FIN NOVEMBRE a Godsend in vapid Quartier des Spectacles

November is often said to be the most depressing time of year. As the sunlight dwindles, temperatures drop below freezing and the first snowflakes begin to fall, life becomes more grey and difficult, especially for the disadvantaged. Luckily, the Quartier Latin, renowned for its students, tourists and extensive homeless population, is starting to heat up with FIN NOVEMBRE!

In recent years the government has been desperately trying to re-brand the Red Light District as the Quartier des Spectacles in an attempt to stamp out seedy and undesirable activity while simultaneously boosting tourism with entertaining activities and new festivals. However, critics claim many of these new festivals are symptoms of Disneyfication: lacking vision, direction or purpose, they are thin on mandates, beyond attracting tourists and other people to spend money in the neighbourhood. With plenty of government dollars pouring into the area, many questionable new events are coming into existence, such as OUMF, a festival of “design and visual arts, cinema, literature, knowledge and music.” Given the rich history of the Red Light District, critics often complain that the new festivals overlook existing culture and neglect the salacious entertainment that made the area famous in the first place.

Thankfully, unlike some of the other seemingly vapid events in the Quartier des Spectacles, FIN NOVEMBRE is both deeply-rooted in the community and is highly activist.

Organized by ATSA (Action terroriste socialement acceptable), FIN NOVEMBRE looks and tastes a little bit like Occupy Wall Street, albeit a version that has both permission and funding. Rising from the ashes of État d’Urgence (“State of Emergency”), a 24/7 encampment for “Urban Refugees” that has been staged once a year since 1998, FIN NOVEMBRE provides the homeless and disadvantaged with a festival they can call their own. In fact, giant images of homeless people loom heavily over the scene in Place Émilie-Gamelin, the festival’s headquarters, unlikely models in a city obsessed with fashion.

The public square above Berri-UQAM metro is seeing a lot of action nowadays – it was recently made famous as the gathering site for unyielding student protesters sporting red squares and clanging pots and pans. Now, with the festival in full swing, there are art exhibitions, a stage for live performances and cinema, bonfires in metal barrels to stay warm, and various tents where people can obtain food, hot drinks and winter clothing and gear.

Some of the performance arts include circus acts from CASERNE 18-30, radical guided walks by Bernard Vallée, founder of L’Autre Montréal, and socially engaged music from Manu Militari and Moran. For fans of visual arts, there are also several installation pieces, including a curious old black car crammed full of televisions.

There’s also a detailed picture board outlining the history of the square, which traditionally had a religious vocation. It was here that the Sisters of Providence, under Mother Émilie-Gamelin’s watchful eye, fed and cared for the disadvantaged until their cathedral burned down in 1963.  There are also the permanent iconic sculptures of the late Melvin Charney gracing the park, augmented with one of a giant steeple that hovers over the main stage, itself constructed from metal shipping containers.

While FIN NOVEMBRE definitely embraces local arts and culture, it is also a festival of survival and social change. Billed as “the DNA of a Public Place”, it brings Place Émilie-Gamelin to life by assembling all the stakeholders and demanding change. Festival-goers are also welcome to volunteer, serving soup, distributing winter clothing, promoting the festival and building a better world.

The festival runs from November 16 – 25 with various events scheduled every day. One of the highlights is LA SOIRÉE ROUGE!, a special evening of speeches in the public square on  Thursday, November 22. Featuring 30 of Quebec’s most outspoken celebrities and citizens, such as student leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, organizers bill it as “An evening for putting into context the political awakening embodied by this spring’s student demonstrations, along with the hopes they raised; for consolidating the sense of solidarity felt during the struggle; and for valorizing the power of critical reflection.”

ATSA’s slogan is “Quand l’art passe à l’action” (“When art transforms into action”) and, as such, festival-goers are encouraged to bring a passionate open-mind – and some casseroles to bang on.

One Response to “FIN NOVEMBRE a Godsend in vapid Quartier des Spectacles”

  1. gsl Says:

    Hear, hear!

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