The Québec Model

or How we made a success of Québec Cultural Relations with the UK and the Nordic Countries 1992-2010.

The following post is in note form until I have time to split it up into more digestible parts. These accompanied my presentation slides in June 2021 for attendees at the 2021 Basque Summer School, Donastia, Euskadi, 9am, 22 July 2021, where as former Director of Cultural Services at the Québec Government Office in London I was asked to present how we achieved such a notable success in developing Québec’s presence in Northern Europe

  1. The diplomacy pathway:
  • The city state from Babylon to Venice to Singapore
  • 1648 the peace of Westphalia: the origin of principles crucial to modern international relations, including Westphalian sovereignty, aka the inviolability of borders and non-interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign states
  • C18-19 Hard power or gunboat diplomacy: intimidation by military might
  • Public diplomacy, influencing governments through the populations
  • Cultural diplomacy, one-way cultural “understanding” 

Was it cultural diplomacy, public diplomacy or international cultural relations? I don’t know, others will. We were just trying to get people to understand our situation

2. The catalyst? The quiet revolution of 1961, which first acted local: 

  • Retraining the majority to think of itself as just that 
  • Promoting internal tourism to historicise and restore a sense of place
  • Undertaking simultaneous reform of the 3 pillars of the polity: social, economic and cultural
  • Creating new ministries of culture and education with support agencies and MOUs
  • Declaring French the language of the workplace
  • Paying to release the national imagination

Think global – 

  • La la la human steps
  • Robert Lepage
  • Cirque du Soleil
  • Denys Arcand
  • La Bottine souriante
  • Jean-Pierre Perreault

The Goethe Institut brand

  • They had noticed our increase in profile
  • Boris Becker
  • UK TV: of 15 programmes in one week 13 were about the Nazis
  • Wolff Olins had been called in
  • Could you – should you – brand a nation?

Jan 2021: Assault on the US capitol

  • They say a reputation takes 7 years to build and 7 minutes to destroy

For Québec a reminder of what was deemed to have been lost 

  • With the defeat of New France
  • 1759-1959 – the British squeeze on territory, population and governance
  • By 2016
  • Still over a fifth of the population
  • 15% of the land mass
  • 19.65% of the GDP
  • But only 1 of 13 equal regional decision-makers

Two independence referenda: 

  • 1980 – No 58%, Yes 42%
  • 1995 – No 50.58%, Yes 49.42%, turnout 93.52%, 4.8M votes

This trashed the brand in the UK: 

  • Québec, the breakers of Canada
  • Québec, the place that likes to say NO (to Canada)


  • And developed an 8-point plan of cultural cooperation which became known locally as “the Québec model”
  1. Condition the market:
  2. Practise a giving diplomacy 
  3. Always say YES to a good local idea 
  4. Construct relations through invitation and facilitation
  5. Fit in – be satisfied with being just a part 
  6. but of every available local programme on offer
  7. Do not swim against the tide – meet the buyer needs
  8. Do not worry about the consumer, the buyers know their market better 
  • Be present in the cultural networks
  • Identify and partner with the taste-makers
  • Fund the buyers not the artists
  • No government local showcasing
  • Move the buyers around instead
  • Support their actions and media campaigns 
  • Be there on the night or opening
  • But focussed on the next opportunity
  • Send the brand on a journey
  • The country is the brand
    • The brand is the country
    • The individual is the brand
  • Collaborative partnership
    • From idea
    • To experience
    • To knowledge (skill) 

(When I say from idea to experience to knowledge (skill) I mean something like the shows of the Cirque du Soleil or Robert Lepage)

  • To profile
  • To influence
  • Play to our strengths
  • Strategic coherence 
  • Product of international quality 
  • Close understanding of client needs 
  • Our accessibility 
  • Our network insertion
  • Tailored client support 
  • The Québec brand
  • Longevity breeds reliability 
  • Focus on the buyers

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link

Strengthen their trade chain (financing > production > distribution > marketing > sales > publicity) but let them worry about the consumer

  • Target the cities
  • 29 platforms from East to West, Greenland to Finland
    • Reykjavik | Galway | Cork | Dublin | Belfast Cardiff | Swansea | Edinburgh | Glasgow Aberdeen | Stirling | Dundee | Birmingham Liverpool | Manchester | Bristol | Newcastle Sheffield | London | Cambridge | Brighton Bergen | Oslo | Goteborg | Stockholm | Aarhus | Copenhagen | Espoo | Helsinki
  • Cities are more flexible than states
  • Capitals like to be earned
  • So start with the second city
  • Extend the offer
  • Authority of range cultivates authenticity
  • We ended up with 13 fields of action
    • Architecture |Crafts| Design & Fashion | Every Music | Film & Video | Garden Design | Indigenous Culture | Language & Translation | Literature & Publishing | Museums & Heritage | Multimedia & Digital | Performing Arts | Visual Arts
  • Be led by the demand
  • 25 client types
    • Arts Centres | Music Venues | Theatres | Galleries | Museums | Presenters | Agents | Managers | Cities Of Culture | Producers | Impresarios | Promoters | Festivals | Showcases | Trade Fairs | Professional Networks | Ministries | Government Agencies | NGOs | Publishers | Ensembles | Orchestras | Critics | Media Personalities | Translators
  • The market is controlled by the consumer not the product 
  • Sales are not offer-driven but demand-led
  • Build profile

Culture is Business

  • Wealth creation via success in the markets secures profile
  • Culture is as much about business as identity
  • Creating the buzz is easy
  • Monetization is not
  • See M for Montreal
    • Being the first confers distinct advantages
    • Triangulation with The Great Escape and South by South-West

Understand buyer risk: if someone in my sector is taking a chance then maybe I can too?

Pole of attraction

  • a signature publication – a signature idea? a signature experience!
  • Not just a calendar for the consumer (62 events in 3 months)
  • But a publication to show recipients that they are part of a larger family (19 cities in 3 months)
  • Many of whom in their own networks were already booking Québécois

Recognition: “naked ambition, imaginative work, innovative thinking”

  • Success in the market secured our position
  • Our brand acquired a strapline but in someone else’s words
  • Develop influence

We are not alone

  • Globalisation and pluralism
  • The strategic role of education
  • New economic powers
  • Integrated trade
  • The relevance of security – data and the citizen
  • The demand for sustainable development
  • FAANG – corporate over-reach
  • The gross imbalance in the distribution of wealth


  • International cultural success increases your overall profile
  • Globalisation has arrived and the impacts must be managed
  • Sovereignty has to be shared inside a global system
  • Sovereignty and diversity are nested one within the other
  • The power lies in the ethical stance
  • Differing cultural content may be asserted if your cultural space is opened to others

We built influence

  • Visiting Arts Québec Arts Directory 2001
  • British Council MOU and the Québec-UK Connections funding scheme 2002
  • UK DCMS and adopting the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions 2005

But is it all unravelling?

  • The top 5 Montréal influencers are among today’s Québec cultural diplomats
  • Diplomacies are not 
    • Keeping up with the revolutionary spend of communication
    • Dealing with the introduction of non-state actors

Culture has been weaponised

  • Cancel Culture
  • Culture Wars
  • We are living the dominance of 
    • value over values
    • division over cohesion
    • and the individual over the group

A crisis of governance

  • Hong Kong
  • Myanmar
  • Diplomacy is not dealing well with failed states and failed representation 

The nation state: fading? Globalisation has stripped away the nation-state’s sole power to enforce change

The city state: returning? Bilbao, Barcelona and Donastia

Finally some joined-up thinking

  • Sound Diplomacy
  • Unison
  • The Center for Music Systems


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