“One of my favourite days at the Confederation Centre is when the (performing) company comes over,” says Monique Lafontaine fondly, anticipating an arrival only days away when we met in May. “There’s a different buzz around the Centre, immediately when they arrive. The energy changes—it’s almost palpable.” Soon, too, she says, “Curators will be coming to install exhibitions… Every part of the building will be so vibrant, getting ready for summer. As we get closer to opening nights, it will be electrifying.”
Monique, uniquely works with “every department” at Confederation Centre of the Arts in her position with French programming and arts education. “I am a Jill-of-all-trades,” she smiles, “working with the art gallery, in arts education (both visual arts and theatre), in marketing, as French spokesperson… I’ve co-written plays for the Young Company and directed Christmas shows. Two days are never the same!”
In addition to her work with the Centre, Monique is the Department of Education’s coach and adjudicator for the drama festival, which takes her “tip-to-tip on the Island,” and gives her an opportunity to encourage talent in children and youth. Monique is also the chairperson of the Fédération culturelle de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard, which promotes and supports Acadian and francophone presence in the arts and culture sector.
“I had a lucky upbringing. I got exposed to a lot of art and different kinds of art,” Monique says. “I grew up in a family surrounded by music and theatre.” She studied piano and theatre in Montreal—but did not see a performance career ahead. “You have to be really, really good to succeed,” she says. However, having grown up in a francophone household in an anglophone neighbourhood, “I was fluently bilingual, and I was encouraged to apply for a scholarship for three years of study at university in translation.” As a translator, she was soon able to reintegrate art into her life. Or, as it turned out, all the arts.
She spread her wings in PEI theatre, where, mentored by David Sherren, she moved from acting to directing. “Reading a play, I could see actors in my head and could move them, almost like puppets, on the stage. I could visualize it—even more than I could visualize myself as an actor.”
She now appreciates that the Fédération culturelle even beyond theatre “has a mentorship role that coincides with my own interests,” supporting workshops in schools and emerging artists. The Fédération culturelle is part of the management for Art in the Open this year, but Monique will not have as active a role as she might hope—because “This year, it’s the same week as ‘the Maud’ (the Maud Whitmore Benefit Concert), and I am also chair of the Maud!”
“The Maud” supports scholarships, for anyone in the Confederation Centre to apply for, to help fund artistic projects or learning. Chairing the event not only means coordinating the concert but also awarding the scholarships: “This is the big thing for me in August,” Monique says.
Art is an any-month preoccupation. Monique’s home with partner Ben Kinder is “floor-to-ceiling bookcases—and no television.” They donated their television to an art installation and never asked for it back. Arthritis is getting in the way of piano playing, but, Monique nods, “On good days, I play.”
She has taken up sketching in the last ten or twelve years and loves it. Her partner Ben has not been active as a visual artist during the time Monique has taken it up, focused instead most recently on meditation. His meditation, she says, “was very helpful when I was going through cancer.”
She reassures, “I am still clear of cancer,” but Monique’s cancer journey was in some ways public, with her public role. “I lost all of my hair, so it was pretty obvious, and I couldn’t stand a wig. The silver lining is I had dyed my hair for so many plays, I didn’t know what my hair colour was anymore! I find the silver lining where it is,” she says.
Welcoming in the company of art is a way of life for Monique, at work, in her volunteer hours, and at home, lining her days with silver.