Plenty of McGill students are from out-of-province places where English is the first language. Many of us arrive here with a desire to learn French, but most of us only go as far as learning how to order breakfast. The two English speaking universities in the city and the cheap rent mean that each year Montreal receives any number of young, Anglophone, transplants who come to party, study, or ‘make it’ in Montreal’s thriving arts scene.
The people at ArcMtl, responsible for Expozine and the Distroboto project, which repurposes cigarette machines to sell art instead, are unveiling a new endeavour this month that examines the Anglophone arts scene in Montreal. “Making It Montreal” brings together Anglophone artists in Montreal who’ve chosen to make this city their home and place of work. Louis Rastelli, one of the organizers, explains that “These artists both chose to ‘make it’ in Montreal and, in the process, are making Montreal through living here and contributing to the arts scene.”
The project features bands, visual artists and writers who have chosen Montreal as their artistic home. MakingItMontreal launched their website last Thursday at Divan Orange, with a musical showcase featuring Tony Ezzy and Lake of Stew. I spoke to Ezzy, an electro-funk musician being showcased by MakingItMontreal, about why he chose to move from Maine to Montreal and the tensions that exist between Franco and Anglo art scenes here.
McGill Daily: Are you a transplant to Montreal?
Tony Ezzy: Yes. I grew up in the state of Maine, but I was born in New Brunswick. I never lived there, though. Just like how Keannu Reeves was born in Beirut.
MD: Why did you chose Montreal as the city you and live and work in as an artist? What makes this city so attractive to artists – or is just the promise of cheap rent?
TE: The possibility of cheap rent is one thing, yes. This is also where I came immediately after graduating High School, so I had a good foundation of friends. Montreal is also an attractive city, as far as urban planning goes. The Un-American-ness of it is very attractive, and the relaxed attitude towards the rat race. It’s definitely not perfect, though.
MD: Can you describe Montreal’s character to me?
TE: Somebody who is naturally really smart and does well in school without having to study. Since they do better than the people around them they think they are truly intelligent, so they turn off their mind and stop learning, and become very cynical. This is what Montreal would be like as a person.
MD: Do you think Montreal comes through in your music at all?
TE: A little bit. The Bibliotech Nationale has done an excellent job at fueling me with research materials that constantly inspire me.
MD: Have you found there’s a strong community for the arts and anglo artists in Montreal?
TE: There is a very strong sense of community here, and an appreciation for art that goes beyond commercialism and/or maket-ability. That is very nice. People need to appreciate their city and their community for what it is and not become frustrated because it’s not another New York or L.A. or Toronto.
MD: Do you think the anglo and franco art scenes in Montreal are different? How do you think they work together? What sort of cultural, lingual, or political barriers have you encountered as a working artist in Montreal?
TE: The franco scene gets more funding, but has much less international crossover appeal. As far as I can see, they don’t work together too much, except when they’re thrown together for political reasons. The Francophone appreciate the english stuff way more than the average Anglophone appreciates French stuff. Actually, the Francophones seem to appreciate the Anglophone stuff more than the Anglophones do.
MD: As an Anglophone, what’s your perspective of language politics in Montreal? Is there a lot of tension? Does the tension come from specific generations? What do you think could be done to help resolve tensions/barriers between these two linguistic groups?
TE: Any kind of politics is an abomination and a form of tyranny. It negates the natural potential for happiness and peace in humans. I personally experienced tension once from a soundman at a place on Papineau and Laurier. He literally sabotaged my show and I had no idea what I had done to offend him. I found out after that it was because I was performing in English. It made him look bad. If somebody is having a bad day or wants to be negative, they can use the language dispute as an excuse.
That’s it. People need to change their way of seeing things individually. Nothing can really be done on the collective level. People need to relax. It’s just talking. Half the time it’s incomprehensible, no matter what language they’re speaking.
You can find out more about MakingItMontreal on their website: www.makingitmontreal.org