Conseil des arts de Montréal's new president has a plan to revive the city's arts scene

For the first time in its 65-year history, the Conseil des arts de Montréal has appointed a Black person to chair its board of directors. Ben Marc Diendéré plans to use his business and managerial experience to help revive the city's arts scene.

Diendéré was born in Burkina Faso, moved to Montreal 25 years ago

Ben Marc Diendéré, 50, is the 11th person to be appointed chair of the Conseil des arts de Montréal, and the first Black person to hold that role. (Normand Huberdeau/Conseil des arts de Montréal)

The Conseil des arts de Montréal has named Ben Marc Diendéré as the new chair of its board directors, making him the first Black person to hold that position in the organization's 65-year history.

Diendéré, who is 50, was born in Burkina Faso and moved to Montreal 25 years ago.

He sat on the conseil's board of directors from 2012 to 2019, before going on to become head of public affairs and communications for VIA Rail Canada. 

He has a background in business, while also working for Quebecor, SODEC and Sollio Groupe Coopératif, the largest farming co-operative in Canada.

"I've navigated in the cultural [sector], media, telecommunications, the food industry and now transportation," Diendéré said during an interview with Radio-Canada's Le 15-18, adding that arts hold a special place in his heart.

"I never disconnected [from the arts]," he said. "It's how I learned to understand the world, to connect to it."

In a statement released this week, the conseil described Diendéré as being "known for his expertise in business and philanthropic circles as well as his commitment to the cultural community."

Ben Marc Diendéré says strengthening relationships with the business sector is key to reviving Montreal's arts scene. (Joel Côté/Radio-Canada)

Merging business and arts

Diendéré has managed several fundraising campaigns for arts projects, and he says that gives him an understanding of the relationship between the cultural and business worlds.

"I understand very well the financial needs of cultural organizations," he said. "It takes public funds, but also [money from] the business world because we all benefit from a certain elegance from this city."

One of his priorities will be to strengthen ties with financial partners and find new ones by exploring different sources of funding.

"We're in a province that is 90 per cent made up of small and medium-sized businesses, and we haven't fully involved them in philanthropy," he said.

"Philanthropy is stuck between francophones and anglophones, but I think that there's the richest Chinese person, the richest South Asian person and the richest Haitian person in Montreal that we haven't asked help from.… These are all [possible sources of funding] that we have to stimulate."

In his new role, Diendéré also hopes to become a bridge between different communities in the province.

"I've long advocated for inclusion and representation. It's important for my son, for the little girl who is of Haitian or African origin, for an Asian person to see me," he said.

"Yes, I want to be a bridge, and I want to echo the voices of cultural communities, and Indigenous communities."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

With files from Radio-Canada's Catherine Richer


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