Montreal coalition that snagged a huge property for arts and community development splits - Canadanewsmedia
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Montreal coalition that snagged a huge property for arts and community development splits

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Some of the bitterest disputes over urban development break out over property that no one has had to think about for generations. Such is the case with a vast swath of former railway land in Montreal’s down-at-heel Pointe-Saint-Charles district, where local activists have won more than one round against a powerful developer.

It’s a classic David and Goliath story, about ordinary citizens who shut down a proposal for a casino, luxury hotel and convention hall in their neighbourhood, and also gained part of the property for community use. It’s also about a struggle between former allies – the arts and culture organization Quartier Éphémère (QÉ) and the social-activist coalition Collectif 7 à Nous (C7N) – over how to divide the spoils.

The groups were united in their successful campaign to wrest a disused, 8,360 square-metre warehouse, known as Bâtiment 7, from Groupe Mach, a developer most recently in the news for its bid to buy Air Transat. But the alliance split over how much of Bâtiment 7 should be used for community services such as co-op workshops, event spaces and a daycare; and how much for artists’ studios and galleries.

The initial tussle over Bâtiment 7 began in 2004 when CN Rail sold its disused property in Pointe Saint-Charles to Groupe Mach for the symbolic sum of one dollar. The land spans 32.5 hectares – equivalent to 55 football fields, or one-quarter of the entire borough.

Groupe Mach’s first move was to negotiate a $25-million sale of one-third of the rail land to a partnership led by Loto-Québec. The provincial lottery corporation envisioned a casino and luxury hotel on the site, as well as a marina, convention centre and permanent performance venue for Cirque du Soleil.

Community activists condemned the proposal, saying it would accelerate gentrification and offer nothing to residents of Pointe-Saint-Charles. A petition against the project was signed by an absolute majority of the borough’s adult population.

Place Bonaventure, a downtown convention centre, was also unhappy with the plan, which would use public money to build a competing facility. After continued pressure by media-savvy activists, Cirque du Soleil withdrew and the project collapsed.

Part of Batiment 7 opened to the public in May, 2018.

7 Ë NOUS/Batiment 7

There are 20 buildings on the rail lands. Groupe Mach let it be known during public consultations in 2008 that it wished to demolish Bâtiment 7, the building nearest to dwellings in the borough, and raise condos on the site. When a roof over part of the five-section building collapsed under the weight of snow, Groupe Mach promptly bulldozed that end of the structure.

C7N activists mounted a campaign to save the remainder. One of their actions in 2009 was a squat, or illegal occupation, of another structure on the site. That ended with a forceful eviction by police, but the campaign continued.

“We said that Bâtiment 7 must belong to the community, free of charge,” says Marcel Sévigny, a former borough councillor and member of C7N. The collective put pressure on the borough government to refuse Groupe Mach’s requests for zoning changes – needed to build condos on other parts of the property – unless it transferred Bâtiment 7 to the community. In May, 2010, after a change in local government, the new mayor agreed.

Montreal is known for the frequency and intensity of its street protests, including the long tuition-related campaign by students that helped topple the provincial government of Jean Charest in 2012. According to a 106-page booklet about the fight for Bâtiment 7, written by Sévigny and others, the borough’s mayor told the chief of police that those involved in wildcat actions “aren’t in the habit of asking for permits, especially for something which, in their view, belongs to them.”

The booklet also states that Groupe Mach chairman Vincent Chiara resisted meeting with those whom he called “les militants chialeux” (loosely, “whiny activists”). As a collector of contemporary art, however, he was more willing to negotiate with Quartier Éphémère, whose director, Caroline Andrieux, also runs the Darling Foundry, a visual-arts complex in a raw industrial space.

Andrieux and members of the QÉ board negotiated a deal in which Groupe Mach would hand over Bâtiment 7 to QÉ for free, decontaminate the building and surrounding land, and pay $1-million for the start of renovations. The accord was signed in 2011.

The developer, however, took six years to complete decontamination and the legal work needed to divide the property. During that time, QÉ transferred ownership to C7N, to protect its existing assets at the Darling Foundry in case anything should go wrong at Bâtiment 7 (C7N had no assets). Andrieux says that QÉ retained a contractual right to reclaim and develop two of Bâtiment 7‘s four remaining sections – 43 per cent of the whole.

“Groupe Mach used a strategy of delay,” says Sévigny. “They wanted to wear us down, so that people would get discouraged and abandon the project. That was the most difficult period for us.”

Activists turned the delay to their advantage, however, refining their plans and shoring up support. By the time the developer delivered the building in 2017, C7N had secured a commitment of $2.2-million from municipal and provincial governments, and had a detailed plan for a $4.2-million renovation of about half of the structure.

That part of Bâtiment 7 opened to the public in May, 2018. The complex includes an all-levels art school; sculpture, silkscreen and ceramic studios; carpentry, bike repair and metal-work ateliers; a youth-run game room and junk-repurposing centre; a food store and micro-brewery; and event spaces for whatever creative thing someone wants to do. It’s all run with a non-hierarchical management structure, says Sévigny, and broke even during its first year.

C7N decided that Batiment 7 should include a daycare centre, in part of the space claimed by QÉ.

Allen Vallières /Batiment 7

QÉ was also working on its vision for the site. It spent $65,000, including $50,000 in public funds, on a feasibility study and detailed plan for its 43-per-cent share of the building. Its proposal, entitled Le Rail, includes 20 artists’ studios, research and education spaces, and a multipurpose room, with at least one-quarter of the facilities reserved for people from Pointe-Saint-Charles. It informed C7N that it wished to execute its contractual option to take over the still-undeveloped rear sections of the building.

“[Bâtiment 7] is actually two projects,” says Andrieux. “We were supposed to do the artistic component, and they would do the community part” – though QÉ’s part, she said, was always intended to have a strong local component. She was surprised when she learned that C7N’s sections included an art school and studios.

Further surprises were in store. C7N decided that Bâtiment 7 should include a daycare centre, in part of the space claimed by QÉ. “We believe they take too much room, versus the expressed needs of [Pointe-Saint-Charles],” says Sévigny.

In early June of this year, on the eve of a meeting between the two groups to sort out their differences, C7N sent Andrieux an e-mail stating its position. “Instead of owning our part of the building,” she says, “we would be tenants and rent only the second floor. It was a very insulting proposition and we said no.” The meeting never happened.

“I respect their project,” says Andrieux. “I was a co-founder of Collectif 7 à Nous, I was its president for three years, and I made the deal with Vincent Chiara.

“We don’t need approval by Collectif 7 à Nous,” she says. “The contract is very clear, there’s no ambiguity.”

The former allies in the fight to save Batiment 7 both say that they’re open to further talks, although a resolution of the current impasse may be painful for one or both.

7 Ë NOUS/Batiment 7

Sévigny, however, says that his group intends to defend its grass-roots principles. “I think that [Le Rail] is a cultural project whose general philosophy is close to that of the capitalist elite in Montreal,” he says. “We want to develop something very close to the local community, not the business community.”

Andrieux says that QÉ’s board is reviewing its options, including legal action. C7N, however, has possession, and has not, in the past, shied away from squatting as a negotiating tool. It’s still in fighting mode, in part because it wants to develop a community farm and an entrance to its proposed daycare, near a space where Groupe Mach plans to build what activists call a “wall of condos.” C7N published an open letter to Montreal mayor Valérie Plante in May, asking that she intervene.

The former allies in the fight to save Bâtiment 7 both say that they’re open to further talks, although a resolution of the current impasse may be painful for one or both. “It’s a pity,” said Andrieux. “It was so clear, and we were so close, at the beginning.”

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Books Arts Lab Opening at Carleton Library – Carleton Newsroom

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Every wonder how books are made? Starting Nov. 19, you can find out at MacODrum Library’s Book Arts Lab during hands-on experience with everything from printing, bookbinding and papermaking to printmaking and calligraphy. Learn, too, about the history of the book.

Patti Harper, head of research support services, has been at the forefront of creating the lab, a collaboration of the book arts community across Canada and alumni, staff and faculty.

Patti Harper

“What makes this lab unique is that it’s built around experiential learning,” Harper says. “It absolutely relies on faculty to build it into their methodology.”

The inspiration for the lab came from a Chandler & Price Platen Press donated to the library back in 1988.

“We finally realized a few years ago how much could be possible with the printing press and how it could be built into instruction and teaching for faculty.”

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Rediscovering Harry Nilsson, an artist who defies all category – The Globe and Mail

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Singer Harry Nilsson in 1972.

The Associated Press

If there is anyone whose career has benefited more from Netflix’s Russian Doll series than co-creator and star Natasha Lyonne, it has to be Harry Nilsson.

Although the complicated pop star has maintained a cultish following since his early seventies heyday, interest in him spiked up considerably after his jaunty piano piece Gotta Get Up was used as the trigger and tonal inspiration for the show’s looping journey through self-loathing and self-knowledge.

In our age of digital data, we don’t even need to resort to vague temperature-taking to understand the impact. The song’s repeated use throughout the show’s eight episodes earned Nilsson something like 2,000 per cent more downloads and streams than his average, enough out-of-nowhere attention that the song is now amended with an “As heard on …” label on streaming services.

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And now, that attention is trickling down to the rest of his convoluted canon. On Nov. 22, Nilsson completists will finally get a chance to hear Losst and Founnd, the album he was working on at the time of his death in 1994.

As a final artistic statement, the album is maybe too inflected with the torpor of a man who hadn’t released anything since the demos for the Popeye soundtrack in 1980. Nilsson’s often absurdly gorgeous multioctave tenor is flattened into something close to Leonard Cohen’s, although his songs retain his trademark slippery humour, and the off-kilter dynamic of melancholy is played beautifully, especially on the fitting album and career closer What Does A Woman See in A Man.

More exciting might be the early 2020 rerelease of The Point!, Nilsson’s oddball 1970 children’s animated film and parable. The original was narrated by Dustin Hoffman, and in the coming 50th anniversary version former drinking buddy Ringo Starr is the voice. Written after an LSD trip around the forests of Los Angeles gave him an insight into the nature of trees, The Point! is the story of a round-headed boy in a world where everyone has a point on their head.

While Nilsson’s own point is hard to miss here, the celebration of being different, plus its combination of joyous innocence, cheery dismissal of convention and ability to drown sadness in dry humour, feel like an appropriate summation of Nilsson’s philosophy. At least insomuch as he ever had a philosophy beyond swallowing some drugs and seeing what comes out.

Nilsson doesn’t just resist summary, he seems to mock the very idea that an artist should be able to be simplified. As a person, let alone as a musician with a surprising half-century legacy, Nilsson really just shouldn’t have been. He was less a human than a coalescence of opposing forces that should have cancelled each other out. He was his own action and reaction, a move in every direction, and never more happy to switch his heading than when it seemed like you had him figured.

Nilsson sang like a pure beam of light and drank like a black hole. He was a restlessly inventive musician – he arguably created both the mash-up and the remix album – whose biggest hits and Grammy nominations came from the oldest trick in American pop music, heart-on-the-sleeve covers: the wistfully sunny Midnight Cowboy theme song Everybody’s Talkin’ and torch song Without You, which is so maudlin it circles back around into genuinely piteous. (Although many also know him for the novelty hit Coconut, which fits just as uncomfortably with the rest of his oeuvre.)

He had gold records and chart-topping singles, but basically refused to play in front of an audience, limiting his “live” performances to half-experimental video projects in which he spliced in obviously fake crowd shots, did piano duets with himself and performed in a gorilla suit.

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His music was the kind of pop that sounds obvious as soon as you hear it, although nobody had quite figured it out before. His biggest album, 1971’s Nilsson Schmilsson, is essentially a tour of what the rest of the decade would sound like in 35 minutes and 10 songs.

He was the Beatles’ favourite American artist, but his favourite Beatle was Ringo. Although, in fairness, he also helped John Lennon during his brief separation from Yoko Ono, turning it into a recording session and debauch so notorious it became known as Lennon’s Lost Weekend, and the foundation of the semi-notorious Hollywood Vampires drinking club.

(And as much as he was a libertine and a goof, Nilsson also all but gave up his recording career to campaign for an end to gun violence after his friend was assassinated.)

That kind of unrestrained self-destruction was one of the few things Nilsson did purely, and was the main reason his career essentially amounted to a blinding flash of brilliance in the late sixties and early seventies and a lot of unfocused blinking and recovery until his early death in 1994.

And yet, for all his escapades, oppositions and self-destruction, Nilsson has managed to endure in a way that relatively few artists of the non-Beatles variety ever do: He keeps popping up, in reference and in revisitation – both as a popular-enough-to-be-profitable bit of nostalgia and as an essential muse for weirdos.

For all his contradiction and complexity, it’s probably his plain frustration with conventional expectation that seems to keep him as an inspiration for some of our more complexly modern artists.

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The most obvious recent example is Russian Doll, but he pops up every few years in some powerfully memorable context though: A personal favourite is the yearning He Needs Me, originally part of that Popeye soundtrack and later providing an emotional capstone in Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Punch-Drunk Love.

The common thread to Nilsson’s re-emergences are that they were instigated by artists who are just as unwilling to sit still, who are just as happy to embrace contradiction and chaos to get whatever it is they need to say out.

In this way, Nilsson’s evergreen relevance takes on a larger and more hopeful tinge: His unwillingness to settle into any kind of simple category, far from causing him to fade away, is exactly what keeps him alive. If the world, or at the very least the entertainment-industrial complex, is only comfortable with things that are simply branded and easily taggable, there will always be some artistic disposition that is thirsty for a mess they have to sort through and figure out all on their own.

In The Point!, Nilsson’s child hero solves the riddle of his difference when an equally circular wise man makes the observation that a point in every direction is the same as having no point at all.

If it works as an epitaph for Nilsson’s own genius, true to form the most important point for his legacy might be just the opposite of the one he was making in the film: When someone is going in every direction at once, anyone who comes after will never run out of interesting paths to follow him down.

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Penticton arts, culture and sports programs get boost of over $500,000 thanks to provincial grant – Vernon Morning Star

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Penticton’s arts, cultural and athletic programs are getting a boost of over $500,000 thanks to this year’s round of B.C. Community Gaming Grants.

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing announced on Nov. 7 that 700 non-profits throughout the province would receive $18.3 million in funding to “deliver opportunities for people of all ages to participate in visual and performing arts, literature and festivals, as well as Indigenous and cultural programs.” An additional $27 million will be provided to more than 800 sports sector organizations in B.C. through the program.

READ MORE: Nearly $2M in provincial grants going to Central Okanagan arts, sports programs

Six arts-related non-profits in the Penticton area will be splitting $158,500 and 12 sports organizations will be splitting $347,400 through the program. Notably, the Penticton Art Gallery Society will receive $56,000, the Penticton & District Minor Hockey Association will receive $86,500 and the Pinnacles Football Club Association will get $90,000.

“These programs bring people together, fostering community connections through art, cultural programming and athletic activities for all ages and abilities,” said Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, in the release. “Our government is proud to support organizations contributing to vibrant, healthy communities across B.C.”

“These art, culture and sport programs provide opportunities for people to build community, foster artistic expression and engage in healthy activities,” said Lisa Beare, Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, in the release. “Our government is proud to support these organizations to deliver programs that support inclusion and benefit people of all ages and backgrounds in communities across B.C.”

To view the full list of recipients of this year’s B.C. Community Gaming Grants in arts and culture, click here, and for the full list of sports organization recipients, click here.

To report a typo, email: editor@pentictonwesternnews.com.

Jordyn Thomson | Reporter
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