Interview Music

Life in Xion

A look into the collective that’s growing in Concordia’s music studios.

Multidisciplinary artist Justin Tatone first met Benedict Tan in high school back in 2017. The pair began collaborating over the years. “It was just us making stupid songs and I would produce the beats. It was so bad.” The pandemic later inspired them to take their musical alliance seriously and they began working on a collaborative project in 2020. This union marked the inception of Tatone’s art collective Xion, which welcomed four more members in 2022: Yorgo Al Terek, Leo Deslauriers, Giancarlo Laurieri and E.sko (Elias Skotidakis).

The group’s name is based on the word Zion, which is derived from Tatone’s Jamaican heritage. In Rastafarian lore, it signifies a land of promise. He was also inspired by the 1999 sci-fi film The Matrix, in which Zion is referenced as a land where humans can live freely and without restriction. The intention behind the collective was to “share resources, create a space promised for us,” Tatone explains. The replacement of the Z by an X represents a dissociation from perverse connotations and variations of the word, specifically Zionism—the nationalist movement predicated on reclaiming territory in the Middle East.

As an electroacoustics student, Tatone gained access to the sound studios at Concordia. The available equipment provided him with resources that allowed the group to expand and make music they never would’ve been able to afford to make, according to him. 

The group’s dynamic is highly collaborative: the approach to their forthcoming group album Xion Vol. 1 notably had three producers individually working on a sample (as a background melody) simultaneously. Deslauriers would then splice the renditions together into one, full beat, with drums and other elements being added later. Al Terek, who also studies electroacoustics, describes the process as working in “episodes,” and recalls creating shorter beats with the intent for his colleagues to add to them however they want. 

Each artist fills a specific role, but their contributions converge into a larger, distinct product. “Our collective space serves as the crossroads of artistic expression,” as Laurieri puts it. Tatone wants his collective to be bigger than music: “I want to build a community based on sharing resources. The first step to that is allowing people in the space who aren’t necessarily artists.” 

Laurieri, who is currently a second-year political science student, is an example of this. He has no distinct training in music but plays a key role in the group, serving as its marketing and networking specialist, and as creative consultant. He put together the campaign for E.sko’s Love, Wannabe tour this past summer, a makeshift tour born from booking every open mic and venue in town. The experience was a success, bringing the group to several bars throughout Quebec and even Ontario. “Montreal has so much opportunity for small artists,” Tatone says.

BANE & BLESSING, the electrifying rage-rap album from Tan and Tatone, will finally launch on Sept. 29 after three years of creation. The album is set to be supported by live performances, with punk venues being envisioned. Tatone also expresses interest in embarking on another tour in summer 2024, this time as a collective in support of their upcoming group album, the boom-bap influenced Xion, Vol. 1. He also revealed that a documentary for the Love, Wannabe tour is on the way.

Xion may just be gearing up, but their ambition and output support Laurieri’s description of the group. “It’s a journey of creative convergence where the sum is truly greater than its individual parts.”


DIY tattoo artists: the new wave of the tattoo industry

Montreal is a hub for the tattoo industry, and a new kind of tattoo artist is rising to the forefront of the business

While apprenticeships have been the only way to get into the tattoo industry for years, the pandemic led the way for self-taught tattoo artists to set up shop in their own homes. The Concordian spoke with one such member of this new wave of self-taught tattoo artists, Clara Suess.

“One of my first tattoos is one I’ve done myself,” said Suess while revealing an ever-so-slightly smudged, yet recognizable tattoo of the Pokémon Gengar on her ankle. “It’s a little ugly but it does the trick, it’s not that bad.”

Suess recently celebrated her first anniversary of tattooing. Since her start, she has grown exponentially and developed her style, which is mainly inspired by biology. 

Over the course of an average week, she tattoos around five people. Suess has also amassed close to 700 followers on Instagram, and has joined a collective of like-minded tattoo artists.

While she started in her parent’s basement with a machine ordered from the internet, she has been working for six months on Jean-Talon Street with a few other young self-taught tattoo artists who call themselves the Collectif 456.

The Collectif 456 works in a collaborative space used by music and tattoo artists. The space that was formerly the apartment of one of their music producers, is eclectic, much like the artists it hosts. It features two music studios, two tattoo studios and a homemade stage to create a homely environment where collaboration is strongly encouraged. 

Self-taught tattoo artist and co-founder of Collectif 456 Raphaël Bonneau-Bédard. CATHERINE REYNOLDS/The Concordian

The idea sprouted in collaboration with tattoo artist Raphaël Bonneau-Bédard, a tattoo artist and a friend of Suess’ who quickly became her colleague.

Bonneau-Bédard began tattooing two years ago when their tattoo artist saw their artwork and suggested they pursue tattooing as well. Bonneau-Bédard bought their first tattoo machine from that very same artist, who told them they were on their own for the rest.

“I ordered everything I needed, checked YouTube videos and I just tattooed my friends and people started talking about me,” Bonneau-Bédard said. “I told myself if I were to start tattooing I would do it alone.”

Suess, Bonneau-Bédard and the tattoo artists of the Collectif 456 are part of a new wave of tattoo artists who’ve taught themselves how to tattoo people, a practice that blossomed in Montreal during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“Montreal has always been known as one of the tattoo capitals of the world,” said Rodolphe Erinoff, a tattoo artist of 11 years and owner of La Planque, a tattoo studio on Mont-Royal Ave.

“It’s such an artistic city that’s renowned on many levels,” he emphasized. “Whether it be music, tattooing or street art, we are known to be a very artistically-developed city.”

Raphaël Bonneau-Bédard cuts out a stencil at Collectif 456. CATHERINE REYNOLDS/The Concordian

Quebec doesn’t have any laws prohibiting minors from getting tattoos. Additionally, tattoo artists do not have to abide by any safety regulations or go through traditional apprenticeships to practice tattooing.

Young people in Quebec are getting tattooed exponentially more. A recent survey by Ipsos found that 25 per cent of Quebecers are tattooed. Both Suess and Bonneau-Bédard had gotten tattoos either on or before their 18th birthday. 

“It became a trend,” said Alex Fombelle, a student at the Cégep du Vieux-Montréal who got tattooed for the first time at 16 in a salon. It was an experience that forever changed the way Fombelle would choose where and by whom she would get tattoos from.

“I saw other clients and it would stress me out to see them getting tattooed, ” Fombelle added. “There was also the boss who always came to check on what the artist was doing and I could see it stressed her out too.”

Then they got tattooed in the home of a self-taught tattoo artist. The privacy, warmth and friendliness of the space made them instantly comfortable. She felt like she could truly share a personal moment with the artist.

When the pandemic hit, many people realized how accessible it is to start at home, even without an apprenticeship. Though hygienic practices aren’t enforced by law whether in the homes of new artists or traditional studios, artists like those at Collectif 456 take hygiene extremely seriously.

“Raphaël and I have followed an online course on cross-contamination, bloodborne pathogens and safety techniques,” said Suess, who cites Progressive Mentorship as her source. It was “a matter of principle” to her. Bonneau-Bédard also mentioned it’s a crucial first step for anyone getting into tattooing.

However, the lack of codified safety regulations worries older tattoo artists like Erinoff, especially when it comes to self-taught artists. 

“We think we can learn by ourselves,” said Erinoff. “Yes, we can acquire certain techniques, but true professional techniques, there’s nothing like experienced people to show us how it’s done.”

Erinoff himself tried his hand at self-teaching before deciding to take on an apprenticeship after two to three years of tattooing people. He calls his beginnings as a self-taught tattoo artist “the worst mistake he’s ever made.”

“By not being trained by people that were more professional than I was with more experience, I didn’t move forward in my career,” he explained. “I was stagnant, I didn’t progress and I had no vision. I evolved through being accompanied by an experienced professional that knew what to do and more specifically, what not to do.”

Eventually, he went on to create his studio. His utmost priority is his clients’ comfort. Upon walking into his tattoo shop, it’s easy to notice how bright, warm and open everything is. It’s a long way from the dark, old-school stereotypical vibe of most tattoo shops. 

The realization quickly sets in regarding how much the scene changed in the last few years. Situated on top of a bar on Mont-Royal Ave, Erinoff says after a hard day’s work, his team often rejoices with a beer.

However, Erinoff emphasizes the distinction between warmth and quality in a parlour.  “If you go to a convivial place and the work doesn’t follow, it amounts to nothing.”

People seeking to get tattoos have never had such a dizzying amount of choice, which they have to research with hygiene and quality of work at the forefront of their decision, a consensus among the tattoo community.

Nonetheless, self-taught tattoo artists like Bonneau-Bédard are confident about the future of their practice and love the name they’ve made for themselves from the ground up.

“I’ll be a tattoo artist or I will die trying,” Bonneau said. “I take pride in having my own space that I built myself with my friends. It’s so much cooler than joining an already established studio. The aim of the game is to stick with the collective.”

All the signs point to a huge rise in the number of self-taught-tattoo artists in Montreal. However, since there are no laws surrounding their practices and considering the fact that tattoo artists just have to declare their revenue as self-employed workers, there are very few statistics on the subject.

With more people getting tattooed in a casual way, self-taught tattoo artists are likely to ride their wave for a long time.


Le Frigo Vert Collective Reopens for the School Year

The Concordia anti-capitalist space Le Frigo Vert reopens its doors to the student community

With the start of the new school year, the food collective Le Frigo Vert (LFV) at Concordia’s downtown campus has reopened its doors to students. The collective’s main focus is to offer affordable food, alternative health services and a community space that every Concordia student body can access. 

The collective was founded 25 years ago and strives to be anti-capitalist, anti-colonial and anti-oppression, partnering with activist groups across Montreal all while not prioritizing their bottom line. 

Sarah Mohammed, a collective member, explained that LFV functions as a non-hierarchical worker-run organization. Instead of having set positions and responsibilities, Mohammed added that LFV members have many different roles within the collective.

During its 25 years of existence, LFV has had to constantly reinvent itself to fit the evolving needs of students.

“It went from a big grocery situation to becoming a not-for-profit, then began offering all kinds of extra products and we realized we were moving away from our mandate because there were more ‘fancy’ things, and we had to really check in with ourselves and really return to the roots,” Mohammed said. “We are always trying to keep in mind the needs of the student community which are changing all the time.”

Hunter Cubitt-Cooke, collective member. CATHERINE REYNOLDS/The Concordian

Hunter Cubitt-Cooke has been a collective member at LFV for almost eight years. Cubitt-Cooke was originally drawn to the collective for its mandate to offer accessible and affordable services to students. 

“Everything about our mandate I really like, I can totally be myself completely,” Cubitt-Cooke said. “I get to bring all of myself and different skills into one place.” 

Through LFV, Cubitt-Cooke is able to use their professional skills as a herbalist to serve students in need, regardless of their financial capabilities.  

“I really align with the values of Frigo and I care about what we do,” they explained. “I wanted to be able to make herbology accessible not only to rich people — which is most herb clients — so for me that’s a way I can do that here.”

Jessie Dzambu has been a collective member at LFV for over a year. Dzambu discovered LFV during the pandemic through the food baskets they offered and decided to join them.

“I just really liked everything that they stand for,” said Dzambu. “I appreciate that they’re anti-capitalist and I really think that there is a lack of public spaces where you can just be except for the library these days. I really like that people can just come here and you don’t have to pay anything, it is a spot for people to just exist.”

Despite the services LFV has to offer, not many Concordia students are aware of its existence. 

LFV will be hosting a reopening event on Sept. 22 where food and drinks will be offered from 2-7 p.m. 

“We’re trying to create a bit more awareness for newer people,” said Mohammed. “Even though we’ve been around for [nearly] 30 years we still have people coming in saying ‘oh we never knew about you.’ And as it is the beginning of the school year we wanted to just host an event to bring everybody together, make our presence known.”


Collective 4891 launches their inaugural zine

Making art accessible and inclusive for all

Founded by Concordia Communications students Hannah Jamet-Lange and Shin Ling Low, Collective 4891 aims to foster a safe space for artists to create, regardless of their artistic medium.

“Our goal was always to create a safe space for people to share their art in,” said Jamet-Lange, adding that they wanted to make room for people who perhaps didn’t yet have the confidence to sign up for open-mics or more professional performance settings. “We felt like everyone was doing so many cool things, so many cool art projects, and we really wanted to see it in a context outside of school.”

The group initially organized art events in Jamet-Lange’s apartment. In fact, the collective is named after their old apartment number. In order to provide a platform for emerging artists to expand their practice and experience, the collective often took photos and videos, giving the creators a chance to add to their portfolio. However, despite being titled a collective, the team only consists of Jamet-Lange and Low, both of whom do everything from hosting the events to assembling their zines.

“We would love to make the collective a more literal sense of ‘collective,’” said Low, adding that they are interested in expanding their team in order to continue producing and hosting community projects and events.

“During [the open-mics] people would oftentimes build confidence during the event, after hearing other people perform and then decide on the spot ‘Hey, I’m going to perform something after all,’” said Jamet-Lange. “If people have the confidence and want to perform something they should have the availability to be able to do so.”

However, when the pandemic hit, they had to restructure the format in which their events were delivered, all while staying in line with their mandate of making art accessible to all.

Therefore, they decided to start a zine. The Community Care Edition of the Collective 4891 Zine features the work of over 20 creatives. In addition to serving as an art project to showcase the work of emerging artists, the zine also doubles as a fundraiser for Black Lives Matter.

How so? In order to obtain a copy of the zine, those interested are encouraged to make a donation to the cause of their choice — going local is highly encouraged — and submit proof of their donation. In return, those interested will receive their order by mail.

The zine features everything from paintings to poetry, giving people a chance to display what would have otherwise been placed on a wall or performed at one of the collective’s open-mics.

To accompany the launch of their inaugural zine, the collective will be hosting a virtual artmaking event and launch at the end of April. Here, artists who contributed to the zine will be able to share their work, in an effort to allow people to connect with the art and artists who contributed.

For more information about Collective 4891 and their upcoming launch event, follow them on Instagram or Facebook. Those interested in receiving more details on obtaining a copy of the zine or donating to a cause, visit this website.


Photos by Matilda Cerone.


Barely Legal is piecing it all together

The eight-man, Florida-based collective is ready to explode

Hip hop collective Barely Legal sound like they’re performing fresh off a sugar high. Coming out of the Florida music scene strongly, the eight-member collective from Tampa Bay is here to focus on themselves individually — and as a group.

Four of them make the music and the rest are the digital media team and the manager; all of them living together and progressing on a journey towards success. The four musicians are rappers Chowder Band$, JØ, Kid Dre and singer Miguel Morales. The collective are fresh off their first mixtape, Barely Legal Tapes, Vol. 1, which was released in late January.

Barely Legal may be new, but its four artists all have individual singles and solo projects under their belts from before their collaboration. They came together as Barely Legal in the summer of 2019, but only released their first single in November of 2020, with the track “Money Where Your Mouth Is,” showcasing Kid Dre and Miguel Morales, who teamed up to deliver a sweet and catchy tune with a lot of flavour.

The collective received a lot of praise, with some fans even comparing them with groups such as BROCKHAMPTON, and the notorious rap label Dreamville. Though their high number of members are reminiscent of BROCKHAMPTON, they don’t see themselves as a product of that group’s music.

“We don’t really get a lot of influence from them because we know that the sound we have is different than everyone else’s, so we don’t really like to put ourselves in the same box that they are in, but I can see how a lot of people would think that they crawled so we could run,” said Kid Dre.

Although it is their main focus at this time, Barely Legal is not a rap group – it’s a collective — and all members are also focused on their individual projects, said Kid Dre.

On Barely Legal Tapes, Vol. 1, Barely Legal exemplifies its members’ abilities by playing with a lot of different sounds and by hopping on different instrumentals, which allows them to show both their smooth and aggressive sides. The four artists work hand in hand to deliver the mixtape’s 18 tracks.

The boys mostly rap on the record while trying to touch every sound possible. They succeed in doing it by hopping on hype songs like “Gawd Dammit Amerikkka” and “Fuck,” and on classic boom bap beats like on “Creep” and “Saturday Morning Cartoons,” or even on chill laid back songs like “Choices” and “Decisions.”

Having a gifted singer like Miguel in the collective adds another dimension to their tracks. From beautifully sung hooks ranging from a variety of genres, like the songs “Too Fast,” where Miguel sings parts in Spanish, to songs like “Take It Slow,” which is a smooth dancehall track.

“I think the creative process behind the album was trying to get a large body of work that could highlight each artist’s individual skill and try to mix them together to make a masterpiece,” said Kid Dre.

The four artists in Barely Legal can hold their own individually, but their talent comes to fruition when they combine forces on songs. They feed off of each other’s energy, motivating themselves to give it their all.

“There are times I came in the studio completely angry and sad, times where I didn’t even wanna be there, but I see Miguel in his zone and it puts me in my zone. There is always someone to pick up where you slack even though there is no slacking allowed,” said JØ.

The third track of the project, “Sugar Rush,” started to catch fire, with a TikTok video promoting the song surging past 100,000 likes, and with 128,000 listens on Spotify. The song is a high energy banger featuring Kid Dre and Chowder Band$, that sees both of them go completely ballistic.

Despite having a small initial buzz surrounding their name with “Sugar Rush,” in their heads, they aren’t remotely close to where they see themselves in the future.

“We want to make music to inspire the youth and to go to work, quit their jobs and start grinding,” said Kid Dre.

In a closing thought, JØ pondered the group’s future: “We are working on a lot and we are not gonna stop working on it, and once we finish what we are working on, we are gonna go from there, and start working on a lot more.”



Les Encans de la quarantaine: from small project to big success

A collective shows how beneficial it is to support local artists

It all started as a small initiative to provide local artists with a source of income during the pandemic. Now, les Encans de la quarantaine has become something bigger. The outcome was unexpected.

Sara A. Tremblay, a Concordia alumna who graduated in Photography in 2014, launched the initiative in late March. The initiative is a virtual platform that promotes works from Canadian-based artists and offers a source of income to them by connecting them to potential buyers. When the project began, Tremblay looked for artists that wished to sell their artwork; it instantly became a success. Tremblay has received many artworks since the opening of the collective. Many came from artists attending universities, like Pardiss Amerian, an Iranian-Canadian visual artist who is currently completing her Master’s in Fine Arts at Concordia.

“I was constantly overwhelmed by the size of the collective. It became bigger than I thought,” Tremblay said.

Although Tremblay resides in the Eastern Townships, she was able to connect with Montreal’s artistic community easily online. Since the beginning, Tremblay has been working on the collective remotely with other members that reside in Montreal.

“It’s great to be able to work with the artistic community of Montreal and not live in the city,” continued Tremblay.

Little by little, Tremblay found people who would be willing to help her manage the collective. Tasks include drafting press releases, helping conceptualize the initiative, and managing the collective’s Facebook page and Instagram account. At first, applications were sent to her personal Facebook account. Instead, she redirected applicants to an email linked to the collective.

Over the course of the summer, lots of work started to pile up on Tremblay’s desk. In response to the collective’s growth, Tremblay decided to register the collective as a non-profit organization. She has an advisory committee from the artistic community to guide her with grant applications, and is in the process of creating an administrative council.

Since July 13, the collective has asked for a contribution of between $20 and $30 from both artists and buyers after each time a piece is sold to help fund the collective.

“That gives us a little money,” Tremblay  said. “It’s not much for now, but eventually we will be raising funds.”

As a result of the first call for applications, 425 artworks were received, of which 275 were selected. The collective took up the challenge of selling 96 per cent of the works chosen from the first callout. Most artists have many artworks, which gives them a chance to reach a wider audience.

For the second call for artworks, Tremblay wants to attract more of an audience of seasoned collectors, and will do so by increasing the quality and maintaining a tighter selection of works.

“The success that the initiative has generated proves that it was necessary to distribute, for free, the work of artists who are not represented by art galleries,” said Tremblay. “At first, we did present the work of artists that were already represented, but we had to clarify our mandate to not interfere with art galleries. Now, we represent independent artists that can be spotted by galleries.”

Tremblay will be teaching an introductory digital photography course at the University of Sherbrooke this fall and will participate in an online residency project called 3 fois 3 from le Centre d’exposition de l’Université de Montréal on Instagram. In order to stabilize her other projects, she has delegated some of the collective to other members of the team.

“My purpose is to promote artists that don’t yet have a platform. This can be a first step for them,” she said. “The people who follow us on social media have an interest in discovering new talents. Not all of the artists are new in showing their artworks, but they may not be represented by an art gallery. My team and I circulate art and that’s my goal.”

Les Encans de la quarantaine’s second call for applications is open until Wednesday, Sept. 30.


Photo credit: Pardiss Amerian


Techno and house with a Montreal touch

Marbré is ready to take over the city’s electronic music scene

At the end of a corridor, mimicking the atmosphere of the Paris catacombs, lasers are skimming through the room, creating an atmosphere blending visuals and sound draped in blue light. While Jean, also known under his stage name Salem, is behind the turntables for his first set, other members of Marbré are getting ready to take over the set until 3 a.m.

But before becoming a music collective, these young men were primarily a group of friends. Hector, Jean, Pierre, Benjamin, Jules, Simons, Lucas, Ezer, and Nico, who wish to remain anonymous as part of their collective image, all share a passion for electronic music that pushed them to form Marbré in September of 2019.

The eight McGill students created Marbré with the main goal being to democratize all aspects of electronic music through their passion for mixing. “We are on a large spectrum of electronic music; listening to different styles,” said Jean, who is in charge of communications. “We can give the people a taste of all the other genres that exist.”

“That’s what we are trying to do in our sets, to transfer from techno, to tech-house, to deep-house,” said Lucas, the graphic designer of the collective. “To gather as many genres as possible.” They demystify what is happening behind the turntables and shed light on the creative process behind DJing.

The collective found a frenetic audience at both of their house-style shows that promises them a bright future. “We have to learn how to control the energy we get as this project begins,” said Nico, one of Marbré’s DJs. “The hype that we got from the night at the Belmont was not expected.”

Yet, the success of their performances does not seem to trouble the members of Marbré. “We need to stay in contact with reality, keep our feet on the ground, our hands on the plates,” said Lucas, with a laugh.

On Jan. 23 at the Velvet-Auberge St-Gabriel, Marbré had their first show as La Marbre, the name used to distinguish their techno performances. “The idea was to develop something that was more tech,” said Hector. “To continue the big house events that everyone loves but also to develop a more techno branch—something deeper.”

La Marbre will also allow them to incorporate visuals and VJing, starting with the lasers at the Velvet, which is more adapted to techno music.

Electronic music has a whole community, mostly based on SoundCloud, who come together to “dig” and share their favourite tracks. Artists dig tracks that they intend to analyze up to the last beat to use them during their performances.

“Mixing is about knowing your tracks,” said Pierre, another of the group’s DJs. “You have to listen to a track again and again to know what comes next. If you had cut the treble when a voice comes in, you’re fucked!”

According to all the members of the collective, this aspect of DJing is crucial to a set: they all talk about their hours of digging to find the “gem,” as they call it.

“Groups like Chasse et Pêche, Kizi Garden and Turning Point paved the way for us,” Pierre said. “Here in Montreal, we can really do whatever we want. There is a saturation in larger markets that makes it more professional.” The scene allows them to express their diverse style and have complete freedom in their sets.

Their upcoming performance on Feb.13 will be the next chapter of La Marbre at the Velvet, further exploring the darker musical side of the collective.     


Photo courtesy of Ezer Berdugo

Student Life

Collective intervention is needed

Everyone, especially artists, are economic agents for deregulation and gentrification

In a dimly lit basement, at the end of meandering halls beneath the performance hall of the Rialto Theatre, an eclectic group of concerned citizens gathered to openly discuss the nexus of artists, real estate inflation and shifting cultural demographics.

Gentrification: The Role of Artists in Changing Neighbourhoods took place on Saturday, Sept. 29 as part of a collaboration between POP Montreal Symposium and Concordia’s Fine Art Student Alliance (FASA). The array of panelists included both artists and those who work with non-profit social housing organizations and as community organizers in neighbourhoods affected by gentrification.

Cathy Inouye, a musician who has fought against many issues related to housing and poverty for more than 10 years, opened her segment by saying that an important thing to remember when talking about gentrification is that human beings are losing their homes or being evicted from their apartments. Faiz Abhuani, the co-founder of Brique Par Brique, a non-profit organization whose mission is to create affordable living spaces for marginalized people, agreed.

“I think it’s important to start with that baseline,” he said. “The reason why we’re talking about this is because there are real effects on real people.”

Gentrification is a multi-faceted issue that “happens across the city, not just in areas where artists are moving,” Inouye said. Abhuani contextualized the historic development of gentrification with artists and the North American economic shift over the last century from industrial labour services to cultural forms of production.

“People thought: ‘I really need to be around the people I’m like’ … and ‘I need to be close to places where culture is produced,’” Abhuani said. He explained that this economic shift prompted those with sufficient financial means to migrate to urban centres. These ongoing demographic migrations, from a capitalist-marketing standpoint, continue to justify urban development in regions that push people from lower-income brackets out of their homes.

“The people who benefit from these changes and from these large economic forces are the people who have means,” Abhuani said. “And the people who don’t [have financial means] are the ones who end up biting the bullet [and] having to move around.”

In gentrification, the role of artists—in this case, referring to individuals with the social status and capital to make a career from their art—lies in the fact that mass migration to more affordable neighbourhoods creates economic speculation, explained Fred Burrill, a Concordia PhD student who currently works with local non-profit organizations to fight for the right to housing in Place St-Henri.

“[Speculation] is a very intentional, state-driven process of changing the ways that [housing] investment is configured,” Burrill said. Speculation increases the property value in a community, and the demographic shift brought by artists provides local governments with a marketable, discursive framework that justifies their desire for urban development in alleged “up-and-coming” communities.

According to Burrill, the goal of speculation is to “turn the housing market from something that is based on supply and demand to something that is essentially a concrete manifestation of the stock market.” He used Griffintown in Montreal as an example. “[Artists] are all actively part of an ideological apparatus that’s used to justify deregulation.”

Artists often positively frame their contributions to the cultural fabric of a neighbourhood as genuinely representative of that community and reflective of their deep connection to its residents. However, Abhuani said this is a dangerous mentality because artists with social status are able to sell this culturally appropriated art and capitalize on it, while those without esteemed social status cannot. “So, maybe you shouldn’t do that, number one. Number two, why are you [in that neighbourhood]?” asked Abhuani. “You’re not there in a vacuum … You’re not just trying to create. You’re not just trying to survive. You’re trying to get ahead.”

All of the panelists agreed that the presence of artists in low-income neighbourhoods brings systemic gentrification to the community through selective state investment in development projects because cities want to support cultural hubs. Although artists may also be affected by rental increases and have to leave the neighbourhood, Abhuani explained, many of them not only have the social capital to relocate, “but they like doing that; they want to be on the forefront [of living] in certain neighborhoods.”

Inouye shared an observation from when she lived in New Orleans as a tuba player in 2012. “You could really see the mostly white kids from New York or from San Francisco moving in,” she explained. “You could see this hunger that people had to kind of own that beautiful magic that exists in New Orleans, and you could see them really wanting to connect with the community that had been there—the community that had lived through Katrina … You could really see this process unfolding, and it was so similar to colonialism.”

Inouye added that while it isn’t bad to want to connect with a given community, it is necessary to keep in mind how different people occupy the space in that community and how social and physical capital change the way people interact with that space.

Most concerned artists will ask themselves, “What can I do, as an artist, to fight against gentrification?” which, Burrill explained, is the wrong question. Artists and people in general should simply ask what needs to be done, without placing the individual at the epicentre of change. While the panelists agreed that gentrification can be throttled through the acquisition of real estate and income disparity can be bridged by wealth redistribution, concrete plans to combat these systemic issues still aren’t being enacted.

Despite some differences of opinion between the panelists, they all seemed to agree that one of the first steps to combating gentrification is community mobilization. Burrill explained that there tends to be an element of individualism when talking about the housing market and gentrification, with arguments such as encouraging better knowledge of tenant rights to avoid eviction and to fairly rent out living spaces.

“What actually needs to happen is that we need to intervene collectively in the [housing] market,” Burrill said. This would entail the city buying empty lots, removing them from the realm of speculation and reserving them for social housing projects, he explained. That, or artists can literally make their neighbourhoods more ugly, he said as a joke. “Beautification of neighborhoods without collective intervention in the housing market is simply a tool of development.”

Main photo by Alex Hutchins

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