Let's celebrate cultural sponsorship Text signed by Michel Leblanc, President and CEO of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal

Text signed by Michel Leblanc, President and CEO of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, and published in Le Devoir.

May 8, 2009

Let's celebrate cultural sponsorship

The protest by Marie-Andrée Chouinard against the name given to the new Maison du Festival Rio Tinto Alcan demonstrates surprising contempt for all those who, alongside the Board of Trade, participated in Rendez-vous 2007 – Montréal, cultural metropolis.

A fundamental objective of that event was to rally support for culture and, more specifically, stimulate greater financial assistance from the private sector. Not surprisingly, companies such as Rio Tinto Alcan and Astral were among the first business leaders to make a commitment and get involved. By contributing $6 million to the building of the Maison du Festival Rio Tinto Alcan, the aluminum company set a fine example of how to walk the talk.

Unlike Ms. Chouinard, I will not comment on the evocative value of a company name when given to an institution, cultural or otherwise. But I in no way share the view expressed in her column that the presence of a sponsor acts like a black hole on beauty and automatically deprives a site of any ability to move or charm. Nor that the use of such a name prevents users from establishing a link between the site and its mission.

The example of the Bell Centre should be reassuring in this regard. Nobody walking by this building could be unaware that it is the home of our hockey team. This concession to business imperatives in no way prevented the Canadiens from paying glowing tribute within its walls to the Habs of days gone by, and the statues in front of the building immortalize the team's greatest players.

Rather than criticizing its so-called thirst for visibility, we should be congratulating Rio Tinto Alcan. In terms of sponsorship, Quebec still lags behind what has been done elsewhere. Historically, we have had less private wealth to spread around than our English-speaking neighbours – think of the Carnegies, Smithsonian, and, a little closer to home, James McGill – and we are still developing a culture of corporate giving.

We might therefore ask ourselves whether the “modesty and restraint of the fabulously wealthy” on which Ms. Chouinard would have us rely for cultural sponsorship really serves the cause of the arts within the community. Because what we probably need the most are private and corporate leaders who set an example.

Behind the Maison du Festival Rio Tinto Alcan is a company that proudly proclaims to others: “Look what I have done for my community!” Perhaps it is because competition is at the core of our daily life, but I see this as a joyful challenge issued to other Montréal companies: “And what about you? What will you do to make your cultural metropolis even more vibrant?”

From this perspective, I would say that the Maison du Festival Rio Tinto Alcan sends a beautiful message.

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