The City of Montréal has long been a leader in creative industries and culture; it now recognises that society is at a point where digital technology affects all aspects of life, including culture. Digital technology is the guiding thread of the City’s recent cultural strategy ‘Combining Creativity and the Citizen Cultural Experience in the Age of Digital Technology and Diversity: The 2017–2022 Cultural Development Policy’. It is seeking to place Montréal as a thought leader in this global shift and to create spaces for experimentation, ensuring that its diverse citizen body is equipped for this future.
The digital revolution comes with the risk of a digital divide opening up between those with and those without access to digital knowledge competencies, such as coding and hardware. Therefore, the City’s 2017–2022 Cultural Development Policy has provisions to make sure that the benefits of digital technology are available to all. It also has ambitions to help raise those who are already digitally connected to the next level, while avoiding the risk that technology will create an environment that is efficient but alienating.
Public libraries are a central strand in the City’s digital ambitions. These libraries form a network where citizens can become familiar with new digital tools including Fab Labs, where future entrepreneurs and creatives can develop their skills. The libraries also offer 3D printers and social spaces for public talks about innovation.
Meanwhile, a high-tech approach is already permeating Montréal’s cultural sector. The City’s Quartier des Spectacles has an ‘Urban Digital Laboratory’ devoted to creating digital works in this cultural area of the city. More recently the Quartier des Spectacles has been further developed as a social space and a place for cutting edge digital projections, installations and experimentation.
Since 2012, the city has hosted Festival Elektra, a digital biennial, which attracted 30,000 visitors in 2016. Unique in the world in focusing on installation art, it makes use of more than 30 spaces in the city, including museums and galleries. The event allows the digital art sector and digital creativity industry to meet and find out about each other’s projects. These high-profile events are supported by cross-sectoral collaboration at the ‘Digital Round Table’, a regular session that brings together partners working in multimedia and digital arts. Supported by the municipal administration and Montréal Arts Council, this provides leadership and ensures there is a coherent vision among all stakeholders.
The City’s cultural digital vision is informed by the ‘High Tech/High Touch’ principle first suggested by John Naisbitt in 1982 in the book ‘Megatrends’. This argues that people continue to want personal contact in the digital world, and that societies should therefore embrace the innovations that preserve a sense of humanity, while rejecting those that isolate the user. Montréal’s plan, which develops incubator spaces for individuals and cultural enterprises, while also offering large-scale shared creative public events, succeeds in supporting the personal experience, even as it seeks to embrace a technology-rich future. Montréal aims at positioning itself as a World Capital of Digital Art and Creativity and is a leader in digital art and creativity, attracting visionary companies and artists.