Media @ McGill

Jonathan Rouleau | The cultural role of universities in Montreal: reframing the university-city approach

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My thesis examines the ways in which the four universities in Montreal – Concordia, McGill, Université de Montréal and Université du Québec – fertilize creativity and innovation in the cultural sector. Universities, rather than factories and manufactures, are now at the centres of the most prolific cities. In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in the relation between universities and communities. Yet despite the numerous attempts to explore the economic impacts (i.e., impact multiplier studies) of the universities in cities and regions, few studies consider the role of the university in the fertilization of urban culture.

My thesis is an exploration of five interrelated themes on the cultural roles of universities in Montreal: i) the historical relation that ties cities to universities with an emphasis on Montreal and its four universities; ii) the “traditional” educational function of universities as formative of skilled labour in the cultural domains that are intrinsically linked to cultural innovation (i.e., the cultural industries); iii) the role of universities in Montreal as magnets for artists and art aficionados (e.g., studies have shown how the universities in Montreal represent the first point of entry for many Anglophones in the music scenes (Stahl 2001), as well as a source of talent for the music industry (Cummins-Russell and Rantisi 2012)); iv) the ways in which the universities fertilize two cultural scenes – visual arts and music – in Montreal; and finally, v) the universities as resources for the community in relation to consultation, lobby group coordination and the management of artistic and cultural spaces – on- and off-campus.

The universities, in addition to playing an important role as cultural mediators, produce events (e.g., concerts, frosh week shows, vernissages) and contribute to the diffusion of cultural innovation in the city. Also, neighbourhoods in Montreal that border and cradle universities are strongly inhabited by a student population that support bars, cafés and live art venues; these establishments constitute the vital infrastructure for the materialisation of culture in the city. Those infrastructures – the “soft infrastructures” (Landry 2000) – act as places of socialization for the academic community at large.

Methodologically, my work is located at the heart of the relationship between cultural institutions (formal and informal), the circulation of knowledge and cultural practices. I am doing cartography of the academic cultural activities, as well as investigating extra-curricular activities (e.g., art students who work as interns in art galleries or museums).

Using interviews, I want to highlight the student population patterns of cultural consumption (its geographical, linguistic and stylistic particularities) and collect biographical data that will allow me to map the movement of students in the academic world, as well as their relation to culture. I also wish to conceptualize the universities in their “mediality” (i.e., the flow of money, people and information that takes place within the university). Formally, this process involves interviews with key stakeholders, review of academic media – newspapers, college radio – as well as taking into account the cultural influence of certain academic departments.