26 août 2019

Culture and Local Development

This study presents the results of a self-assessment of “local government” policies in Montreal and initiatives by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) from the perspective of their contribution to local development, more specifically in terms of cultural strategies. Conducted by way of a guide designed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which the study also aimed to help improve, this self-assessment, carried out with Montreal stakeholders, was based on interviews which addressed, through the intermediary of grid indicators proposed with the OCDE guide, the following five predetermined themes:

| Economic development and innovation

| Urban design and community development

| Cultural development, education, and creativity

| Inclusion, health, and well-being

| Museum management from a local development perspective

As a whole, Museum of Fine Arts initiatives and local government policies, both of which were adopted by the entity made up of the City of Montreal and various organizations responsible for the underlying missions of the aforementioned initiatives, generate positive responses in terms of the indicators identified. The City of Montreal stands out in particular due to its decentralized approach, which views culture as a proximity service and which, more recently, has linked culture and economic development ever more closely in its policies and its operations. As for the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, it especially shines in the areas, firstly, of inclusion, health, and well-being, followed by cultural development, education, and creativity, and finally, economic development and innovation. With the backdrop of an operating and funding method that is very different from that of public museums, the Museum of Fine Arts generates a great deal of enthusiasm for its social commitment, through numerous innovative actions and exemplary best practices.

This is however based on an original understanding of the work of art that is not shared by all art history experts; the study shows, in this regard, that the museum has gone as far as it could with respect to the social mission it has espoused, at the risk of further distancing itself from certain canonical practices in the area, perceived by Montreal stakeholders as more European. In opposition to the art museum whose action in terms of local development and involvement in civil society is mainly limited to sharing collections with the widest possible audience, on a register of a traditional interpretation of works of art, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts stands out due to a systematic, usually implicit, recourse to the symbolic capital of the work and the value of the museum in society which, while characterizing the action of the museum in comparison to that of other institutions of cultural mediation (we think of archive centres or libraries, for example), often radically distances itself from the classical tradition in art history. In this regard, but also more generally with respect to cultural development, the evaluation highlighted a certain number of restrictive orientations of the OECD guide, including indicators that did not always make it possible, because they depended on certain European specificities, to discuss the full spectrum of policies and actions in terms of cultural strategies of local development in Montreal. Conversely, the evaluation exercise helped identify 17 best practices or exemplary contributions, including several that are intimately linked to the Montreal context, which could inspire stakeholders beyond North America.

This report concludes with 15 recommendations and proposed courses of action to improve the OECD guide or to optimize local government policies and museum initiatives. In this regard, it is especially noteworthy that a certain number of structuration initiatives with respect to activities and participating communities could help in realizing the intentions outlined in the Cultural Development Policy of the City of Montreal and, especially, in consolidating the action of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts by recognizing and supporting its role as a preeminent player in local development and by establishing the means to perpetuate this decisive contribution to society.

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