Remarks at the National Culture Summit Welcome Reception
It is… it is great to see you all in person. Great news, Pablo, first of all, for Come From Away with an all-Canadian cast here at the NAC, that’ll be great. We’re all looking forward to that.
But really, what Pablo said just now, it is so much fun to see everyone gathered here at the National Arts Centre during this important culture summit.
We’re all, I think, pretty pleased to be gathering in person, but Zoom was good, and it had its places, and I think the fact that we’re going to be able to continue to move forward in a way that has been informed by this difficult two years, and do lots of things in person, and a few things virtually, we’ll make sure that we get everything done. I have to say, I was just about an hour ago on an Instagram live, just doing a virtual thing, with… to kick off Asian Heritage Month here in Canada with the newest addition to the Marvel cinematic universe from Canada, Simu Liu, who was awesome.
And he’s an amazingly powerful, not just actor, but writer and producer of content as well, and telling stories that span the breadth and scope of this country and beyond is what this community has always done so well but has rarely been as important as we’re all trying to come together and learn from each other and figure out the right path forward after this pandemic.
We often say that culture is at the heart of who we are.
I think of culture as heart. It’s a great image because it’s true on so many levels.
When artists tell stories through whichever medium they choose, they bring life to every part of our country, from coast to coast to coast. They move us, they challenge us, they make us feel what they feel. Your work is at the heart of who we are because you create shared experiences, which play a fundamental role in building a stronger, more cohesive society.
We have a country that is very proud of its diversity, proud of its differences, incredibly rich because of all of those differences. But diversity on its own doesn’t create strength. Diversity that leans in to learn from each other, to challenge itself with those differences, to share those perspectives and those experiences, to build something greater than the whole… than the sum of its parts; that’s what Canada and, specifically, the Canadian arts community, has been unbelievably good at over the past decades, and it’s a story that needs to be celebrated, both through the individual stories, but also by standing up strongly and proudly and showcasing what happens when you have a vibrant, empowered, supported, diverse arts community.
The world is filled with conflicts and differences, and challenges, and our capacity to lean on each other, to draw those stories together, to weave them into an extraordinary overarching narrative that we can all see ourselves in, that’s the challenge of the 21st century. And that’s a challenge we don’t meet unless all of you are at your very best.
So that’s why I want to start tonight by thanking you. Thank you to the people on stage, and backstage. Thank you to the technicians who work long hours, the booking agents who take risks, the museum workers who dutifully preserve our history.
You are doing outstanding work, but you are also doing essential work for all of us.
The past two years have been extremely difficult.
As Pablo just said, at the start of the pandemic, we created an emergency fund to support cultural institutions. This fund has helped thousands of organizations to stay operational. Recently, I met a couple of classical musicians in Kitchener: Ian is a bass player and Allen is a violinist. They have two young children. Their orchestra was unable to hold concerts during part of the pandemic, but at least they were able to keep their jobs thanks to various support programs, like the wage subsidy. I do not want to think about how much poorer we would be as a country if we had lost a number of bass players and violinists during this pandemic.
We had to hold on, and because we did hold on together, these two are happy to be able to start playing their instruments again to earn a living, but also to reconnect with the public. They are still optimistic, but they still live with a lot of uncertainty. So, this week, the National Culture Summit is an opportunity to continue working together to ensure that the recovery is strong and sustainable for people like Ian and Allen.
Arts, culture, and heritage are also significant drivers of our economy.
And as you know, I’m not only talking about ticket sales and revenues. When people go to see plays, concerts, or dance performances that often involves getting dinner nearby, or a visit to the boutique. On top of that, your contributions attract tourists from across the country and around the world. Everyone benefits it, so it’s important that we continue to be here to support you. We know that many cultural workers are independent and self-employed, so in February we launched the Performing Arts Workers Resilience Fund to provide targeted assistance to those who need it.
Today, I can announce that four independent agencies will distribute $50 million directly to affected self-employed individuals in the sector.
La fondation des artistes, the Actor’s Fund of Canada, the Canadian Dance Assembly, and the Unison Benevolent Fund will help us provide nationwide coverage to a range of artists and technicians.
(Cheers & applause)
We’ll have more to say soon… well, Pablo will have more to say soon on how we’ll deliver support for professional development and mentoring, also through the Resilience Fund.
Just as artists are significant economic drivers, you also drive important conversations. I was in Winnipeg a little over a week ago to attend a ceremony for the transfer of the historic Hudson’s Bay building to the Southern Chiefs Organization.
(Cheers & applause)
The building will be renovated and repurposed, but it’s vacant right now. So, last year, partners in the community decided to use the window panels to do an installation that features artwork from Indigenous artists Peter Thomas and Glenn Gear. Projects like these help us see the world through each other’s eyes. They help us understand one another.
Whether it’s documentary theatre about the environment, or spoken word shows about real-life experiences of discrimination, culture makes us think and it helps us evolve. Now, after the pandemic, with new technologies, your sectors are changing rapidly, not only here, but all over the world.
This week’s summit is important because we have to continue working together to ensure long-term growth and competitiveness for your sectors. We want you to have the tools you need to win back audiences, adapt to new digital platforms, and be part of the conversation for a more open and inclusive society.
So, thank you for your participation, our government will continue working with you as partners. Because we understand… I think… you know, here Pablo and I are going to pull the Quebecer card…
But there is a cultural-identity awakening that we Quebecers have always understood, but we are seeing across the country more and more strongly.
In a globalized world, in a digital world, in a diverse world, it becomes so much more important to share and tell our stories, and the fact that new platforms allow us to play to such larger audiences everywhere around the world, it’s an incredibly important opportunity, not just for Canadian artists to resonate around the world, but for the message that we have to share of what we’ve managed to develop here in this country, by being open to one another; by not having to leave one culture behind to melt into a pot of a uniform culture—however unsuccessful that always ends up trying to be—but a country, and an identity that is proud of the layers, and textures, and stories that are all piled in together and coexisting simultaneously; and it’s as important to celebrate our successes as it is, like Come From Away, as it is to look squarely at where we’ve faltered, or where as a country we haven’t lived up to the idea of Canada that we all carry in our minds—the story of residential schools and the need for more reconciliation being first and foremost around that.
But there are so many layers of stories that need to be told. Stories that are distinctly Canadian, but universal in their application. And the way we are able to make sure that all of you and everyone, each one of you here represents in various ways, shapes or form, is able to find your strongest voice; is able to pierce through in a time of so much cynicism, of skepticism, of polarization in some ways, to reach out and grab that common humanity, those shared experiences that unite us, and that, yes, define us even in all our differences.
The role of the arts in making us think, in making us dream, in challenging us, yes, but also in defining ourselves for ourselves through our songs and our stories, and every way we have to challenge and share. These are things that are becoming more and more important in a world in challenge and in a world in crisis. And I am unbelievably…
Let me just finish on that note then, because you seem to like it, I am incredibly, incredibly privileged to be able to be the Prime Minister of Canadians at a time where all of you are stepping up, not just in this room, but across the country, from coast to coast to coast, to build stronger communities, to build a better country, to build a better world.
Thank you, my friends.