C2 Montréal adds festival vibe with free events for first time


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This is a year of big change for C2 Montréal, the major creative business conference, and C2 president and CEO Jacques-André Dupont said he and his colleagues are pumped to be returning in full force.

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“I’m ready to rumble,” Dupont said in a phone interview.

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C2 Montreal runs Monday to Wednesday, mainly at Place Ville Marie and the nearby Queen Elizabeth Hotel, and high-profile guests include model, actress and philanthropist Naomi Campbell; tennis great Billie Jean King; star Montreal conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin; Archie Bell, global head of creative at Spotify Advertising; Avery Akkineni, president of Vayner3; Sandie Hawkins, managing director of global solutions for North America at TikTok; and former Destiny’s Child member Michelle Williams, who is also an actress, author and mental-health advocate.

You have to buy a pass to take part in the event, but for the first time this year, free activities will allow Montrealers to catch the flavour of the conference. Outdoor activities will take place at the esplanade of Place Ville Marie, near The Ring installation, Monday through Wednesday from noon to 1:15 p.m. and from 5 to 7 p.m.

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This year’s C2 is also the first full in-person edition since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What’s exciting is that, for the first time ever, part of the experience will be offered for free to Montrealers and visitors,” Dupont said. “We’re putting on several activities that will be accessible to anyone, not just ticket holders. We have cultural shows. We have what we call The Aquarium, which is a space where we do interviews with star speakers. We see it as this most creative conference beginning to embody the festival DNA of the city as well.”

Star Montreal conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, seen leading the Orchestre Metropolitain’s annual concert at the foot of Mount Royal in August, is among the big names at C2 Montréal.
Star Montreal conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, seen leading the Orchestre Metropolitain’s annual concert at the foot of Mount Royal in August, is among the big names at C2 Montréal. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

Some of the artists performing for free outside include DJ and musician Pierre Kwenders, who just won the Polaris Prize; Montreal dance collective Tentacle Tribe; one-man-band Blaise Margail; circus dance and visual-arts collective Projet Sanctuaire; Oji-Cree multi-disciplinary artist Anachnid; composer and TikTok influencer Liya Bombardier; the Urban Science Brass Band; and DJ Jojoflores.

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Last year the event took place at the north-end Tohu venue in hybrid form, mixing in-person and online events, and organizers had to work around public health regulations.

“Now the vision is downtown with C2 trying to help bring a new vibe to create opportunities for people to come back to work and visit downtown,” Dupont said. “We want to help bring back Montreal to its great self.”

In many ways the event is designed to sell Montreal to the global business community.

“We want to show Montreal to the world, in its best outfit,” said Dupont. “The creative Montreal, the energy of Montreal.”

This is the 11th edition of C2, but Dupont knows not everyone fully understands the concept of the event.

The Urban Science Brass Band, seen playing at the jazz fest in July, is among the free outdoor acts at C2 Montréal.
The Urban Science Brass Band, seen playing at the jazz fest in July, is among the free outdoor acts at C2 Montréal. Photo by Allen McInnis /Montreal Gazette

“If (the conference) TEDx had a baby with Cirque du Soleil, that’s C2,” Dupont said. “It was created by Jean-François Bouchard with his then-partners at (creative agency) Sid Lee and he got Cirque du Soleil involved. It was 2008, right after the economic crisis, and he wanted to show why Montreal is such a great place for business. He wanted to create the next generation of business conferences.

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“That’s why it was an immediate success at that time, because no one had seen that before, a conference where you see so much artistry, a conference where we bring leadership that is different. It was important to connect the Montreal, Quebec and Canadian business communities together, but also to connect us with the international market.

“This creates a big melting pot and business happens.”

One of out every four participants generates some kind of business out of the event, according to Dupont, and the conference creates between $500 million and $700 million of commercial activity each year. C2 helps spawn the creation of start-ups, helps people find jobs, and helps people find new markets for their products.

There are around 3,000 participants per day. There will be fewer people from outside Quebec this year due to the continuing impact of the pandemic, with Dupont figuring non-Quebecers will make up about 20 per cent of attendance.

For more information, visit c2montreal.com

[email protected]

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