No Longer "Apart"? Multiculturalism Policy and Canadian Literature

By Young, Judy | Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

No Longer "Apart"? Multiculturalism Policy and Canadian Literature

Young, Judy, Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal


Despite thirty years of official Multiculturalism in Canada, there is a dearth of research relating to state policies in support of, and public institutional responses to, cultural and racial diversity in the arts. This paper reviews developments in this field with particular reference to Canadian literature, which, like Canadian society, is characterized by a growing diversity. Some of the best-known Canadian writers are first-generation immigrants. Their work often reflects multiple perspectives and meanings, and their literary identity is hard to categorize. However, their presence in the Canadian literary canon is now undisputed. On the basis of a review of the federal government's support for the writing and publishing efforts of Canadian writers of various origins, this paper examines if and how these policies have influenced and helped shape the Canadian literary establishment in the last thirty years. It looks at the various measures taken to provide opportunities for writers and to encourage publishe rs, critics, teachers, and the public in general to accept their work as Canadian. It raises the question of what the "mainstream" is in Canadian writing today and points out the ambiguities and dilemmas inherent both in the policy and in the nature of the artistic/creative process.

Apres 30 ans d'application du Multiculturalisme au Canada, la recherche en maitere de promotion de Ia diversite culturelle et raciale dans le domaine des arts que cc soit par cette politique ou d' autres politiques gouvernementales, comme Ia recherche sur le respect de cette diversite par les institutions publiques, demeurent plus que reduites. Cet article tente de resumer les developpements survenus dans ces deux champs, particulierement en litteature. La litterature canadienne a l'instar de Ia societe canadienne presente une diversite croissante et certains des ecrivains canadiens les plus connus sont des immigrants. Leur oeuvre presente souvent une complexite de points de vue et de significations qui rend difficile tout jugement sur leur identite litteaire, mais leur reconnaissance comme ecrivains canadiens est indiscutable et n'est pas discutee. Cet article s'appuie sur un bilan de l'aide apportee par le gouvernement fedeal Ia production et a Ia publication d'ecrivains canadiens de toutes origines. Il che rche clarifier si et comment les politiques publiques ont contribue Ia transformation du milieu litteaire canadien durant les trente dernieres annees. Pour ce faire, il examine les mesures adoptees en vue d'offrir des ouvertures aux ecrivains et d'encourager l'acceptation de leur oeuvre par les maisons d'edition, les critiques litteraires, les enseignants et le public en general. Il souleve la question de la definition de ce qui l'on denomme actuellement litterature canadienne et, ce faisant, il montre les ambiguites et les dilemmes de la politique du multiculturalisme, comme de la creation artistique.


The original impetus for this paper (1) was provided by Professor Peter Li's 1994 article "A World Apart: The Multicultural World of Visible Minorities and the Art World in Canada". (2) In this article Li makes a causal connection between Multiculturalism funding and the marginalization of artists, especially visible minority artists. He claims that Canada's primarily Eurocentric public policy towards the arts has produced two different support structures and therefore two unequal "art worlds". "The first is the formal legitimized and high-status art world of white Canadians, and the second a marginal folkloric and low-status multicultural circle reserved for recent immigrants of mainly non-white origin". (366) He further argues that the Multiculturalism policy was not going to alter existing institutions, transform the Canada Council or museums and galleries. The program "persisted in supporting folkloric performances in national festivities ... funding for these activities persisted through the 80s and ear ly 90s despite shifting priorities . …

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