e58 huddart – the arts show us what is possible

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This is now an existential crisis, and we have in a way, a conceptual crisis, but just understanding we are and what this is, this moment, all of history is behind us: every book you’ve ever read, every battle, every empire, all of that is just there, right, just right behind us. And now we, we are in this position of emerging awareness that in order to have this civilization, in some form, continue we have to move quickly, and the arts can help us do that by giving us a shared sense of this moment and its gravity, but also what’s possible and how quickly that tipping point could be reached.

stephen huddart, conscient podcast, june 17, 2021, montreal

Stephen Huddart’s career spans several fields and includes leadership positions in the private, public and non-profit sectors. He recently retired as president and CEO of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, a national private foundation whose head office is in Montreal. Prior to that he worked as an educator and program developer specializing in human/animal issues – including a humane food certification and labeling program, animal-assisted therapy, and humane education in schools. His private sector experience includes co-founding the Alma Street Café – a community-based natural foods restaurant and jazz venue in Vancouver and running a triple-bottom-line music and publishing company in association with children’s folksinger Raffi. 

I’ve known Stephen for many years and have had the pleasure of working with him on various projects and strategic gatherings including the (Re) Conciliation Initiative. His ideas have influenced me deeply and his presence as mentor and collaborator has been greatly appreciated. Though he is recently retired, he continues to be a leading voice, and dare I say, an activist, for social innovation and fiscal reform. 

We went for a 90-minute sound walk along the Lachine Canal near his home in St-Henry, Montreal on June 18, 2021. In order to respect my 55-minute episode limit I had to cut out some great stories about Gabriel Roy, the impact of the ArtSmarts program on indigenous learners and his early days as a socially engaged filmmaker but there is more than enough for you to sink your teeth into : Huddart is a force of nature. 

There are many quotes from this conversation that resonated with me, including:  

On Dematerialization

  • I think we have to more broadly, dematerialize and move from a more material culture to some more spiritual culture, a culture that is able to enjoy being here, that experiences an evolutionary shift towards connection with nature, with all of that it entails with the human beings and the enjoyment and celebration of culture and so I think those two perspectives that the arts have an essential and so important and yet difficult challenge before them.

On Gabrielle Roy and the arts

  • Let’s just say that on the previous $20 bill, there’s a quote from Gabrielle Roy. It’s in micro-type, but it’s basically says : ‘how could we have the slightest chance of knowing each other without the arts’. That struck me when I read that and thought about the distances, that have grown up between us, the polarization, the prejudices, all of those things, and how the arts create this bridge between peoples, between lonely people, between dreamers and all people and that the arts have that ability to link us together in a very personal and profound and important ways. 

On Capital 

  • A lot of my time is really now on how do we influence capital flows? How do we integrate the granting economy with all that it has and all of its limits with the rest of the economy: pension funds, institutional investors of various kinds, family offices and so on, because we need all of these resources to be lining up and integrated in a way that can enable grassroots activity to be seen, supported, nurtured, linked to the broader systems change that we urgently need, and that takes the big capital moving so that’s a space that I’m currently exploring and I’m looking for ways to have that conversation.

I would like to thank Stephen for taking the time to speak with me, for sharing his deep knowledge of social innovation systems, his ‘big picture’ view, his inspiring optimism, his strategic thinking about the arts and his ongoing commitment to systems change and sustainability. 

For more information on Stephen’s work, see https://www.linkedin.com/in/stephen-huddart-0b516119/

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