Paulette Gagnon was honoured at the Community Builders Award in 2019.
A small town girl had big city dreams for her adopted home. Originally from Hearst, Paulette Gagnon, a remarkable organizer and talented administrator, shepherded the Place des Arts project, a francophone creative space in downtown Greater Sudbury.
As the director of development for Place des Arts, Gagnon worked for le Regroupement des organismes culturels de Sudbury (ROCS), but her efforts for the project went beyond 9 to 5, and her support for the arts was exemplary.
Gagnon worked behind the scenes and preferred to stay out of the spotlight. But she was a star of the francophone arts community and was considered one of the most influential francophones outside of Quebec.
Gagnon suffered a stroke and died suddenly in October 2017, just a few days before the federal government announced $12 million in funding for Place des Arts project. She was 62 years old.
The $30-million francophone arts centre will be located at the corner of Larch and Elgin streets. Construction started last fall, and when completed in 2020, Place des Arts will be home to eight cultural organizations and is expected to host 850 events in its first years.
The funding for the project has come from a number of groups and levels of government, including FedNor, the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport and the City of Greater Sudbury.
Sudbury MP Paul Lefebvre paid tribute to Gagnon in the House of Commons at the time of her death
“Mr. Speaker, my riding of Sudbury is the future home of Place des Arts, the largest cultural centre that Canada has seen in the past 25 years The very accomplished, clever leader behind this project was a remarkable figure in the cultural community, my friend Paulette Gagnon…Paulette had a very impressive career. She was the head of the Fédération culturelle canadienne-française and of the Association des théâtres francophones du Canada.
“Very few people are as passionate about standing up for the interests of artists and cultural groups as she was. People could not say no to her. She was a formidable leader and an architect of the French Canadian cultural community, which is now better equipped and better structured because of the work she did,” said Lefebvre.
Gagnon was instrumental in the professionalization of the Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario (TNO) in the 1980s.
Later, she headed La Nouvelle Scène theatre in Ottawa while it was being constructed and during its first few years of operation.
She devoted herself tirelessly, whether it was the TNO, La Nouvelle Scène, the Théâtre français du Centre national des Arts, the Fédération culturelle canadienne-française (where she served as president) or the Association des théâtres francophones du Canada (where she implemented major projects that helped shape French-Canadian theatre).
Gagnon reached out to English arts organizations in Sudbury and was involved in starting what became known as the Creative Consortium of artistic directors. She was a founder of the Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts.
When she died, Mayor Brian Bigger released a news statement. “Paulette leaves behind a powerful legacy as a dedicated visionary of arts and culture, who thrived on celebrating our community’s successes.
“Paulette’s strategic thinking and inquisitive nature was instrumental in helping us develop our city’s cultural plan.
“She will be fondly remembered by many staff at the City of Greater Sudbury as a kind, positive and passionate collaborator and friend, Paulette will be remembered for her drive and creativity, and her tireless efforts to support artists and creative professionals across all sectors. We thank her for her numerous impactful contributions to this community.”