Montreal Arts & Culture

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With two world-class university art programs, Montreal attracts more than its fair share of budding creative types, who usually stay after their studies. It explains the city’s ebullient visual arts scene, its world-renowned dance troupes (think of Grand Ballets Canadiens, La La La Human Steps and Marie Chouinard) and the strength of its English theatre offerings, despite the fact that it’s a mostly French city. From museums to performance spaces, Montreal is full of spots to soak up culture.

Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal

The Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal, commonly known as MAC, is one of the city’s leading cultural institutions. The museum aims to be both a showcase for Montréal artists and a place where international figures are introduced to the city’s residents. Since 1992, the museum has been located in the heart of the Quartier des Spectacles, alongside a number of theaters and performance spaces including the Place des Arts, where the symphony and opera perform. The museum has a collection of some 7,000 works, and the gallery spaces are relatively compact—it doesn’t take too long to explore the entire museum. Most of the works in the permanent collection are by artists who live and work in Québec, but leading international figures are represented as well.

The Montréal Museum of Fine Arts

Four Museums in One
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux Arts) is scattered across four different buildings, or pavilions. The Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion seen here is the institution’s main building, with its international art collection. The other buildings focus on archeology, Canadian art, and decorative arts. The current director of the museum, Nathalie Bondil, has been recognized for her innovative curatorial approach and exhibitions that cover the world. (A recent interview with AFAR can be found here: If you are visiting Montreal in the winter when days are short, take advantage of their evening hours on Wednesdays. Use the daylight you have to explore the city, and then head inside for some art before dinner. Major exhibitions remain open till 9 pm on Wednesdays (the rest of the week, the museum is open till 5 pm—Mondays closed).


Contemporary art can sometimes be pretentious or obscure, but DHC/ART adds an edgy sense of wit, with exhibitions ranging from the visual puns of Ceal Floyer to the exuberant portraits of John Currin. 451 rue St.-Jean, (514) 849-3742.


This giant retrofitted industrial space in Little Burgundy is one of the city’s most grandiose art spaces, and not only for its sheer volume: the cavernous main space is used to host cultural and commercial events such as fashion shows and the annual business convention C2MTL, not to mention some of the best parties around. But the main reason to visit this building is Division Gallery, which is located on its second floor. This contemporary art gallery represents high caliber international artists as well as locals, including Nicolas Baier and Michel de Brouin. The Arsenal itself also holds temporary exhibitions, and fills its interstitial spaces with fantastic works from its permanent collection; David Altmejd figures prominently.

Centre Phi

A Modern Gathering Place for Art in Montreal
Located right across the street from Olive et Gourmando, Centre PHI is a great place to wander before or after gorging on sandwiches and pastries.

The PHI Centre is a versatile space that adapts to accommodate various events: launches, conferences, seminars, screenings, exhibitions, concerts, performances, or interactive installations.

What I love about this space is that at any time, there could be a number of creative inspirations happening. When I visited, a show was in production and I wandered the art gallery looking at an inspiring collection of projects. You could watch a film, attend a fashion show, or hear an intimate concert.

The cherry on top? The terrace. If you’re lucky to get up there, it offers one of the best views of Old Montreal across the lake to Habitat 67.

Mainline Theatre

Right in the thick of the fun of the Main, aka Boulevard Saint-Laurent, MainLine Theatre is an experimental English-language theatre and performance space that’s entrenched in the local creative community. It’s also where the Montreal Fringe Festival is headquartered, guaranteeing its position at the forefront of theatrical happenings. MainLine’s bustling programming schedule includes the latest one-man show by a local luminary as well as grandiose large-cast farces and the annual Bouge de Là contemporary dance festival. The no-frills décor and loft-like setting make for a raw and welcoming spectator experience every time.

Centre Segal des arts de la scène

Segal Centre for Performing Arts
This high-polish theatre in Montreal’s Côte-des-Neiges neighborhood specializes in high-quality productions of multicultural plays (it has a subdivision that presents plays in Yiddish). Most of its plays are in English, however; productions such as the Belle Soeurs musical, based on Quebec playwright Michel Tremblay’s original French play, and award-winning versions of I Am My Own Wife and The Importance of Being Earnest. The centre, whose educational mandate is met with plays for all ages and teaching programs for kids, also presents live music in its Phyllis Lambert-designed building. And while you’re all the way out west, stop for a bite at one of the Caribbean restaurants on nearby Boulevard Queen Mary.

Centaur Theatre Company

A Special Night Out at the Centaur Theatre
Located in the former stock exchange in Old Montreal, the neoclassical Centaur Theatre is a preeminent English-language venue that focuses on work by Montreal creators. After dinner at Gibby’s or Garde-Manger, head to Centaur for a play, comedy act, dance performance, or burlesque show. The company also puts on children’s series and hosts the annual Wildside Festival, which features the best new theatrical productions.

Agora de la danse

The area around Rue Saint-Denis in the eastern Plateau neighbourhood has a very cultural feel, uniting a half-dozen French-language theatres, performances spaces, bookstores and European-style cafés. Agora de la Danse, on Cherrier, is just a couple of blocks from the iconic Café Cherrier, and it is an excellent space for seeing contemporary dance. You can often catch local dance greats here, such as Dominique Porte or Louise Lecavalier, of La La La Human Steps fame, but the space also shows young and experimental dance, whether it’s by young creators in street dance, jazz, or modern. Make sure you come early enough for a glass of wine in the quaint café.

Place des Arts

A Home for Culture
The 1960s and 70s are often referred to as the “Quiet Revolution” in Quebec, as reformist governments led by the Liberal party brought about huge changes in the province’s society. The period was also characterized by economic growth and grand projects, from highways to housing projects as well as the buildings constructed for Expo 67 and the 1976 Olympics, both in Montreal.

One of these grand projects was the Place des Arts, home to three theaters which to this day welcome touring symphonies and theatrical companies (as well as being the home of the Opera de Montreal and the city’s symphony). Seen here is the Edifice des Theatres, home to two different theaters. It was designed by the Montreal firm David, Barott, Boulva, Dufresne and completed in time for the 1967 Expo. The Place des Arts is also home to the Musée d’Art Contemporaine (MAC) in a more recent building designed by Jodoin Lamarre Pratte & Associés which opened in 1992.

Belgo Building

This rickety old five-storey loft building downtown became an enclave for art galleries a couple of decades ago because the rents were affordable and the location was central. Management has since embraced its status as Montreal’s small-gallery and artist-run centre headquarters, and spruced the building up a bit, encouraged by the enthusiastic foot-traffic the galleries bring. Some mainstays absolutely not to be missed on your trip there include Pierre-François Ouellette Art Contemporain (pictured), where you might catch art by Kent Monkman, Maskull Lasserre or Karilee Fuglem; Circa, an exciting space in constant development these days, dedicated to sculptural works; and Galerie Joyce Yahouda, an effervescent space where you can see work by local artists including Céline B. La Terreur, François Morelli or David Elliott.


There is perhaps some irony that one of the most distinctive contemporary buildings in the historic heart of Montréal is a showcase for some of the city’s oldest artifacts. The modern structure that houses this archaeology and history museum opened in 1992, to coincide with the 350th anniversary of the establishment of Montréal. The highlight is its crypt, where you can wander through the digs of the city’s 18th-century market. A new pavilion, “Where Montréal Began,” opened in 2017 on the occasion of the city’s 375th anniversary. Its display of artifacts emphasizes the spiritual traditions of both the French settlers and Québec’s Algonquin, Huron, and Iroquois peoples. Temporary exhibitions on subjects like hockey and the archives of Bell Telephone help bridge the gap between Montréal’s early history and the present day.

Montreal Science Centre

An amazing destination for families with kids of all ages right on the Old Port, the Montreal Science Centre is a super interactive, super fun, huge centre where learning feels like sheer entertainment. There’s an Imax theatre where kids can learn about everything from pandas to weather phenomena, there are playrooms where kids can build fortresses out of big foam blocks, there are workshops every week where kids can learn to build real working machines; all this in addition to the temporary exhibitions on things like Star Wars or the Beatles.

Phi Centre

If you’re looking for a nightlife experience in Griffintown that’s an alternative to fine dining and drinking, Phi Centre has weekly film screenings, regular art exhibitions and an impressive roster of international live music acts to light up the night. It’s also humming all day, and one of the coolest places to find souvenirs in the city thanks to its shop filled with a constantly rotating collection of fashion, accessories, objects and books by both local artists and designers, and creators from further afield. Alongside its sister institution, the DHC/ART Foundation, Phi Centre provides the cultural heartbeat of the neighborhood

Fonderie Darling

Among the city’s coolest art spaces, Fonderie Darling is a giant – and I mean GIANT – industrial space-turned-contemporary art gallery. It’s a shining example of the type of architecture that existed in the area before the rapid gentrification. Divided into two halves, the space generally hosts one monumental work or series of works in the cavernous main area, and a smaller, more human-scaled exhibition in the second half. Fonderie Darling is also home to a dozen or so artist studios for artists-in-residence from around the world, which one can occasionally visit. Make an evening of it and reserve a table at the Fonderie’s restaurant, Le serpent, one of the hottest addresses in town.


This junk shop-cum-art gallery is a space in constant evolution, the only exception being the kindhearted owners, Billy Mavreas and Emily O’Brien, who are always at the helm. Every resident of Mile End stops by here at some point in their week, and for good reason: there are always new tchochkes to check out, and every month or so, a new art exhibition in the front section with invariably interesting and alternative pieces to be purchased. A must-stop destination for those in search of Montreal-made zines and small-press publications.

Société des Arts Technologiques [SAT]

The name makes it sound like the driest place in Christendom, but the SAT, as it’s known by locals, is at the forefront of coolth. This giant building on Boulevard Saint-Laurent near Rue Sainte-Catherine is dedicated to electronic culture and entertainment, which means it hosts some of the best art events, dance parties and music performances in town. The top level of its four storeys includes the famous Satosphere, a dome structure that allows for mind-blowing, immersive 360-degree visual projections. Events include presentations and master classes in addition to dance nights by the likes of Borgore, Brodinski and MYD. Don’t forget to stop by the in-house restaurant, the FoodLab, which is constantly pushing the gastronomical envelope.

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