Governor General’s Urban Arts Forum
Iqaluit, Saturday May 30, 2009
How are you doing tonight?
I must begin by thanking you for such a warm welcome here this evening. It is an honour for my husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, our daughter, Marie-Éden, and me to be with you in Iqaluit to partake in my first Urban Arts Forum in the Canadian North.
It is truly inspiring to be able to have this conversation with you given the cultures of the North have recognized the social importance of the arts and culture since the dawn of time.
Since my arrival here, I have been truly impressed to see how traditional Inuit art is flourishing alongside contemporary forms of culture, particularly among the youth.
This is truly inspiring not only for you but for people across Canada.
When I became governor general of Canada, I wanted to make the institution that I occupy a space in which the voices of citizens would be heard, and in which ordinary people, women and men, could join hands in a spirit of solidarity.
And young people were at the heart of my concern.
So I asked myself, how can I make this institution into a space in which youth voices can be heard and taken seriously?
And the first thing that came to mind was: I need to ask them!
So during my official visits to the thirteen provinces and territories of Canada, I made sure to meet youth in cities and rural areas to understand what they thought I should do.
Two suggestions stood out.
“We want people to understand the work urban artists are doing to transform despair and indifference into hope and social change.”
“We want more opportunities for young people to meet and work with major leaders of our society.”
So, in response, I inaugurated the Governor General’s Urban Arts Forums.
This initiative brings youth, decision-makers and community leaders together to discuss the ways art is being used as a tool to build stronger communities, to reflect on challenges, to give a voice to the voiceless and to provide content and meaning to our citizenship. All of this to act in a spirit of solidarity.
To date, the experience has been incredible.
Just to name a few:
In Calgary, at the Quickdraw Animation Society, young artists told me how they had escaped situations of abuse and depression through film and animation.
In Toronto, at the Whippersnapper Gallery, they told me how hip hop, painting and spoken word had saved their lives, helped them overcome gang membership, and enabled them to reconnect with the power of words.
In Winnipeg, at the Graffiti Gallery, they told me how the urban arts are being used as tools to rid their neighbourhood of drugs, gangs, and abuse.
In fact, they have since created a successful community-wide initiative that has had a dramatic impact on lowering crime in the neighbourhood. A true model.
In Montreal, at the Maison des jeunes de la Côte-des-Neiges, they told me how the urban arts have rehabilitated youth in trouble with the law, reduced violence, and united people around common projects.
In Ottawa, at Saw Gallery, they spoke about their frustrations with indifference and their desire to increase opportunities for youth to express their concerns creatively.
What I find fascinating is that irrespective of the city, the issues, the challenges, and the initiatives are the same. Moreover, they all want to work with you!
For in each city, the message has been the same: “We want to connect with artists in other Canadian cities and in other parts of the world.”
My husband, His Excellency Jean-Daniel Lafond, who is a filmmaker, writer and philosopher by profession, has brought an important contribution to the institution with the creation of “Art Matters”, in French, « Le Point des arts » that provides an occasion for dialogue, conversations, forums and networking opportunities for artists, a lot of people involved and engaged in arts and culture, decision makers, philanthropists, from across the country and also abroad.
Even during my State and official visits to Latin America and Africa, I met urban artists in some of the poorest parts of Haiti, Brazil, and Argentina, also in Europe, France, Norway, Ukraine, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia.
Everywhere, they too spoke about the tremendous impact art-based projects are having on their communities. How the arts define cultures and identities.
They also told me that they want to connect with their counterparts in Canada.
They also want to work with you!
As I have said to your counterparts in other cities, I want you to know that I am here tonight because I believe in your ability to bring about change.
I believe in your words of hope. I believe that all Canadians need to learn from what you are doing.
For I have seen how the arts—whether it is carving, sculpture, throat singing, drumming, spoken word, poetry, rap, multimedia, film, graffiti, painting, theatre, locking or popping—have such an essential role to play in improving the lives of our fellow Canadians. We witnessed the positive impact of some meaningful projects where hip hop becomes a tool for social work, for building confidence, respect, a sense of togetherness, dialogue, and a way of embracing life with joy.
Now, I want to hear what you have to say.
I want to learn about the way art is infusing your life with hope.
I want to learn about your projects and how they work.
I want to know how they have affected your lives and the people around you.
I want to know how we can work together to build a more compassionate and caring world.
For we all have a role to play.
So let’s start the discussion.