Over the last month and a half, students across Québec have been mobilising against the dramatic tuition hikes being imposed by the Charest government and education minister Line Beauchamp. Emerging out of the 2005 student movement that successfully (if controversially) challenged the Liberal government’s proposed cuts to the loans and bursaries program, an estimated 270,000 students are currently on strike, performing creative direct actions, organising mass rallies and protests, holding community teach-ins, and occupying physical and media space. The iconic red square is visible everywhere in Montreal, appearing on the backpacks and lapels of students and their many supporters, adorning public monuments, and now thanks to a creative solidarity initative by Artung, in over 300 advertising columns across Montréal (facebook gallery here).
Québec artist-run centres have also rallied around the student struggle, recognising the links between the commodification and privatisation of education and that of art and culture. Artist run-centres occupy a unique space within Canadian culture, existing parallel to the larger public institutions and commercial galleries, they provide artists (often emerging artists) with an alternative and independent framework within which to conduct their research and present their work. Stephen Harper’s infamous “ordinary people don’t care about arts funding” election statement has resulted in severe cuts to the funding bodies for these organisations, and created pressure to commercialise their practices, seriously threatening their long-term viability as alternative spaces.
Initiated by an online callout and communiqué issued by the Artivistic collective and Centre des arts actuels Skol, over 30 artist-run centres and affiliated cultural organisations, including the RCAAQ (which represents a network of some 60 centres) have now signed on to a one-day strike mandate to coincide with the mass demonstration planned by students for March 22nd, visibly demonstrating their solidarity with the student movement by posting the red square on their doors and joining students to march in the streets.
Roughly translated from the communiqué:
We are deeply concerned by the tuition fee hikes and the logic of commodification that underlies the transformation of our universities. Much like the university environment, the arts and cultural sectors are facing growing pressure to rely upon private interests and to conform to an “entrepreneurial” business model.
To resist the tuition fee hikes is to resist a logic that reduces everything to the imperative of profitability.
To struggle for accessibility to higher education, is to struggle for a society that values culture in the broadest sense. It is for this reason we are joining the student movement.
On March 22nd, our spaces of creation and dissemination will be closed. The red square will be posted on our doors and windows and we will join the national demonstration against the increase of tuition fees.
Organisations involved include:
Arprim, Articule, Artivistic, Atelier Graff, La Centrale, Eastern Bloc, Perte de Signal, SKOL, Studio XX, Les éditions Écosociété, Optica, Le Groupe Intervention Vidéo, Artificiel.org, DARE-DARE, Galerie Verticale, Péristyle Nomade, Café Touski, VOX image contemporaine, La librairie Formats, Conscience Urbaine, Espace Libre, Praxis Art Actuel, Avatar, OBORO, Dazibao, Centre Clark, Espace Cercle Carré, WWTWO, Espoir et Mensonge, WORK, Exeko and Le Regroupement des Centres d’Artistes Autogérés du Québec.