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Simon Brault

TONY FOUHSE

In this six-part series of interviews, Canadians with a variety of experiences discuss the major challenges our country is facing and how best to address them. This instalment deals with making pluralism work.

Simon Brault, director and chief executive officer of the Canada Council for the Arts, was interviewed on Nov. 5 by Brenna Atnikov, a consultant at Reos Partners.

Atnikov: What's got your attention right now?

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Brault: Our country is increasingly divided politically and ideologically. We need to find themes, questions and preoccupations that go beyond those divides and to debate ideas based on their merit and not on who expressed them. We still believe we need experts to fix things. But expertise is not enough; we need a broader view and understanding of the challenges and potential solutions. Canada must see its thinkers and artists and philosophers and researchers as people who have practical contributions to make to solving problems.

Atnikov: If you could ask a clairvoyant anything about the future, what would you want to know?

Brault: How will we practise democracy over the next decades? Democracy – and the freedom of speech, expression and creation – remains one of the most powerful engines to develop a country. Canada should renounce the idea of one interpretation or an official story. We need to keep alive a democratic and open discussion about how we see the past and the future.

Have we found ways to avoid isolation? I'm concerned by the fact that a lot of people feel lonely and are disconnected or marginalized. I don't think this was as much the case years ago. The divide between people who are in the system and people who are out is deeper and more brutal than before. It has to do with poverty, education and language. Arts and culture have a role to play in advancing the ideal of a more inclusive society. The countries that succeed in being more inclusive will have a better future. The ones that continue to invest in exclusion will have more and more difficulty performing well on any indicators.

What is the future of our symbolic life – the music, images, movement and narratives that we build? What will be the role of artists, who are the makers and interpreters and proposers of symbols? In society right now, we cannot ignore some attempts to control our symbolic life and to instrumentalize it for commercial or other purposes. We need to develop a symbolic life that is strong enough to give Canadians a sense of belonging and possibility and at the same time communicate our values to the rest of the world. It's easy right now to live anywhere in the world and be connected through screens and live in a virtual world that has nothing to do with a sense of place. But I still believe that by living together in communities and sharing institutions, values and a political system, we will be able to generate a single symbolic space where we meet, exchange, dream and imagine the future.

Atnikov: What important lessons from the past can we draw upon to inform how we should operate in the future?

Brault: What interests me the most is how we recovered from different crises. Resilience is the ability to go back to a state of relative harmony and happiness after some kind of upheaval, whether in a neighbourhood, industry, sector or part of the country. We can dig into our past to find out what individuals, proposals and ideas served as catalysts of resilience and learn from those.

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Possible Canadas is a project created by Reos Partners, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, and a diverse coalition of philanthropic and community organizations. To see longer versions of these interviews, or to join the conversation, visit possiblecanadas.ca

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