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  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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Art Matters Forum - Senegal

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Art Matters Forum on the Social Role of the Artist

Dakar, Senegal, Saturday, April 17, 2010

I would like to start this 49th Art Matters forum, the ninth to be held outside Canada and the first to be held in Africa, with a quotation from the philosopher Hannah Arendt.

Arendt said that “we humanize what is going on in the world and in ourselves only by speaking of it, and in the course of speaking, we learn to be human.”

On the initiative of film- and documentary-maker Jean-Daniel Lafond, my husband, Art Matters was designed expressly as a place for speaking, sharing and reflecting on issues affecting the key sector of arts and culture.

We gauge the success of these Arts Matters forums by the productive collaborations inspired by this initiative and the ties forged among participants from all walks of life.

This is our way of practising what we call cultural diplomacy, for in these times of uncertainty and a crisis of values, we are still convinced that culture is essential to civilization, which calls us as human beings to better understand ourselves and celebrate our differences as so many singular contributions to the heritage of humanity, to more effectively lay the foundations of a better world, and to further aspire to that civilization of the universal dreamed of by Léopold Sédar Senghor, who also inspired us to share this dream and want to make it a reality.

I completely agree with Senghor, who also advocated that culture must in no way be neglected, as it “is the very fabric of society.”

The idea is to know how artists and creators make a difference. In some ways, that is the theme of this Arts Matters forum, which should spark a very lively and, we feel, essential discussion, as it calls on us to explore together the role of the arts as a tool of intervention and social change.

We have with us a great Senegalese artist, a great Senegalese ambassador in the international cultural community. Youssou N’Dour, whom we have welcomed many times in Canada. He always plays to a full house there and for his fans in Montreal. He has joined us to help advance constructive actions and ideas in Senegal.

We have tried to bring together artists from a variety of disciplines, including the youngest of your emerging artists, as well as people from the cultural community, women and men who support art as an engine for people’s growth and development.

I want to sincerely and warmly thank all of you who answered this invitation, especially our panellists and our moderator, who will get the ball rolling and facilitate the discussions.

I also invite all of you, dear friends, to share your ideas and opinions online at Citizen Voices, on the website of the Governor General of Canada.

Art can also help give people and the world an extra measure of harmony.

I’d like to leave you with another reflection, by Édouard Glissant and Patrick Chamoiseau, two writers and thinkers of Martinican origin, who said recently that “the absence of beauty is the sign of a threat to life itself, a call to resistance.”

Food for thought indeed, and for action, for those who have faith in culture.

But now I want to hear what you have to say, so without further ado, I open this first Art Matters forum in Africa, in Senegal especially, which, since achieving its independence and unlike other many other African countries, has focussed on the nation and the importance of a cultural policy, everything revolving around culture and about culture.

Where are we, fifty years later? What has the outcome been? What is the situation with artists today? How do you project yourselves? In what artistic mediums? From what vision? I am very interested in all these questions. How do you fit into the heart of your society, your communities?