Quebecois artists find kindred spirits in Scotland with government help

This year is the 15th anniversary of Quebec and the United Kingdom cozying up through creative collaborations and to mark the occasion, they are funding artists to cross the pond and partner up.

Quebec-U.K. creative collaborations celebrate 15 years with travel grant to promote more cultural exchanges

Theatre PÀP, based in Montreal since 1978, is one of the companies collaborating with a Scottish theatre. Shown here, its 2017 show, Filles en liberté. (Claude Gagnon/Theatre PÀP)

This year is the 15th anniversary of Quebec and the United Kingdom cozying up through creative collaborations, and to mark the occasion, they are funding artists to cross the pond.

The two governments have helped more than 1,000 artists network and grow through collaborations over the years. 

One of those collaborations is a bilingual theatre piece based on sovereignty and identity that will be at this year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August.

It's been in the works since 2014 as a collaboration between two Montreal theatre development companies — Théâtre PÀP and Hôtel-Motel — along with the National Theatre of Scotland.

The working title of the show is Nous/Us and will feature both Scottish and Quebecois actors.

"The QC-UK Connections Programme has afforded the opportunity for in-depth research between the nations, resulting in a unique theatrical international collaboration," Caroline Newall, director of artistic development at the National Theatre of Scotland, said in an email.

According to the National Theatre's description of the collaboration, "the experiences of these two countries are near unique, having both progressed through official referendums." 

A grant for travel

The granting window closes Feb. 4 for Connexions QC – UK Connections, a research travel grant that offers about $2,500 to help cover trip costs.

The international exchange projects it seeks to promote must include at least one British and one Quebec partner, who are aiming to develop a deeper understanding between the two societies. 

Saada El-Akhrass is the arts manager at Canada's British Council office, based in Toronto, and said it's important that artists have the opportunity to visit other places and explore different ways of doing things.

She said Quebec "has always been open to the rest of the world."

Quebec is Canada's only province to have this kind of cultural connection program with Britain.

On top of efforts to bring cross-Atlantic artists together — fostered both by the British Council office and Quebec's Ministry of Culture and Communications — Quebec's office in London helps Quebecers network.

Maude Laflamme is the director of culture at Quebec's London office and said that in the past 15 years, government initiatives have supported 60 international exchange projects.

She said the benefits of accessing the much larger British market is clear for Quebec artists.

"Given the modest size of its domestic market, Quebec looks beyond its borders for growth in many sectors, including culture," Laflamme said.

She added that the arts can foster mutual understanding, which is "something of particularly high value in the current international context of upheaval and uncertainty." 

Quebec's special connection to Scotland

El-Akhrass said Quebecers often find creative kinship with Scottish artists, based on parallels in their unique, sub-national identities — further solidified by Scotland's 2014 independence referendum. 

Quebec artists are encouraged to visit Edinburgh in August when the city is flooded with artists attending the Fringe Festival and the Edinburgh International Festival.

"A lot of collaborations come out of that," El-Akhrass said.

She said other collaborations over the years have included Montreal's Blue Metropolis Literary Festival linking up with the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and Montreal's music, art, technology festival Mutek doing a curating exchange with London's Convergence Festival.