr. La Roche ensures we favor bespoke as opposed to wall to wall. Each Blue Space will therefore have its own style, its own personality consistent with that of its place. We also want to develop an “immersive, participatory” style, with permanent and temporary exhibitions.

To avoid missteps, we promise to work with the community and local authorities to ensure content faithfully reflects the identity of the region. A scientific committee will assist Quebec in selecting the key events and will identify the region’s “builders” whose exploits will be celebrated, business people, artists, athletes and others who will make up the bulk of the content offered to the public.

Mr La Roche promises that these cultural venues will not only serve to stoke regional pride and that dark episodes of local history, such as controversial figures and more difficult issues, “will not be evacuated”. There is no political influence on the content to be presented, he assures.

“It depends on how the topic is dealt with,” specifies Mr. La Roche, who describes the future network as the “biggest cultural development project of the last 40 years”.

In making the announcement, Premier Legault said clearly that he wanted to make the Espaces bleus network places where we would celebrate “the pride of being a Quebecer,” rather than places where we remember the darker moments in remember the local history and the less glorious characters that marked their time.

Mr Legault added he wanted to make them “popular” places that weren’t “boring” or “dusty” and most importantly not reserved for “a small elite”.

These new genre museums will also have a multi-function room, an administrative office and a café showcasing local products.

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