Where technology meets art

Immerse yourself in Montreal’s innovative digital arts and cinema landscape
Image by Photo: Adil Boukind / Courtesy of PHI.

Travel through virtual reality; explore the solar system; discover history, art and music in motion—all without leaving the city.

Montreal is known as a creative city where new art, music and fashion thrive. It’s also a hotbed of technological innovation. Home to video game and AI companies, virtual reality producers and technologically minded artists, Montreal doesn’t shy away from sharing its innovations in unique ways.

Take a seat in a darkened cinema or get comfortable on a bean bag chair under a surround-sound dome. Put a VR headset on and walk through an art exhibition. Catch bands and electronic artists who perform with live visuals. Montreal has no shortage of immersive experiences that pair art with technology. While many unfold in venues that require tickets (usually offering a student discount), others happen outdoors and are free for the watching.

Imagining past, present, and future

Among the historic buildings and cobblestone streets of Old Montreal, the PHI Centre is dedicated to blending new technology with the arts. A destination for experiencing artistic virtual reality and interactive installations created by local and international producers, the PHI Centre also hosts public talks and live music, as well as workshops and masterclasses that students are encouraged to attend. Most recently, the PHI Centre co-produced The Infinite, an interactive VR experience created by Montreal company Felix & Paul Studios, NASA, and the International Space Station.

Also in Old Montreal, the illuminated visuals and musical score of Aura show another side of the French-inspired, Gothic Revival architecture of Notre-Dame Basilica. Crafted by Moment Factory, an internationally renowned entertainment studio and arguably Montreal’s original immersive and in-situ experience creators, Aura reflects Montreal’s identity as a city that balances tradition with post-modernity and a thirst for the new.

Jacques Cartier Bridge Lights, Moment Factory
Outdoors in Old Montreal, look to the east to Moment Factory’s creativity in action again on the Jacques Cartier Bridge, where the lighting array changes with the seasons and holidays. And history is anything but boring in Cité Mémoire, a phone-guided night tour of animated projections on building facades, each revealing crucial and surprising moments in Montreal history.

Larger-than-life sound and image

Mural by Shepard Fairey / Photo courtesy of MURAL

When can art be as tall as an office building? Not only is Montreal a hub for massive murals thanks to MURAL festival and related artist groups, but projection-mapping art illuminates building facades throughout the city, often with musical accompaniment. Downtown, projections often coincide with festivals like the Montreal International Jazz Festival in July, MUTEK, an international festival of digital creativity and electronic music in August, as well as Festival du Nouveau Cinema in the fall, and winter arts and culture festival MONTRÉAL EN LUMIÈRE. In the Mile End neighbourhood, see new work by digital animation artists during the MAPP_MTL festival in September.

Photo: Ash KG, courtesy of Society for Arts and Technology

A hidden gem in the heart of downtown, the Society for Arts and Technology (SAT) supports Montreal’s digital arts scene with artist residencies and training workshops while also being an incredible entertainment venue. The SAT’s surround-sound 360-degree multimedia dome is the place to experience live generative animation, projection-mapping and electronic music by artists from around the world. A few blocks away, Canada's largest indoor immersive experience, Oasis Immersion walks visitors through over 21,500 square feet of multi-sensorial art and storytelling exhibitions at Palais des congrès.

Sometimes, the architecture itself can be considered an immersive technology, as is the case with Maison symphonique, an acoustic wonder where the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Orchestre Métropolitain and other local and international orchestras perform, no additional visuals necessary (though sometimes they’ll perform live scores to classic films).

Fun and video games

Montreal’s array of immersive experiences has grown out of the city’s long-time support for cutting-edge cinematic and digital arts and, in the past two decades, a tech industry where video game companies have flourished. Companies such as Ubisoft, Behaviour Interactive, Gameloft, WB Games, as well as numerous visual-effects and animation studios count on local talent from the city’s universities and technical programs. Some, like Ubisoft, also host public neighbourhood events, such as concerts and other gatherings—watch their social media for announcements.

On top of that, every fall, the largest game conference on the East Coast, the Montréal International Games Summit (MIGS) brings together video game industry professionals and fans, while Montreal Comiccon gathers creators and fans of comic books, video games, science-fiction, and more in July. Tech also meets creativity and commerce at C2 Montréal in the spring, an annual conference that pairs presentations by major players with hands-on workshops, networking opportunities, and volunteer roles for students.

Awe-inspiring nature—on screen and off

Getting back to basics, the natural world in Montreal can be just as incredible as man-made creations. Look way up and into the cosmos at the Planetarium, where not one but two domed theatres screen cinematic excursions into space, as well as guided viewings of the planets, meteor showers and eclipses when the time is right. Also see the night sky in action on outings with Plateau Astro. Or join one of the Trottier Space Institute at McGill’s public observing nights at the Anna McPherson Observatory on campus.

Anna McPherson Observatory / Photo: Nicole Ford

Watch for multimedia festivals and pop-up events downtown, on the quays in Old Montreal and in neighbourhoods like the Plateau and Mile End. All summer and well into the fall, Piknic Électronik brings incredible electronic music and visuals to match to Parc Jean-Drapeau. Winter nights get even brighter at electronic music festival Igloofest, where revellers dance next to the frozen Saint Lawrence River on Quay Jacques-Cartier in the Old Port. On a smaller, more intimate scale, dive into musical and art experiences at POP Montreal in the fall and at experimental music and art festival Suoni Per Il Popolo in June.

Anne Kwon, an English major who completed her B.A. this spring, worked on communications for last year’s Suoni Per Il Popolo festival, through an internship supported by the Faculty of Arts. The experience fit with her interests in events and creative content, she says, providing a valuable opportunity to “meet new people and artists and discover new venues.”

Anne, who grew up in the U.S. and Calgary, came to McGill partly because of the Montreal urban environment. Now, as a new graduate, she’s focusing her job search on the city’s flourishing creative sector. After four years of living here, “I would really like to stay in Montreal,” she says.

Robyn Fadden is a Montreal-based writer and broadcaster covering arts and culture, science and technology, business and the spaces where disciplines intersect; Robyn is currently the Managing Editor of Delve, the thought leadership platform of the McGill Desautels Faculty of Management.

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