Monday, January 21, 2013

The Question, January 21, 2013

Creation is a tormented process until a shared vision emerges.
by Estelle Rosen

Since graduating from the playwriting program at the National Theatre School, Guy Rodgers has divided his time between writing and arts advocacy. During the 90s he began to specialize in writing large multimedia shows such as The Story of Montreal at the Pointe-à-Callière Museum in Montreal, Washington Confidential at the City Museum in Washington, DC, Imagine Canada at La Villette in Paris, and all the film and videos for the Canada Pavilion at Expo 2000 in Germany. In 2005 he was the founding executive director of the English Language Arts Network (ELAN). 

CHARPO: As Executive Director of ELAN, have your goals and expectations been met and/or changed since founding ELAN in 2005? Don't hesitate to include trials and tribulations en route.

RODGERS: ELAN is my third experience at creating an artists' network. When I graduated from NTS I got involved with the old Quebec Drama Festival.  While working part-time as a screenwriter I also worked part-time as Executive Director of QDF when it was reinvented as the Quebec Drama Federation. A couple of years later I was founding president of the Quebec Writers' Federation.  Having been through those earlier adventures in community building I had clear expectations and goals for ELAN.

It is a fact of life that every new organization is born into a world of indifference and torment.  Most people are highly sceptical at first and can't imagine the need for a new organization, or why anyone would want to join it. Overcoming initial indifference requires faith and evangelical persistence. There is also, inevitably, a small group of people who clearly recognize the organization's potential but have clashing views about how it should function and who it should serve. Creation is a tormented process until a shared vision emerges. Michelangelo said, 'I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free'. He didn't have to deal with dissident angels or demons. Lyndon Johnson said, 'it is probably better to have them inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in'.   

ELAN had a comparatively painless birth. I was more mellow, which makes it easier to find constructive ways to resolve conflict.  And the artistic community is much larger, more confident and optimistic than it was 20 or 30 years ago. We are also living in an era of DIY and low budget collaboration, so even if ELAN had never received any funding there is great value in simply bringing people together who would otherwise never have connected. I've lost count of the number of artists who met at ELAN schmoozers and then formed creative partnerships.  The schmoozers we held in the Townships, the Laurentians, Gastineau and Quebec City brought artists together who would not otherwise have had occasion to meet due to distances and different disciplines.  Our mentorship and language exchange programs also provided a means for artists to help one another. 

RAEV (Recognizing Artists: Enfin Visible!) has been my favourite ELAN project to date because it documented the experiences of English-language artists working in Quebec. The RAEV histories, which were published by Guernica Editions as Minority Report: An Alternative History of English-Language Arts in Quebec, are an important piece of cultural history.  The full content is available on-line, in English and in French (

What next?  There is a growing interest among Anglo and Franco artists to share the public space. I was elected to the board of Culture Montréal in 2011 to represent ELAN and Anglo artists. The growing number of people who are bilingual and bicultural opens new doors. Culture Montréal has some exciting projects underway to connect artists with their neighbourhoods. In the end, everything comes back to community. 

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