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Art Matters, North America’s largest student-run festival, is bigger than ever

FEB. 29 – MAR. 23: Celebrating 20 years, students launch an online archive and prepare to take over the city
February 25, 2020
Sophie Heyen-Dubé: “Our shows operate at a high level.” | Image: La Montaña Del Antaño (The Mountain of Old) by Carlo Polidoro López
Sophie Heyen-Dubé: “Our shows operate at a high level.” | Image: La Montaña Del Antaño (The Mountain of Old), by Carlo Polidoro López

Every March for the last 20 years, undergraduate students in Concordia’s Faculty of Fine Arts have come together to take over the city’s arts spaces under the banner of Art Matters.

And ever since she started at Concordia, Sophie Heyen-Dubé has wanted to work at North America’s largest student-run arts festival.

“I remember going to a Nuit Blanche event at the MAI gallery in my first year. It was so extraordinary. I thought, this is a Concordia initiative? It’s so cool!”

Last year, she presented her own artwork at an Art Matters show at the Rialto Theatre in Montreal and planned a year-end show for her DRAW 450 Drawing IV class. This year, she’s the festival’s exhibition coordinator.

With 15 exhibitions and three workshops, Heyen-Dubé says the 2020 Art Matters will be the largest one yet — and the city’s art scene is stoked to celebrate this big anniversary.

“Most people know us and are always really excited to see us. We do great outreach and the festival gives them good visibility. I also think that our shows operate at a pretty high level.”

Guillaume Bégin will be performing at Mainline Theatre on February 29. Guillaume Bégin will be performing at Mainline Theatre on February 29.

More applications from theatre and dance programs

This year’s festival starts the night of February 29 at the MainLine Theatre, in conjunction with Nuit Blanche. Organized by facilitators from the Concordia Association of Students in Theatre, One Wandering (K)Night: An Art Matters Soirée will focus on performance.

“We were really lucky this year because our outreach coordinator, Jonathan Stern, is a theatre student, so he had great contacts there,” Heyen-Dubé says. “Working through the associations, we encouraged more people to apply from theatre and dance programs.”

On March 5, two neighbouring vernissages are taking place on Atateken St. in the Centre-Sud district.

Performance, facilitated by dance student Rameez Karim, will feature more than 20 performers at the beautiful Écomusée du fier monde starting at 6 p.m. The show next door to the old public pool, Do You Remember Moving Through Time, facilitated by Lorenza Mezzapelle, Olivier Du Ruisseau and Charlotte Lehoux, will run from 6 to 12 p.m. at Gallery 2112.

Flourish: Seeds and Needs, by Nickle Peace-Williams Flourish: Seeds and Needs, by Nickle Peace-Williams

Two shows, Encounters and The Distance Between You and Me, will appear in a large new space called Transmission.

“Clara Couzino (BFA 18), an alumna from Concordia purchased this huge industrial space. We’re doing a double show there because the space is too big for one person to fill. I am so excited to see how the two shows work together,” Heyen-Dubé says.

From A to B, facilitated by electroacoustics student Malte Leander, will take place at a new bar/club/gallery space called La Poubelle Magnifique close to the Visual Arts (VA) Building on Crescent St. The show, featuring many audio art components, will span several floors.

The first collaboration between the Art Matters Festival and Concordia University’s Centre for Creative Reuse is happening at Concordia’s VAV Gallery. This residency, facilitated by Becca McKay, features eight artists and hopes to promote sustainability in art festivals.

On campus, 4TH SPACE is hosting workshops open to all students: one about digital interactivity and performance, another about embroidering electronics into clothing and a third on live streaming performances.

How to be Seen or the Act of Looking at Looking by Zoé Fauvel How to be Seen or the Act of Looking at Looking, by Zoé Fauvel

‘Our gift to the future’

The challenge — and ultimately, freedom — that all Art Matters staff must face is its annual turnover. Every summer, a completely new set of students takes the reins. With 20 former exhibition coordinators, it’s sometimes hard to know how and why past decisions were made, Heyen-Dubé says.

Internally, the team began the year by indexing and classifying a Google Drive and a hard drive containing all the knowledge accumulated from two decades of festival making.

“With this archive, we know what happened, where it happened and why. You get everything. It’s super well classified and easy to find. That’s our gift to the future.”

The Art Matters team also hired student archivist Sam Bordeleau to build an archival website for the anniversary. The new site, launching in March, will contain links to all the past festival websites and their printed programs — the look and feel for each one is completely different — as well as hundreds of photos of past festivals.

<em>El agua que nos separa es un ser</em> (The Water Between Us Is A Being), by Carolina Larossa El agua que nos separa es un ser (The Water Between Us Is A Being), by Carolina Larossa

Compiling that archive represents a huge amount of research, adds Heyen-Dubé, and was very revealing. For instance, early editions of the festival mostly took place on campus and were quite representative of all the fine arts departments.

“There used to be so much theatre, music, dance — everything. Then, maybe 10 years ago, the festival started to go mostly to the visual arts. I think when the festival moved outside Concordia, it became harder to find performance spaces. This year, we’re very excited to go back to how it was.”

Bordeleau has hunted down past organizers to discover where they have ended up. It turns out that working at Art Matters is a solid training ground for artists, curators and other culture sector workers.

“I know lots of past coordinators work in galleries now,” Heyen-Dubé says.

“Before, I looked at job applications and said to myself, ‘Oh god, I don’t know how to do this.’ But now that I’ve done the work here, I think, ‘I can do this!’ It’s so great.”

The 20th Art Matters Festival runs February 29 to March 23.
Check out the full schedule.


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