The Department of Canadian Heritage announced yesterday that it would not renew funding for Montreal’s Etat d’Urgence, now in its 12th year, one of the largest festivals for the homeless in North America. The announcement comes less than two weeks before the festival begins prompting organizers to accuse Canadian Heritage of a politically motivated attack on Quebec culture.
ATSA co-founder Annie Roy compares the recent cuts to last summer’s decision by Canadian Heritage to cut funding to Festival FrancoFolie, one of the largest French music festivals in the world. She suspects the minority Conservative government of growing hostility to Quebec arts. Says Roy, “Heritage Canada cut our funding from $43,000 to zero, and we don’t know why because our funding has increased over the 12 years we have organized the event. I think it’s ideological.”
Compounding the mystery, Roy says that after last year’s event they received only positive feedback from Heritage Canada. Most troubling is the Ministry’s decision to pull funds so close to the event. Organizers are demanding to know why they were given no warning that their funding might change.
Etat d’Urgence was created by ATSA (Action Terroriste Socialement Acceptable) in 1997, and every year since has provided 5 days of food, shelter, medical outreach, haircuts, clothing and counseling services for homeless Montrealers in the downtown core. The festival also brings together a ‘who’s who’ roster of artists to provide visual, dramatic and musical entertainment not only for the homeless but for the thousands of regular Montrealers who join in the festivities each year.
ATSA acknowledges that their work can be provocative. This year’s Etat d’Urgence is called “Touts Inclus” or “All included”, a play on all inclusive vacation packages popular among travelers from North America to southern resorts (later this week Art Threat will have a more in-depth look at the political art of Etat d’Urgence and the festival’s special brand of aesthetic activism). “Of course, we are artists,” Roy explained. “Our job is to make images strong. It’s provocative to make a Club Med in the downtown of Montreal where homeless people are invited to live in it. But our message is very peaceful and about making people responsible in the society where they live”.
The festival, Roy says, is a way to bring the common population in contact with the homeless and for a few days have them live together as a community rather than as two separate groups.
Festival organizers are calling for public support to help fill the funding gap. Donations can be made through the ATSA website.