© Getty/shironosov

In practice

The Quartier des Spectacles Partnership


Montreal, Canada—

  • The Quartier des Spectacles (QDS) in Montreal, Canada is home to 450 cultural businesses and organisations providing more than 7 000 culture-related jobs.

  • Created in 2003, the Quartier des Spectacles Partnership is a not-for-profit organisation that brings together around 85 members from various backgrounds who collaboratively support the development and promotion of the cultural value of the Quartier.

  • The QDS Partnership is characterised by its unique governance structure, allowing for co-creation among local stakeholders and valuing participatory processes.

What are the objectives?

With a history stretching back more than 100 years, the Quartier des Spectacles neighbourhood has long been a popular cultural and entertainment destination in Montreal, Canada. Spanning over one square kilometre, the district is recognised for its concentration of entertainment venues, theatres, art galleries, and frequent festivals. It serves as a focal point for various cultural events throughout the year, including well-known festivals like the Montreal International Jazz Festival, Just for Laughs comedy festival, and the Montreal World Film Festival. Together with its public art installations, illuminated facades, and interactive digital displays this makes the Quartier des Spectacles a significant part of Montreal's cultural landscape, attracting both locals and visitors.

To maintain and energise the district’s cultural scene, the City of Montreal founded the not-for-profit organisation Quartier des Spectacles (QDS) Partnership in 2003. The Partnership’s mission is to actively contribute to the development and promotion of the cultural value of the district by integrating urban, touristic, social and economic considerations into every one of its actions, in collaboration with public authorities and other local stakeholders.

How does it work in practice?

During the first few years, the QDS Partnership formed its vision for the area’s development, defined the visual identity and implemented first collective projects. Since the completion of the new public spaces in 2009, the Partnership has fulfilled a broader mission focused more on operational concerns. It now oversees the Quartier’s activities through cultural programming, the management of the public spaces and enhancement of the general cultural offering.

Specifically, its aims are to

  • Enrich and preserve the Quartier’s cultural assets, notably those related to the performing arts and performance venues. For example, by displaying artists’ works in public places and on buildings, as well as supporting the establishment of cultural businesses, artists’ residences and programmes to help its residents, including artists, become property owners.

  • Create a vibrant Quartier through the programming of cultural activities in addition to the existing offer. For example, by hosting interactive art installations (based on sound, light, or participation), exhibitions of both local and international artists, architectural video projections, as well as numerous festivals and events.

  • Manage the public spaces and specialised facilities used for cultural activities. For example, this means providing facilities that can host local, national and international events that allow artists to constantly be at the forefront of their fields. These facilities need to offer easier connection to infrastructure and support services while fulfilling the needs of the Quartier’s diverse seasonal and permanent cultural activities.

  • Promote and develop the Quartier des Spectacles as the heart of Montreal. This includes the transition into a mixed-use district that aligns with the needs of its diverse residents and functions: community life, student life, artistic life, integration into its urban surroundings and an international tourist destination.

For its 2022-2026 strategy, the QDS Partnership organised a stakeholder consultation. 350 people participated in the consultation, feeding over 2 000 ideas into strategy brainstorming. Based on the participatory process, QDS produced five axes for future development, including post-COVID recovery, cultural dynamism, territorial planning, synergy creation as well as local and international outreach.

The governance of the QDS is characterised by a collaborative and participatory approach. The QDS Partnership’s executive committee is composed of a diverse group of stakeholders, resembling a quadruple helix model (i.e. collaboration between four major actors: science, policy, industry, and society). For example, voting board members include the Cinéma Impérial, the University of Quebec in Montreal, KPMG or the Metropolitan Montreal Chamber of Commerce.

Local and regional government also play a vital part in the operation of the QDS Partnership, with over 80% of the Partnership’s revenue coming from the Montreal municipal government. Additionally, representatives from the municipality and Quebec’s Ministry of Culture and Communications sit as board observers.

What has been the impact?

The QDS is home to 450 cultural businesses and organisations providing more than 7 000 culture-related job. It encompasses eight public spaces with activities throughout the year (more than 100 shows per month), around 40 performance halls and bar venues with a collective seating capacity of more than 28 000, approximately 40 exhibition spaces and several cinemas.

In addition to attracting hundreds of thousands of people for festivals and special events, the QDS has also been a driver for economic development. An impact evaluation study from 2017 shows that between 2007 and 2017, the investment of CAD 200 million by the Ville de Montreal and its partners helped attract 60 development projects representing CAD 1.5 billion in construction investments and generating a tax surplus which could reach CAD 449 million over the total lifespan of the projects. The annual tax revenue (property and school taxes) for the 60 projects studied grew significantly, from CAD 7.4 million in 2007 to CAD 24.4 million in 2017.

The QDS now sits at the junction of economic, cultural, and urban life. Economic activity is expanding and the QDS has become a popular tourist site thanks to filling vacant lots and connecting the district’s centres via pedestrian-friendly routes and integrating them into the broader city. The Place des Festivals has become the leading public square in Montreal.

What can other communities learn from this example?

The governance structure of the QDS reflects an innovative approach to sectoral-led district management. Involving a variety of local stakeholders (from public & private sector, academia, civil society) in both the vision- and decision-making processes helped strengthening the innovative capacity of the QDS Partnership and enhanced the legitimacy of outputs. This ‘public-private-people partnership’ may provide inspiration for communities (and local governments) that want to rethink their approach to district management in general, or want to induce a sector-led revitalisation, for example by leveraging cultural assets.

The QDS also shows how arts and culture can be a catalyst and driver of economic development. The Ville de Montreal’s decision to give the city an attractive cultural district has led to continuous economic growth and development since its inception. Investments in culture generate excellent returns for Montreal and its people, in terms of quality of life and economic growth and by providing a ‘home’ to the cultural sector.

OECD resources

OECD (2022), Culture and the Creative Economy in Colombia: Leveraging the Orange Economy, Local Economic and Employment Development (LEED), OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/184f1e07-en.