May 28, 2021 - One on One

In conversation with Mara Gourd-Mercado, Quebec section Executive Director of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, a hard-driving and passionate manager who is fully invested in the development and recognition of a diverse, inclusive Quebec cultural milieu.

1. For the cultural industries and the economy in general, how do you see the economic reopening and the future in the short term?  

For a little more than a year, with all the closings and reopening we’ve had, the cultural community was hit just as hard creatively and in terms of the artists’ mental health as it was with respect to programming. In the short term, for a successful economic reboot, we need to seriously think about how we can deliver our cultural offering when pandemic measures are constantly changing without exhausting ourselves, all while financing and delivering a quality product for the public.  

What’s more, when it comes to funding, public bodies and cultural organizations need to sit down together and look at how we finance productions. When we talked to people working in the milieu, we concluded that 2023 would be a pivotal year. With emergency funding programs no longer being renewed, cultural organizations will no longer be a priority and will find themselves strapped financially. That’s precisely why we want to see some deeper reflection on long-term funding and the place of the cultural industry within the Quebec economy.   

It’s important to remember that Quebec culture is often exported internationally. We have the kind of flame that’s not just entrepreneurial but creative and innovative, which makes us a powerful economic driver. We need to rely on these assets to relaunch our economy.

 

2. As a director, how would you describe the past year for you? What were your biggest challenges?  

The most complicated thing was finding a way to restore or remedy all the intangibles in human relationships we lost. For all those times you bump into someone in the hallway, at the corner coffee shop, at an exposition or a cocktail, we had to find other means of maintaining that contact.   

As a manager, it’s the same thing with my team. Before, it was easy to take the pulse of the team, to figure out who was stressed, who was okay or not okay, who was a positive or negative leader. With the pandemic, I had to find new ways of connecting with my team over a screen. To do so, I spend a lot of time calling them so we could touch base.    

Finally, the new normal gave me the chance to take up a number of new challenges, like reinventing myself, making sure I was fully present for my team, becoming more sensitive to irritants and securing funding in a constantly changing landscape.

 

3. What have you learned about yourself since you’ve become a director and that has become even more apparent in the last year?    

As a general rule, I’m a resilient person not easily flustered. With the year we just went through, I can tell you that no matter the situation, I’m constantly in solution mode. I always say that, in our business, we’re not doing open-heart surgery. No one is waiting for a kidney. What we do is entertain people; we create culture. Sure, they are huge amounts of money at stake, but you have to be able to keep things in perspective.

 

4. What inspires and drives you these days?  

It’s true it’s something I tend to hold sacred, but I would say the work we’ve done on equity and inclusion. It’s something that moves me and that I worked on at RIDM before taking it with me to the Academy. The goal is to make the cultural industries, specifically cinema and television, more inclusive and more equitable. I’d like the latest generation of Quebecers to see themselves in Quebec content. We need to work at opening up our industry so that our culture reflects who we are. Culture is not just a powerful economic engine; it’s also a social driver. It’s important to keep in mind that the very notion of citizenship is also built through culture.

 

5. How do you see the director’s role in the next few years?  

For a long time, artists headed up cultural institutions and organizations. Today, in the cultural realm, we’ve moved on to another generation of managers. These are passionate people who put their skills to work for our culture and its creators. I think it’s a trend that will grow in the future, and we’ll see the professionalization of the cultural industry.    

In addition to the role of accompanying artists, the role of the manager will also include managing teams. In the last two years, a number of toxic environments in the cultural world saw the light of day. Today managers have to be at the forefront of equity and inclusivity, but also of gender diversity and harassment, both sexual and psychological.     

The culture industry is still young. The coming years will let culture managers reflect on their individual roles and their roles within the ecosystem. 

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