Social Cohesion or Social Justice? The Implications of the UN Declaration on Cultural Diversity for Canadian Community Arts Policy

Leah Burns
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While existing studies on arts and cultural policy in Canada have attempted to acknowledge issues of diversity, they have often failed to integrate terminologies and narrative representations developed by grassroots community groups. Instead, theorists and policy makers tend to rely on expert knowledge and dominant institutional frames, resulting in a contradictory process. The discourse on diversity in arts and cultural policy becomes a means of characterizing local cultural expressions, while simultaneously remaining insulated from these same localized conceptions (Miller & Yudice, 2002). Techniques for community involvement in policy design often focus on the business community and the fostering of partnerships with private industry.

Diversity is thus presented as both economically and socially profitable. It is sold as a valuable policy agenda in order to further the interests of both national unity and global capital. Policy within this frame becomes a means to social cohesion rather than social justice. Canadian "multi-cultural" initiatives have been strongly critiqued by artists and communities of colour for supporting simplified homogenous interpretations of complex and diverse issues — "the community of mythic unity" (Kwon, 2002 p.118).

Some of the most recent policy developments in the arts in Canada have included initiatives to recognize and support community-based arts practices. Internationally Canada has also been active in the development of the recent UN Declaration on Cultural Diversity. This paper will examine both the limits and possibilities of these initiatives. Can policy be effective in addressing systemic inequality without massive institutional restructuring? Are there possibilities for including diverse voices where they are invited not just to join the conversation, but also to question and redefine it?

Kwon, Miwon. (2002). One Place After Another: Site Specific Art and Locational Identity. Cambridge: MIT Press. p. 118

Miller, Toby & George Yudice (2002). Cultural Policy. London, UK: Sage Publications.

Keywords: diversity, equity, policy, community art, Canada, social justice, social cohesion
Stream: Arts Agendas
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Leah Burns

PhD Student, Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto

Leah Burns is an artist, researcher and educator who engages in arts inquiry both individually and in collaboration with communities. Her work investigates social and environmental issues using multi-disciplinary visual arts processes. She has worked with communities in Canada, Thailand, Taiwan and Australia.
Leah is currently completing a PhD in Adult Education and Community Development at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto and in affiliation with the Centre for Arts-informed Research. Her doctoral research examines issues of equity and diversity in Canadian post-secondary fine arts education, with a particular focus on community arts training programs. In addition to her academic study Leah teaches in the Fine Arts Cultural Studies Department at York University and works as Technology Coordinator / Research Assistant on The Alzheimer's Project (a multi-year arts-informed research project that uses photography, installation, performance and community-based research to investigate issues of Alzheimer's disease and caregiving).

Ref: A06P0269