• John Jantak

Vaudreuil-Dorion’s Je Suis cultural program garners international recognition

PHOTO BY JOHN JANTAK

Michel Vallée (left), Vaudreuil-Dorion’s Director for Culture and the Arts, Mayor Guy Pilon, and District 5 Councillor Rénald Gabriele stand in front of the Je Suis symbol at Parc de la Maison Valois on Tuesday, March 24. All three attended the first United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) Culture Summit in Bilbao, Spain, last week to discuss how the Je Suis cultural program has brought the city’s diverse cultural communities together.

The City of Vaudreuil-Dorion’s Je Suis cultural program took centre stage last Wednesday, March 18, during a presentation to international delegates at the first United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) Culture Summit in Bilbao, Spain. Mayor Guy Pilon, Michel Vallée, the city’s Director for Culture and the Arts, and District 5 Councillor Rénald Gabriele attended the three day summit to discuss how Je Suis has brought the city’s diverse cultural communities together.

They also listened to other delegates from around the world describe how their respective cultural initiatives have united citizens within their own cities. Vaudreuil-Dorion was the only North American city, referred to as a pilot or lead city, that was invited to present its Je Suis (I am) program because of the strategies it used to successfully initiate and integrate cultural programs within a sustainable urban environment in the past five years when it was first adopted in 2010. Some of the cities represented at the UCLG summit included Angers, France; Concepción, Chile; Yarra Ranges, Australia; Belo Horizonte, Brazil; and Gabrovo, Bulgaria. Delegates shared their success stories and discussed some the difficulties they’ve had to surmount in adopting cultural initiatives within their own communities.

“We were very proud to have been there for a city of our size with 37,000 people,” Pilon told Your Local Journal during an interview at his city hall office on Tuesday morning. “It was amazing because there was a huge screen and the city logo was there when we presented our project. We accomplished something amazing because we’re a small town that developed a cultural program that other cities can look at and take away something from it.”

The centerpiece of the city’s cultural program is the giant green metallic Je Suis symbol in Parc de la Maison Valois on St. Charles Avenue that was built to begin the process of harmonization of its many unique cultural groups, said Pilon. The mayor admitted there was skepticism amongst some citizens who questioned the rationale behind the project when it was first unveiled. Five years later, residents have embraced the theme behind the Je Suis symbol.

It has now become an iconic landmark that draws people to the park to take photographs in front of it celebrate personal events such as marriages and graduations.

“It took political will and guts to go ahead with that sign in the park,” said Pilon. “We have over 90 different nationalities in our community. Even though we didn’t have problems like other cities, we wanted to start a process where people could begin to get to know each other.

“We’ll never be able to put an exact number on what the end result was with this project,” Pilon added. “If we didn’t do this five years ago, what would things be like now? Would there be graffiti everywhere? We don’t know. The Je Suis program is not like sports. There is no competition. And I’m sure the reason we don’t have many social problems is because we’ve brought people together and included them through our cultural programs.”

Pilon said the recent Holi Hai celebration that was held by the Indian community in early March was a true indicator of the positive eff orts made by the city to reach out to various cultural organizations and embrace their identities. He encouraged more groups to contact and work together with the city in order to stage more unique cultural events.

The city’s annual Féte Nationale parade which focuses on its “Mosaic” theme keeps growing in size and scope each year because the city embraces its many unique identities and encourages participants to display their cultural heritage, added Pilon. For Vallée, whose commitment and work on Je Suis since its inception has brought the cultural program to international prominence, the city’s participation at the UCLG was a proud achievement for all Vaudreuil-Dorion residents.

“It was an incredible moment,” said Vallée. “It made us stop and reflect on everything we did with Je Suis for the past five years. It was very emotional to realize how far we have come. It’s incredible that our city can have a place on the world stage with other major cities like Mexico City.

“The summit provided an important forum to discuss the future and importance of culture within communities,” Vallée added. “We discussed how we can use culture to make our communities better. The work we do with our cultural program brings our citizens together which helps our community thrive in a positive way.”

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