A World Apart: The Multicultural World of Visible Minorities and the Art World of Canada

By Li, Peter S. | The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, November 1994 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

A World Apart: The Multicultural World of Visible Minorities and the Art World of Canada

Li, Peter S., The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

Much empirical research on racial inequality in North America has focused on differences in life opportunities and career outcomes (Jencks, et al., 1972; Featherman and Hauser, 1978; Boyd, Goyder, Jones, McRoberts, Pineo, and Porter, 1985; Li, 1988a), with the theoretical debate revolving around whether racial inequity can be attributed to culture as a primordial feature or to unequal opportunities arising from the social construction of race (Banton, 1983; van den Berghe, 1985; Miles, 1982). Thus far, little attention has been paid to the process of cultural reproduction as a dimension of inequality, by which the art and culture of the dominant group are promoted and legitimized, and those of the minority are artificially redefined and marginalized.

In this paper, I examine Canada's official policy and support towards art and minority cultures, and argue that the Government's differential approaches towards them encourage the development of two worlds of art that are characterized by differences in infrastructure and rules of operation. The first is a formal, legitimized and high-status art world of mainly white Canadians, and the second is a marginal, folkloric and low-status multicultural circle reserved for immigrants and made up largely of visible minorities. The formal art world is legitimized by the dominance of European and American art and culture in Canadian society, and patronized by the state through its support of a relatively autonomous professional body. The more nascent multicultural circle is sustained by Canada's official policy of multiculturalism through the Government's direct funding and control of activities under its multicultural programs. This social bifurcation reinforces the artificial differences between racial minorities and majority Canadians, and marginalizes the artistic development of visible minorities.(1)

In the following sections, I argue that the arts belong to a cultural domain which is subjected to the influence of the state. As a major patron of arts and culture, the state provides the financial support and infrastructural conditions for the development and maintenance of dominant arts. In a multicultural society like Canada, the state also maintains a separate policy towards the promotion and preservation of minority cultures and arts. In so doing, the Canadian state, through its role as the major sponsor and patron of arts and minority cultures, creates the unequal infrastructural conditions which are conducive to developing two types of art and culture. In this sense, dominant arts and subordinate minority cultures are at least partly perpetuated by state intervention.


Like religion, language, rituals and traditions, fine arts and performing arts are major components in the domain of culture. As a coherent system which provides an internal order by which actions are given meaning (Alexander, 1990), culture is best conceived of sociologically as a way of life which people develop in the process of adapting to some given material and social conditions. The latter point is elucidated by Valentine (1968) in his insistence on separating the external and therefore prior conditions of life from the cultural responses of people as they experiment and devise social mechanisms for altering and accommodating to the existing conditions. Hence, culture not only provides people with a technical rationale of how things are to be done, but also an ideological rationale for why they are done the way they are. For many social theorists, capitalist modernization represents an unlimited proliferation of instrumental rationality at the expense of aesthetic value and causing the destruction of the meaning of life (Marcuse, 1964; Alexander, 1990).

An essential feature of culture is that through symbolic manifestations in art, but also in religion and rituals, the philosophical and artistic meaning of existence that transcends the present-day life of a people, its past and its mythologies, is infused into their experiences.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

A World Apart: The Multicultural World of Visible Minorities and the Art World of Canada


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?