A text accompanying the installation of SHEENA HOSZKONovember 2, 2012 - November 10, 2012
Stella is the only community organization in Montreal created specifically by and for sex workers. Founded in 1995, the organization aims to improve the quality of life and working conditions of women, transvestites and transsexuals working in the sex industry. Stella’s team visits sex workers in their workplace: on the streets, in bars, massage parlors, escort agencies, hotels, photography studios as well as in their residences. Our philosophy and actions are based on the idea of empowerment. Sex workers and their experiences are at the heart of our activities. By involving these women at all levels of our organization, Stella aims to provide services that respond to the emerging needs of the community.
Well before Montreal’s International Jazz Festival, the Society for Arts and Technology (SAT), and Club Soda, Montrealers danced, sang, and feasted at the corner of Saint Laurent and Saint Catherine. In the 19th century, the red light district began to pulse thanks to the talents of performers from around the world. Around 1920, erotic dancers graced the stages of cabarets between performances by New York orchestras and Montreal actors. A stone’s throw away from the partiers hundreds of prostitutes worked in brothels where it was not uncommon to find a piano close by. Montreal’s red light district is the most important in North America, and above all its history is that of hundreds of women: sex workers.
WHY STELLA FOUGHT TO SAVE CAFÉ CLÉOPÂTRE
For 33 years, Café Cléopâtre has offered erotic entertainment to many Montrealers and tourists. Stella’s team has visited Cleo’s for 17 years, providing information on health and safety at work. Open to the community, Café Cléopâtre regularly donates its upstairs performance space for to community organizations working in the area. Stella has benefited from this generosity and holds many events with educational and preventative aims, as well as festive ones!
As for all of the establishments that Stella visits, our team evaluates the working conditions of employees at Café Cléopâtre. From our first visits onwards, we have observed excellent working conditions offered to employees. More concretely, the premises and the dressing rooms are clean and safe, as are the stages and poles. The owner, always on site, is respectful towards his employees and listens to their concerns as well as Stella’s, and provides flexible work schedules. Cleo’s is eclectic and hires all kinds of women - it is the only bar in Montreal where erotic shows are performed by older women, women of different body sizes, tattooed women, and women of diverse cultural backgrounds. While this detail may seem banal to some, for the women who work at Café Cléopâtre it constitutes an important space.
Recognized across Canada as well as internationally, Café Cléopâtre is an iconic location at the corner of Saint Laurent and Saint Catherine of almost cult status. From the twenties onwards, Montreal’s red light artists have allowed the city to distinguish itself internationally. From this history stems Montreal’s reputation as an open-minded, welcoming city where people know how to party and have fun. Cleo’s bar and incredible cabaret room are some of the last vestiges of this era, and for this reason Stella has fought to save this rich cultural site - symbolic for Montreal, and symbolic for sex workers.
LONG LIVE CAFÉ CLÉOPÂTRE!
Stella, l’amie de Maimie