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No future for France without culture

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Since leaving the National Theatre School in 2011, I have spent hundreds of hours leading workshops in schools in the greater Montreal area. Wherever I went, in Laval, La Prairie, Villeray, Outremont or Verdun, I was both disturbed and dismayed by the way students expressed themselves in English to each other outside the classroom – and sometimes even in the classroom – students for whom, by the way, the vast majority of students have virtually no participation in cultural productions in Quebec. And I'm only talking about schools in French-speaking school service centers.

Every time I let these students write and create in their often hesitant French, we found pearls and nuggets, discovered beauty in ordinary words, and re-enchanted their fearful and concrete world, at least a little. Above all, we succeeded in instilling in them a love of a language.

However, I am not a magician. I am an artist who loves his language and loves to share it. I simply provide a framework for these students to experience the beauty, the polysemy and – contrary to the myth constantly conveyed – the plasticity of French. This unique Quebec language has been able to integrate thousands of English and indigenous languages ​​throughout its history and, despite the rigidity of the dictates of the French Academy, demonstrates its flexibility every day by incorporating words from Haitian Creole, North African Arabic or Montreal's Latin American Spanish.

Anyone who has ever learned a second or third language knows this. At first, it is motivating to learn new rules and new ways of naming things. But after a while – and especially if you only limit yourself to theory with this language – your motivation wanes. The new language becomes passive and too demanding. You quickly return to your comfort zone.

This is the result of Frenchification, which many experts (including me) believe has been a failure. In Montreal, French, which is the only means of communication, is nearing the end of its life. A language thrives in the culture that supports it. Although I learned German for five years through Duolingo, it was not until I saw a play in Berlin – and met some Germans… – that I said to myself: “I want to master this language.”

On May 16, hundreds of us took to the streets of the city center to denounce the chronic underfunding of art and culture. Yet it is the artists who take the French language from theory to practice. It is through cultural encounters and aesthetic shocks that we fall in love with a language.

Ministers Sébastien Lacombe and Jean-François Roberge, we need an army of artists to bring this language to life in Quebec's schools and community life. If your government were really serious about “quickly reversing the decline of French,” it would double the budget of the Quebec Arts and Letters Council (CALQ) and the Culture at School program, which already has hundreds of artists and writers enrolled who are all too often under-courted by educational circles.

Your government would set up a guaranteed minimum income programme, inspired by the French Intermittence. In exchange for a minimum subsistence level (for example, $2,000 a month, the level of the former PCU), participating artists would commit to dedicating a certain number of hours a month (for example, a dozen) to creative work or mediation in the presence of students or adults in a school or community setting, in order to promote the creations they work on every day (workshops based on a theatre performance, readings and discussions on excerpts from a novel they are working on, dance workshops linked to a choreography, etc.).

Such a program would not only free a multitude of artists from precarious and subsistence jobs, but would also offer a real vision for French by allowing a language to come to life through its creations. This would stimulate curiosity about our cultural productions and would inevitably have a positive impact on the number of visitors to stage or literary works in Quebec.

American culture and its catchy language will always be popular with young people. That's why we need an army of artists to take concrete action with them to offer a dignified resistance. Our language doesn't lack grammar lessons, it lacks love. Paying Quebec artists a decent minimum income so they can spread it is certainly one way to keep it alive.

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