Located in the eastern part of the city's downtown, between Ste-Catherine and de Maisonneuve Streets, and St-Urbain and Jeanne-Mance streets, in an area now known as the Quartier des Spectacles, the complex is home to the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, and the Opéra de Montréal.
Place des Arts was an initiative of Mayor Jean Drapeau, a noted lover of opera, as part of a project to expand the downtown core eastward from the concentration of business and financial activity in the centre-west part of downtown. The Corporation George-Étienne-Cartier, named in honour of George-Étienne Cartier, a Father of Confederation and opera lover, was set up to build it, and the first part of the complex (including the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier) was inaugurated on September 21, 1963. The other theatres were added progressively. The Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal was added to the complex on May 28, 1992.
The Place des Arts includes five theatres of various sizes:
Construction of a new concert hall for the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal) is set to be completed by 2011 at the cost of $105 million (CAD) and will seat approximately 1,900 spectators.
In addition to the theatres, the complex hosts the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, a museum of contemporary art, as well as rehearsal halls, shops, services, and a large, popular esplanade decorated with original fountains and water cascades.
The site is decorated with several works of public art including L'artiste est celui qui fait voir l'autre côté des choses by Claude Bettinger, Comme si le temps… de la rue by Pierre Granche, and La voie lactée by Geneviève Cadieux.
In the summer the esplanade and the street in front of it make up one of the important outdoor sites of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal.