When the imaginations of artists feed the imaginations of young people
* This article was originally published on the Le DevoirThis link will open in a new window website
We cannot overemphasize the importance of exposing children to culture from a young age, for their personal development and to spark new passions and vocations. The CALQ plays a crucial role in this area, by supporting and guiding young audience artists of all stripes in their creative explorations.
Beyond financial aid to facilitate research and creation, grants are a form of recognition offered to those who forge the cultural identity of future generations, and whose work is not always valued as it should be. Four artists talk about the importance of CALQ grants on their work, from creation to dissemination.
The Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (CALQ) encourages artists to complete the Retombées section via Mon Dossier CALQ This link will open in a new window at the end of each of their projects.
This section helps the CALQ learn more about the benefits of artistic projects supported and promote resulting achievements.
Sophie Casson - Helen’s Birds
Imagined by Canadian author Sara Cassidy, the story of Helen’s Birds presented Sophie Casson with a new challenge: telling the story, without text, of a young girl’s grief after the sudden loss of her old neighbour and friend. “I had to do scripting, which I had never done before,” explains the Montréal illustrator, who received a grant in 2017.
“This grant allowed me to take the time to do exploratory work and refine my illustration technique,” Sophie Casson says. “In children’s books, advances from publishers rarely cover the time needed to make a book.”
After a year of work, Helen’s Birds was published in 2019 by Groundwood Books and went on to be one of the Canadian selections for the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY).
This international organization, which facilitates children’s access to literature around the world, praised the “warm, textured tones” that “express with emotion a story of friendship and loss, put into images by Sophie Casson. After this prestigious selection, copies of Helen’s Birds were sent to Italy to be placed in a library for migrant children on the island of Lampedusa.
“Silent books are an invaluable tool for children whose reading skills aren’t strong or who speak other languages,” says Sophie Casson, who regularly leads workshops in schools to show children what goes into her work. “It’s important for children to see that artists exist and work in a real world they have access to,” she says.
Since the release of Helen’s Birds, the illustrator has lent her talent to another author, Heather Camlot, to tell children the story of the Dreyfus affair in The Prisoner and The Writer. For children aged 7 to 12, the book will be released in French by Isatis in 2023, for the 125th anniversary of the publication of Zola’s J’accuse...! It is a wonderful project for which Sophie Casson received another grant.
“This financial contribution enables artists to go further in the exploration of their aesthetic language, and to obtain recognition in the professional art world,” says the UQAM graphic design graduate. “This is important, especially in children’s literature, which is sometimes seen as a minor art.”
Christine Dallaire-Dupont - Un billet pour nulle part
With her thought-provoking, minimalist dialogues and expressive drawings reminiscent of manga, Christine Dallaire-Dupont, alias Nunumi, has successfully joined the world of children’s comics. Published in 2019 by Front froid, Un billet pour nulle part was warmly received by readers and critics. The story of this journey into the unknown by a young girl and her companion spirit garnered a nomination for the Prix Aurora-Boréal 2020, in the Best Comics category.
Nunumi cut her teeth working as a storyboard artist on a number of animated film productions. In search of more creative freedom, the Montrealer turned to comics. The grant, which she received in 2018 to develop Un billet pour nulle part, helped her build an artistic identity. “It gave me wings,” she says. “The grant gave me a year of independence to do my pages and my research.”
Once published, her work started to travel, from comic book festivals in Montréal and Québec City, to as far as Tokyo. “The CALQ grant allowed me to budget for a trip to Japan and create the Itai Doshin collective, bringing together Japanese and Québec artists,” Nunumi says. The festivals were also an opportunity for the comic book artist to meet her young audience and get helpful feedback on her story, which leaves plenty of room for interpretation.
“One of the characters only expresses himself in scribbles; you have to imagine his answers. And I found that young audiences tended to offer an interpretation that was closer to my original intention than older readers,” says the author, whose comic has continued its journey.
In 2021, Télé-Québec introduced Un billet pour nulle part to its literature kits for primary cycles 2 and 3. “Comics are a wonderful gateway to develop a taste for reading in kids,” says Nunumi, who is working on her first animated feature, Katak, le brave béluga, expected in theatres in 2023.
Sylvie Gosselin - Histoires d’ailes et d’échelles
Actor or visual artist? Don’t ask her to choose. Since the early 2000s, Sylvie Gosselin has combined her two passions in children’s shows that give her plenty of time to develop her love for handywork projects. There was the La couturière in 2004, then Contes Arbour in 2013, in which she paid tribute to the contributor to the DIY show La boîte à surprise, Madeleine Arbour, who planted in her the desire to “make something out of nothing.”
For Histoires d’ailes et d’échelles, created in 2018, Sylvie Gosselin dove into another world, that of German artist Paul Klee. “I wanted to talk to children about this artist who found inspiration in his son’s drawings and wanted to paint the invisible,” explains Gosselin, who graduated from the Conservatoire d’art dramatique de Montréal and holds a bachelor’s degree in visual arts from UQAM.
With the support of the CALQ, which awarded her two research and creation grants in 2015 and 2017, Sylvie Gosselin was able to put together a fun course that has children walk between installations, with a pinny inspired by Paul Klee’s puppets. “I work a lot in recycling and assembling old objects, which limits my materials costs,” she says. “But the grants gave me an income and let me pay the people I work with.”
Her greatest pride is having managed to shoot Histoires d’ailes et d’échelles, despite the pandemic, which thwarted her initial plans. The actor was able to present her show at the Festival de Casteliers and at several Maisons de la Culture in Montréal. Involved for 20 years in the A Montréal School for All project, which supports schools in disadvantaged areas, Sylvie Gosselin also set out to meet her young audience.
“I work with children a lot,” says Gosselin, who is preparing for a new show built around a paper theatre, inspired by a recent trip to Japan. “They come to see my work, but I also go to where they are, in schools. I’ve noticed that they were often initially intimidated by art. But they can learn a lesson in confidence and self-esteem from an artistic experience.”
Claude Samson - Faut toujours faire comme les grands
No introduction is required for Les Petites Tounes, the group that has been making children dance to catchy tunes for over two decades. With his three fellow musicians, Claude Samson is getting ready to go back out on tour across Québec, for the release of the joyful band’s eighth album, Faut toujours faire comme les grands, anticipated for early 2023.
The multi-instrumentalist and singer from Les Petites Tounes financed the pre-production for the new show through a grant offered as part of a partnership between the CALQ and the Ville de Laval, in cooperation with Culture Laval. “We could have mounted the show without a grant, but it would have taken a lot longer and been more complicated,” he says.
Beyond the financial resources, this institutional support lends credibility to musicians for young audiences, whose work does not always get the recognition it should. “We are trying to break down prejudices about children’s music,” says Samson, also known as the guitarist for Vilain Pingouin. “If you put aside the lyrics, it’s still music, and music is ageless.”
From the outset, he had the idea of doing “something other than just children’s music,” with his former colleague from a daycare, Carlos Vergara.
“We are a rock group,” he says. “There are lots of nods to music by the greats, from the Beatles to AC/DC. It can resonate with parents, and it can also be a gateway for kids. Particularly today, when children listen to their parents’ music much more than in my day.”