Fondation Matrimoine: enhancing a neglected cultural heritage

Alongside the names of trades and professions traditionally reserved for women, it helps to revive the memory of female creators of the past and to preserve the legacy of their work. As authors, sculptors, illustrators, and storytellers, women artists have been distinguished in both their talent and their numbers. By valuing a missing piece of our cultural heritage, the term “matrimoine” allows us to restore to women their rightful place—not only in history, but also in contemporary public and professional life.

With Fondation Matrimoine, a project selected in the 2022 cohort of the Civic Incubator of the Maison de l’innovation sociale (MIS), Luce Vallières is lending her energy and creativity to this movement and to the betterment of women’s working conditions today.

Invisible in the public sphere

Do you ever pay attention to the names of streets, buildings, metro stations, or lakes? Think about this for a moment. Of those that come to mind, how many are named after women? Very few.

Excerpt from a map of the Société de transport de Montréal (STM)

Your memory is not the problem here. This exercise reveals the profound lack of parity in toponymy—that is, place-names. Out of more than 50,000 place-names in Quebec memorializing a deceased person, only ten percent honour a woman. In Montreal, the figure drops to 7.6 percent.¹ This negligible representation of women in the public sphere aligns precisely with their lack of acknowledgment in history books.

Place-names are tangible and symbolic markers of society; as such, they are mainly selected from the public sphere—a space from which women have been erased, their contributions minimized, and their work attributed to male colleagues. This naming practice has underscored the absence of female creators in the historical record. The arts in particular have had to reckon with works being destroyed or archives being inaccessible out of a lack of consideration for this heritage.

Experiencing obstacles

With her academic background in art history, her artistic practice in photography, and her employment in a cultural profession, Luce Vallières has experienced the obstacles faced by women in the arts, and can describe them:

Luce Vallières, Fondation Matrimoine - Atelier de l'Incubateur civique de la MIS

Luce Vallières

“One would like to think that in 2022, when we are making progress on equal pay, among other things, women would have the same opportunities, the same means, and the same artistic freedom men have. Unfortunately, this is not the case!

The lack of female role models hinders women creators from taking their place as art professionals, applying for jobs, and asking for funding. Their work is sometimes still perceived as a leisure activity.” — Luce

One way to change this is to restore this neglected heritage by giving it visibility it in the public arena. With Fondation Matrimoine, Luce seeks to give back to women their rightful standing in the history of art, and to establish new practices for the future.

Her project initially took shape around the editing of Wikipedia pages, with the objective of improving the quality and quantity of digital content about women creators. But the enthusiasm of the volunteer participants in the project encouraged Luce to launch “YES! Matrimoine,” a podcast exploring the life and work of a woman artist and/or craftswoman. The podcast brings to light each of their creations and bridges historical and contemporary artistic practices.

“Bringing heritage to light is a long-term task requiring a lot of research, but it’s essential to breaking the vicious circle of invisibilization which continues to diminish the representation of female artists both in museums and the public arena.”— Luce

Photo credit: Photo taken by a member of the MIS team of a Parisian graffiti signed by the art collective “Guerilla Girls”

The project leader quickly realized the limits of her plan for action. There was meticulous excavation work to be done. A colossal mass of content to be created. How to avoid getting discouraged by the magnitude of the task? In which direction should the project be aimed to give it the greatest possible impact? These questions will be answered by the Civic Incubator‘s support program, of whose 2022 cohort Luce is a member.

Cultural heritage is a very broad topic, and there are many ways to bring it out of the archives and into the spotlight. The challenge here is to conceive a strategy that supports the vision of the Fondation Matrimoine while also generating the desired impact. Luce points out that the program helped her adapt her approach:

“For example, the MIS team drew my attention to the fact that I had to choose and mobilize the right partners. Convincing someone who is very far from the subject isn’t the same task as convincing someone who is already on board. What do I really want to spend my energy on? Thanks to the Civic Incubator, I have learned to step back to give myself the space to imagine alternative solutions.” — Luce

Mobilizing support

Thanks to the program’s eye-opening moments and to the contacts made along the way, Matrimoine began refining its mission. It thus focuses now on “transforming the conversation in the public space to include heritage for a just, inclusive, and resilient society.”

With the strategy of pursuing structural impact, visual arts was chosen as a guiding theme in the Fondation’s programming for the next four years. Starting with a specific area allows for the testing of targeted actions within a cycle. Once the conditions for success have been met, the project will expand to different areas of expression to increase the scope of its activities.

Questioning the initial approach has also brought out a new perspective, one directed towards actions that can leverage change: “Why waste my energy trying to convince people who have an audience, but who don’t believe in the cause of heritage? What if I focus instead on people who are already aware? We can achieve a more lasting impact by finding allies in the cultural milieu who have decision-making power and influence, supporting them if they lack resources, and offering them tools to encourage them to take action.” — Luce

The project has been the impetus for a collaboration between Fondation Matrimoine and the University of Montreal’s department of art history. Together, the two groups are envisioning different approaches for improving the working conditions of female artists today, such as training in, or support services for, the transmission of their legacies to cultural institutions.

While continuing to produce and disseminate content, notably through the podcast, Luce and her team formed the NPO Fondation Matrimoine. They are currently preparing a series of events, to be held in October 2022, for Women’s History Month in Canada. Various activities will raise awareness of the cause of heritage in general and the lack of representation of women artists in the public sphere in particular.

Follow Fondation Matrimoine to find out more about the program!

¹ Beaudoin, S. & Martin, G. Women and toponymy: From obscurity to parity. Sherbrooke, Quebec: Fleurdelisé, 2019.

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