Montreal, Canada, 2012-06-18 -
For the fifth consecutive year, the creation of a pedestrian mall on St. Catherine strategy between St-Hubert and Papineau streets from May 14 to September 16 will open up spaces for creative installations and art exhibitions. The fifth anniversary of this summer event, called Aires Libres (Open Spaces) also offers an opportunity for the instigator of the project, the Société de développement commercial du Village (SDCV), in collaboration with the Ville-Marie borough, to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the creation of Montreal’s Gay Village.
Five Years of Aires Libres
“Aires Libres is an original way for retailers, residents, and visitors to appropriate an urban space through creative activities,” summarizes Bernard Plante, executive director of SDCV. And when it comes to creativity, SDCV has the means to match its ambitions, with a team of designers recognized for both their talent and their artistic fibre.
Landscape architect Claude Cormier needs no introduction, as his many interventions have marked the Montreal landscape with touches of fantasy and humanity. His works include the forest of pink trees at the Palais des congrès and the urban beach at Place de l’Horloge in the Old Port. He returns to the Village this year with his pink ball-ribbon unfurled for a kilometre above St. Catherine Street, bringing, as he says, “colour, freshness, and happiness.”
Cormier’s long-time partner, lighting designer Gilles Arpin (who designed the architectural lighting for the Old Port) has created a light beam grazing the suspended installation so that it will offer the same perspective at night as during the day.
Louis Gagnon, from the graphic design agency Paprika, which the magazine Novum named several years ago as one of the world leaders in emotional design, is another leading figure in Montreal design. From the window treatments for the Suite 88 chocolate shop to the visual identity for the Germain hotel group and the wild windows at the store Domison, Gagnon stands out for his artistic approach to space. For Aires Libres, he is reinventing his installation of last year, Manifeste, with a new sentence suspended for reading from different angles.
Finally, the effervescent duo of Mélissa Mongiat and Mouna Andraos, known for their interactive installations such as the musical swings at Place des Arts, amuse visitors with one of their latest original ideas. At each end of the pedestrian artery, a stairway will invite visitors to climb up to an improvised belvedere to have a view of the street and the pink ball-ribbon. Visitors will also be able to have their picture taken with cameras placed above the belvedere and then go to find their snapshot on the Aires Libres Web site. The same principle applies at other stations, in the form of chaises longues and even a symbolic throne!
The Gay Village turns 30
In 1982, the gay and lesbian community of Montreal moved to what was to become the Village. This year, Aires Libres takes the opportunity to celebrate this 30th anniversary with a series of activities of all types.
In the same spirit as the 2011 photography exhibition, “La Sainte-Catherine dans le Village,” this year Aires Libres offers a retrospective showing the profound transformation of the neighbourhood’s retail sector, cabarets, and the Dupuis Frères department store into restaurants, cafés, and trendy clubs.
Aside from the Célébrations de la Fierté Montréal, Aires Libres will host a number of varied events, from commercial fairs to circus performances (Montréal Complètement Cirque, Hors Piste) and music shows (Mélo-Cité), open-air movies in collaboration with the Image+Nation festival, and an art festival (Festival International Montréal en Arts). There will also be numerous impromptu events; for instance, Communauto plans to present its new electric cars, and street artists have already begun to populate the open spaces of St. Catherine Street.
The Village and Aires Libres: A success story
Over the last 30 years, the Village has become a remarkable example of revitalization of an old neighbourhood in decline. Today, aside from its attraction as a tourist area, it has become a symbol of successful integration of a gay community with a local population.
For five years, Aires Libres has confirmed this phenomenon. “The citizens have so completely appropriated this summer festival that they consider it theirs,” observes Bernard Plante. The event not only allows residents to reappropriate their neighbourhood but also enables visitors to rediscover the Village. “The clientele has not only diversified, but considerably expanded!” Plante adds. Aside from the events and art installations, SDC has created a less-polluted, safer, and even less noisy (amplified sound is forbidden on retailers’ terraces) environment.
The results have been quick in coming. This section of St. Catherine Street has regained its vocation of being a natural destination for all Montrealers. The commercial vacancy rate has dropped spectacularly. The international press has even reflected this success, since the Village is talked about in Italy, Turkey, and Hong Kong!
The 5th edition of Aires Libres is made possible thanks to financial support from the National Bank, Labatt Breweries, the Ville-Marie borough, and the SDC du Village.