Gray weather for festive Montreal

The bankruptcy of the Just for Laughs Group (JPR) could not have come at a more depressing time for Montreal.

The streets are dirty and gray. The parks look apocalyptic. The rinks have become seas of mud. Restaurants are closing one after the other. A nagging gloom hangs over the city, plunged into a worrying climatic in-between.

The death of JPR, announced like a bomb in this false early spring, will hurt the image of the metropolis.

To its economy, also and above all.

JPR attracted more than 1.2 million visitors last year, 120,000 of whom paid to see live performances. The economic benefits were calculated in tens of millions. The cancellation of the festival will leave a gaping hole in Montreal’s summer programming next summer.

Montreal’s place as the North American festival capital is weakened, but a step back is necessary before declaring a total and absolute catastrophe.

Let’s start by looking at the situation of the JPR Group itself. The company had been in trouble since at least 2017, when its founder Gilbert Rozon was the subject of a barrage of sordid sexual assault accusations.

JPR’s brand image suffered from the scandal, and despite Rozon’s departure and then the sale of the company, several partners subsequently refused to be associated with it, revealed The duty last week. The pandemic and inflation have added another layer of difficulty to this quagmire.

JPR’s bankruptcy will hurt a lot in the short term, of course. To the dozens of laid-off employees, to the thousands of disappointed spectators, to the creditors who will lose tens of millions, to all the artists who will suffer collateral damage.

It’s a mess, but we can very well expect the group to be sold in pieces – including the live performances – over the coming months. I wouldn’t be surprised to see JPR reappear in one form or another in the summer of 2025, right in the Quartier des spectacles.

Above all, we must not underestimate the appetite of potential buyers for the group’s most valuable assets. Several names are already circulating.

What is the state of health of other Montreal festivals? We are swimming here in a great paradox.

Many are experiencing financial difficulties, even though they are more popular than ever. The Quartier des spectacles had a record summer last year, with 4.9 million visitors attending its thirty festivals.

This series of free festivals is part of Montreal’s DNA. But this free service comes at a cost, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for the organizing groups to bear.

Already in 2019, well before the pandemic and the inflationary surge that followed, the organizers of several major festivals, including Jazz, Nuits d’Afrique and Montréal completely circus, were complaining of a continual drop in their income.1.

Their situation continued to deteriorate.

Nuits d’Afrique, for example, has grown considerably at the Place des Festivals since 2022. A second stage has been added, making it possible to accommodate more artists, as well as a culinary section, craftsmanship, in short, a bountiful offer. It works like a charm, but the funding doesn’t follow.


Nuits d’Afrique has grown considerably in place of Festivals since 2022.

“We are expanding, but the governments no longer have money, we have returned to the levels [de subvention] of 2019,” the general director, Suzanne Rousseau, told me.

Nuits d’Afrique has joined forces with around fifteen mid-sized festivals, such as Pop Montréal, the Festival du nouveau cinéma, Fantasia and Montréal completely circus, to try to convince the various levels of government to reinvest in the free programming that the strength of the metropolis.

We want to make governments aware of what constitutes wealth. She is at risk if the government does not wake up. We cannot wait two or three years.

Suzanne Rousseau, general director of Nuits d’Afrique

The collapse of JPR could act as an electric shock to the public authorities. A clap of thunder that will remind them not only of the importance, but also of the great fragility of these free festivals that many Montrealers take for granted.

In any case, this is what Éric Lefebvre, general director of the Partenariat du Quartier des spectacles (PQDS), the organization that manages all the programming around the Place des Festivals, hopes.

“Sometimes it takes crises for you to feel that partners are ready to change,” he told me. About ten years ago there was talk of losing F1. Whether we agree or not, there was a mobilization which made it possible to save the model. »

Éric Lefebvre and several others are calling for a diversification of the sources of income from free festivals, in order, precisely, to be able to maintain them free of charge.

Among the options considered: a special fee imposed on surrounding owners, namely the dozens of condo towers and office buildings which directly benefit from the vitality of the sector. It could be a small percentage of property tax, which the City of Montreal would agree to redirect specifically for holding festivals. No surcharge.

The idea, already applied in several special-purpose neighborhoods across North America, deserves at least some consideration.

The coming months will tell us whether the different levels of government take the fate of free festivals seriously. Time is running out, and the rout of JPR should not produce a domino effect.

Despite everything, summer will be busy in the Quartier des spectacles. There will be 29 festivals from the end of May to September. And in July, when Just for Laughs should have been held on the Place des Festivals, the PQDS will activate… its fountains.

At least it will be free.

1. Read the letter “Quartier des spectacles: the free part of festivals in danger”

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