Montreal is known across the globe as a city that breathes creativity. In fact, it has been referred to as one of North America’s most creative cities — on more than one occasion — and was even named a UNESCO City of Design. But it’s true: creativity thrives in Montreal. You can feel it on its streets, around its studio spaces, and in the energy of its countless cafés and galleries. When people think of Montreal, they think joie de vivre, and rightly so. The city boasts a lively arts scene and an outstanding quality of life, but what makes it so special is that it never ceases to reinvent itself.
Want to see what we mean? Use this guide to explore some of the city’s more innovative and inspirational offerings.
If you’re headed to Montreal and need to get a bit of work done while you’re there, take advantage of the many coworking spaces scattered across the city.
La Gare: Located in the heart of Mile End, one of the most vibrant and welcoming neighborhoods in Montreal, La Gare is a collaborative and welcoming space for designers, creators, artists, freelancers, social entrepreneurs, small teams, and anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit. If you need more than just an open desk, immerse yourself in this passionate and motivated community and find the inspiration to do your best work. With packages starting at just $12 a day, you’ll gain access to this space (complete with standard amenities) and a worldwide creative network. And, as a bonus, La Gare is within walking distance of a whole slew of restaurants, cafés, yoga studios, gyms, shops, grocery stores, bars, bagel shops, and theaters. To book a tour and claim your spot, click here.
Crew Collective and Café: If you enjoy the constant buzz of a coffee shop but need a slightly more structured workspace, Crew Collective might just be for you. Oh, and did we mention that it’s located within a historic Montreal landmark? The coworking space (and café) is housed in the main hall of the Royal Bank Tower, at 360 Saint-Jacques Ouest — which was once the tallest landmark in Canada and, indeed, the British Empire. Needless to say, the space is breathtaking and inspiring — everything you need for creative thinking! You can either take advantage of its public café or opt for a private, secure workspace where you can leave your things and go as you please (day passes are $30 during the week and $20 on weekends). Interested? Take a virtual tour of the space!
Halte 24/7: This network of (two) coworking spaces is home to a dynamic community. A membership at either includes access to both locations — one in the Plateau and one on the south shore of Montreal — as well as a host of events and networking opportunities. Here, members work from either “hotspot” desks or dedicated workspaces, and their focuses span from art to entrepreneurship. Halte 24/7 has been serving Montreal’s creatives for nearly five years, and its spaces have left a mark on the city. If you’re interested in contributing to a business community that is constantly evolving, check out Halte’s membership options — “hotspot” desks start at $199 a month.
Breather: Though not specific to Montreal — as it now boasts 500+ locations across 10 cities worldwide — Breather was founded in the Québécois city. The coworking platform offers modern workspaces across Montreal that you can use by the hour, day, or month — all to yourself. Since these spaces are empty, they’re ideal for small teams looking to focus, innovate, and move around. Breather is set up similarly to Airbnb, so it’s easy to peruse and reserve workspaces online and access them when you need to. Or, if you’d rather tour a space in person, that’s an option too! The beauty of this setup is that you pay for the time you need, even if it’s only a few hours.
Montreal hosts its share of fairs, lectures, and festivals. Here are just a few the city’s most noteworthy.
CreativeMornings Montreal: CreativeMornings is a (free) breakfast lecture series that was founded by Tina Roth-Eisenberg for creatives in cities across the globe. The Montreal branch hosts events at various locations across the city on the last Friday of the month. The focus of each lecture is always different, but regardless of which one you attend, you’ll be sure to find coffee, snacks, and good conversation. For up-to-date information on CreativeMornings MTL, follow them on Instagram.
OFFTA: This annual event is dedicated to avant-garde creation in live art. Its creators scout the local artistic landscape for artists whose practices lead new trends in theatre, dance, and performance, and encourage unique approaches, emerging ideas, and good-old-fashioned experimentation. In keeping with its vision of disciplinary encounters, OFFTA produces and presents hybrid events that challenge established live art practices and question modes of standard representation within the arts while facilitating participation, dialogue, and cooperation with local creatives. Typically held in the spring, the festival aims to amplify the voices of Montreal’s artists. For more information, click here.
C2 Montreal: C2 Montreal is the annual international business conference that helps established and aspiring leaders unlock their creativity in order to better face disruption and change. For three immersive days, bright minds from various industries connect, collaborate, and work to find actionable solutions to the challenges of our times. Though each year focuses on a different theme (2019’s is “Tomorrow”), the event’s five pillars remain the same: art and design, society and environment, leadership and talent, marketing and media, and science and technology. Previous speakers at this one-of-a-kind event include Snoop Dogg, Chelsea Manning, Bertrand Badré, and Sophie Grégoire Trudeau. Want to join thousands of decision-makers and creative minds as they collectively shape, experience, and challenge the future of business? Reserve your tickets and make sure you’re in Montreal at the end of May.
HUB Montreal: Each November, thousands of creatives flock to HUB Montreal to discuss music, digital arts, film, video games, multimedia, artificial intelligence, and virtual and augmented reality. Nicknamed “SXSW à la Montréal,” HUB Montreal is equal parts conference, festival, and marketplace. At the beating heart of this intersection lie creators, artists, ideators, influencers, entrepreneurs, distributors, agents, buyers, and start-ups. Throughout the weekend, attendees reflect on the challenges and opportunities of future-driven industries. Along with C2 Montreal, HUB is also part of the Digital Creativity Cluster Initiative, which was founded to celebrate the 375th anniversary of the city. To learn more about the event, click here.
If you’re looking to practice your craft in the presence of an expert and a few like-minded creatives, check out these Montreal-based courses and workshops.
MAC Montreal: The Education Department at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Montreal offers a program of creative workshops and interactive tours designed for various groups: university, community, professional, or tourist. The goal of the museum’s Creation Workshops is to offer visitors the opportunity to extend their aesthetic experience by experimenting with various mediums, techniques, and materials incorporating a theme or concept related to the current exhibits. Alongside these objectives, the workshops also make it possible to demystify the process of creation and “tame” contemporary art through a concrete approach. To view MAC’s calendar of events, click here.
Pottery Bonmatin: Want to learn pottery from a Montréalais? Frédérique Bonmatin is a local artist who has been practicing ceramics for nearly 18 years, and while her studio acts as a shop housing her designs, it also doubles as a workshop where she hosts classes every Friday evening and Saturday morning. Her introductory workshop covers basic techniques for turning, shaping, and baking (materials, clay, and tools included), while her second course covers all of the above plus a lesson on decorating ceramic creations (materials and paint included). Whether you’re looking to attend a workshop on your own or with friends, pottery is an ideal hands-on activity to get your creativity flowing.
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA): The MMFA houses several courses and workshops, ranging from art therapy — for persons living with mental health issues, autism, or eating disorders — to general classes for all ages. The museum’s Art Hive hosts free workshops and takes the form of a creative studio, complete with traditional art supplies. This welcoming, intergenerational space is also a place where participants can meet to discuss, perform, or exhibit. Additionally, the museum puts on “Cultural Wednesdays” each week, offering a program of films and lectures connected to the current exhibitions and collections, as well as a complete calendar of courses led by professional artists. So whether you’re a burgeoning or experienced creative, you can make the most of your time at the museum!
The Digital Creativity Summit: The Digital Creativity Summit is C2 Montreal’s contribution to Montreal’s Digital Creativity Hub, a celebration of the city’s 375th anniversary. It is an opportunity for the digital entertainment ecosystem to come together, get inspired, and explore industry challenges. Through a mix of talks, master classes, workshops, and conversation markets, the summit invites any and all to get a jolt of creative energy, ask questions, and dig for innovative answers. Past workshops have included “Remix Your Creative Process: A Dj’s Take on Trying New Approaches,” “the Future of Work: Meeting the Demands of Digital,” “Worlds Collide: When Science Meets Creativity,” and “How to Create Work That Matters.” For more information, click here.
From murals to photographs, illustrations, sculptures, and installations, Montreal’s traditional — and not-so-traditional — galleries are sure to inspire.
SBC Gallery of Contemporary Art: The SBC is a non-profit exhibition center and public gallery in Montreal that is dedicated to providing a forum for artists, curators, and cultural practitioners for projects that critically engage diverse communities with current issues in art, culture, and society. Its collaborative approach to cultural production runs through its distinct program of exhibitions, events, research, public outreach activities, and publications. The gallery is known for embracing different ways of making — making objects, making relations, making politics, making public experiences — and building relationships between people and institutions within the city. Click here to view its current exhibitions.
Parisian Laundry: Set in the historic neighborhood of St. Henri, Parisian Laundry is one of the most talked about galleries in Montreal. A former commercial launderer and cookie factory, the large space was transformed nearly 15 years ago to house a local magnate’s art collection — which quickly became a local Montreal gem. Today, the gallery boasts both Canadian and international artists, and its exhibition program is split between three spaces, including a two-story concrete box called the “Bunker.” While the permanent collection includes a full-scale, insect-infested “ice cream stand,” this gallery is worth visiting for its unique industrial architecture alone. Explore its list of artists here.
Darling Foundry: The Darling Foundry is a visual-arts venue that was founded by the not-for-profit art organization Quartier Éphémère, which supports the creation, production, and dissemination of contemporary art. A small business by nature, the Darling Foundry offers a wide range of tools for the distribution of art to a broader public. It occupies two (adjoined) former industrial buildings in Old Montreal, where it presents exhibitions, creates open studios for local artists, and hosts international residencies — all of which provide experience, inspiration, and comprehension of contemporary art to all who enter. The gallery aims to bring the local and international art scenes together through its unique institution. You can find its full calendar of events here.
DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art: Housed in two heritage buildings located in the heart of Old Montreal, DHC/ART is a non-profit foundation dedicated to the presentation of contemporary art. Its programming has been met with critical acclaim both at home and around the world, and it’s often referred to as the city’s best art gallery. All of DHC/ART’s exhibits are free, and each year, it hosts two to three major exhibitions, a series of public events, special collaborative projects, and a forward-thinking education program. It’s also interesting to note that the interior of the larger of the two spaces boasts stunning modern design that beautifully contrasts its traditional exterior — i.e. the space is worth seeing in and of itself. For a list of current exhibitions, click here.
Sometimes all it takes is a bit of shopping to find your inspiration. So, why not support some local artisans while you’re at it?
Artpop: Artpop is a boutique located on Le Plateau-Mont-Royal that offers one-of-a-kind items made by Montreal artists. With a wide selection of jewelry, cards, posters, stationery, T-shirts, and handmade accessories, it’s one of the best places in the city for gifts and souvenirs that represent Montreal and its vibrant creatives. For more information, and to discover original pieces created by local artists, visit Artpop’s Facebook page.
ASHUKAN Cultural Space: Equal parts art gallery, shop, and unique cultural incubator, the ASHUKAN Cultural Space works to bring Indigenous art to mainstream audiences, break stereotypes, and foster cross-cultural dialogue. It is the first and only permanent structure dedicated to the dissemination of Aboriginal arts, artists, and cultures in Canada, and it’s also home to an exhibition space and a 100-percent native shop with products that respect the principles of fair trade. If you’re looking to peruse Indigenous art, paintings, sculptures, etchings, jewelry, moccasins, beads, and other original items, look no further than this heritage building in the hub of Old Montreal.
Ex-Voto: Located in Montreal’s Little Italy, Ex-Voto is an excellently curated vintage and indie-designer clothing shop — though it also stocks accessories, home decor, plants, earthenware, stationery, feminist knick-knacks, and handmade jewelry. It carries items for both men and women, including pieces made by local artists, so there’s a little something for everyone. To take a peek inside the shop, visit Ex-Voto’s Instagram.
The WANT Apothecary: Loosely inspired by the atmosphere of a 19th-century pharmacy, this concept shop presents a unique opportunity for customers to discover a trusted resource for their style and beauty needs. Nestled among local boutiques, fine grocers, florists, and cafés, the WANT Apothecary has been carefully curated by the same team that introduced the travel accessories brand WANT Les Essentiels. Appropriately, the shop embraces the same design ethos as the celebrated accessories brand with a focus on timelessness, quality, and a modern interpretation of the past. WANT Apothecary stocks a selection of narrowly distributed international brands and a carefully edited array of beauty and body-care products. Though it isn’t solely based in Montreal, the shop in Westmount is worth stopping in at — if only for a bit of window-shopping.
Whether you’re craving a cup of joe, a bite to eat, or just a comfortable place to work, Montreal has a great selection of cafés that cater to every mood and taste.
Co-Op Le Milieu: Le Milieu is a cooperatively run art studio and café located in Montreal’s Centre-Sud neighborhood that invites anyone and everyone to create, facilitate, and/or admire art as an active participant in their community. The space is filled with heaps of second-hand art supplies that are available on a pay-what-you-can basis, while its menu offers affordable, fair-trade, and organic drinks, as well as homemade vegan fare made from local and organic ingredients. And, if you’re looking to take something home with you, Le Milieu also sells arts and crafts created and curated by co-op members and volunteers.
Café des Arts: Café des Arts is a craft café situated in the Old Port of Montreal. Offering a variety of fresh, often local, menu items — including baked goods and seasonal treats — in addition to strong, artisanal fair-trade coffee, this locale fuses the romantic atmosphere of a café with the creative magic of a contemporary art gallery. The space presents work by local artists alongside organic dishes and fresh brews, in hopes of offering customers and artists a unique and pleasant meeting place.
Coop Le Cagibi: Located in Saint-Laurent, Le Cagibi is a cozy café and art-friendly space with a local, vegetarian menu; late-night drinks; and live music. This adorable setting resembles that of a living room, encouraging reading, writing, drawing, and good conversation. Known as a refuge for local artists, musicians, performers, and lovers of all the above, Le Cagibi is a must-visit for creatives of all kinds. Visit their Facebook page to stay up-to-date on their monthly events.
Arts Café: This aptly named Mile End café is famous for its outstanding brunch and excellent coffee, but it’s also used for hosting art-related events year-round. With vintage decor and an arguably hip atmosphere, Arts Café is a great place to stop by after a long day of exploring Montreal’s artistic nooks. And since it serves breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, pastries, coffee, and other beverages, you can’t really go wrong at any time of day.
Ready to see the rest of the city? Check out our comprehensive guide to Montreal! When visiting the city, consider staying at a Marriott International — positioned within walking distance of Montreal’s creative enclaves.