Founded in 2009, Art Souterrain is a non-profit organization which strives to change the way contemporary artistic practices are viewed and understood by the general public. Every year the organization exhibits contemporary artworks in Montreal’s underground passageways and is famously recognized for their participation in the annual festival of Nuit blanche. Art Souterrain is based on the determination of raising cultural awareness by exhibiting artworks within an important yet disregarded and underappreciated cultural heritage site. As a result, the organization aims to add cultural richness to Montreal by highlighting the city’s underground network by exhibiting artworks created by local and foreign contemporary artists.
The organization is a result of many components:
These facts have also been observed and studied by Michel Leblanc; president and chief director of la Chambre de commerce du Montréal métropolitain (Board of trade of Metropolitan Montreal). His study entitled «Culture in Montreal: Economic Impacts and Private Funding» (Nov. 2009), concluded with statements such as « If our cultural sector is economically vibrant, the « creative heart » [of Montreal] remains fragile […]. The artists [in visual arts] are the most precarious workers of the cultural sector ». Montreal is the cultural capital of Quebec, as a result of its history, its climate and its unique linguistic context. The visual arts are therefore abundant but nevertheless underestimated by the general public. Culture is the mainspring for social construction and cohesion. In addition to being essential to the definition of cultural identity, it is a real lever for economic development. This is why ART SOUTERRAIN believes it is essential and relevant to develop as well as to facilitate access to contemporary art.
Montreal’s underground network quickly illustrated an ideal context for a large-scale winter exhibition. An underground passageway that interconnected demonstrated and encouraged the public to take part in a major contemporary art festival for it permitted the public to stay indoors and never having to step foot in the cold winter weather. It benefits a high attendance of Montreal’s population, a rich history and an enviable international reputation.
The first edition of Art Souterrain was launched in February of 2009. The festival was presented within the context of the sixth edition of Nuit Blanche of the Montréal en Lumière Festival, during which 30 000 visitors enjoyed the underground activities. That year 80 contemporary artists were presented in 10 exhibition spaces sprawled over 2, 8 kilometers, from the Palais des Congrès de Montréal to Complexe les Ailes. 150 cultural mediators volunteered their time by serving as informative guides to the public. They spoke to the public in regards to the artist and the artwork, this helped to create a link between the public and contemporary artwork.
Art Souterrain’s second edition in 2010 expanded and that year it lasted a total of 15 days and presented over a hundred artists, spread across a circuit of 4 kilometers. 5 metro stations and sveral venues, such as the Place des Arts and the Complexe Guy-Favreau were added to the circuit where more than 120 000 people visited during Nuit Blanche. As a result of festival expanding and lasting over a two week period, the festival welcomed more than a million people during the entirety of the festival!
In 2010, Art Souterrain also participated in Shanghai’s Universal Exhibition which took place between May 13th and May 19th of 2010. 15 artistic projects funded by Quebecor were chosen and presented in a famous Shanghai shopping center. It was a unique occasion to internationally promote the richness and diversity of Montreal’s contemporary art scene.
The following year the Art Souterrain festival expanded once more and was spread across a circuit of 6 kilometers for its third edition. This attracted even more people to the city’s underground hidden treasures …
In 2012, Art Souterrain has united more than 140 recognized artists, and their work has been exhibited on a course of 7 kilometers, from Place des Arts to Complexe les Ailes.
To allow both national and international artistic scenes to meet, Art Souterrain has the opportunity to present various projects by contemporary artists from the festival’s invited cities; Calgary and Paris, while still pursuing its collaboration with local artists.
During the inauguration, more than 210 000 visitors walked through the entire exhibition course or parts of it, thus celebrating both local and Canadian cultural dynamism. Throughout the 2012 festival, the artists explored the theme of Passageways, which directly referred to the space where the exhibition took place. The spectators had the chance to visit the eclectic and colorful projects which were presented along the 7km underground passage during Nuit Blanche and the following two weeks of exhibition, also known as the Art Souterrain festival.
This fourth edition of the Art Souterrain festival proudly presented its first Spotlight Event. Selected zones were highlighted in order to maximize the visibility of the innovative art works and spectacular performances. In addition to this contemporary exhibition, a range of interactive activities were created especially by the festival’s participating artists and were presented free of charge!
Many original activities underlined the 15 day festival of the 2012 edition. Art Souterrain has welcomed 580 visitors for our guided tours, including 20 school groups and more than 250 people for the successful nocturnal treasure hunt; Ticket to the Arts. The 8 days of Mises en Lumière; Spotlight Event and both the downloadable audio guide and Art Souterrain iPhone application have helped the organisation’s considerable growth.
Also, within the framework of the C2 Montreal international forum, Art Souterrain has set up the E-merge exhibition, with the aim of drawing a portrait of the innovation and creativity in Quebec through interactive and immersive projects created by 7 artists and 6 companies, united by the same desire to invent, to conceive and to shape.
Since the organisation’s creation, 450 artistic projects have been exhibited in public spaces, allowing more than 4 million visitors to familiarise themselves with today’s art.
February 14th, 2013!