News > The Cultural Participation of New Canadians

The Cultural Participation of New Canadians

October 15, 2018 – Immigration is changing Canada’s demographics. Fast. It is also changing cultural participation and perceptions about culture.

According to the 2016 Census, there were 7,540,000 foreign-born individuals who came to Canada through the immigration process, representing over one-fifth (21.9%) of Canada’s total population. Immigration is also accelerating and has become the main source of demographic growth in Canada. Here are additional attention-worthy facts:

  • Between 2011 and 2016, 1,212,075 new immigrants permanently settled in Canada. These recent immigrants represented 3.5% of Canada’s total population in 2016.
  • For the first time, Africa ranks second, ahead of Europe, as a source continent of recent immigrants to Canada, with a share of 13.4% in 2016. Asia (including the Middle East) remains, however, the top source continent of recent immigrants. In 2016, the majority (61.8%) of newcomers were born in Asia.
  • Toronto, Vancouver and Montréal are still the place of residence of over half of all immigrants and recent immigrants to Canada. More immigrants are settling in the Prairies and in the Atlantic provinces.

Even though new Canadians represent one in five potential audience members for Canadian performing arts organizations, we know relatively little about their cultural participation. This is bound to change. Two recent audience surveys, the Arts and Heritage Access and Availability Survey and Culture Track Canada, contributed a wealth of information on immigrants, their participation patterns and their perceptions of the arts.

Here are key take aways from these two surveys and from Diversity and Arts Attendance by Canadians in 2010.

Culturally active Canadians

Overall, immigrants are as culturally active, if not more, than Canadian-born.

According to the Access and Availability Survey, nine in ten foreign-born Canadians (89%) attended a live performance or arts event in 2016, similar to the overall population (88%). The most popular types of events they attended were music performances (58%), local arts or cultural festivals (55%), craft shows or fairs (48%) and visual art exhibits (45%).

All three reports however bring into evidence preferences among new Canadians. Compared to those born in Canada, foreign-born Canadians are more likely to have attended several types of arts events, including:

  • Dance performances of all types, including contemporary dance, cultural dance and ballet (found in AHAA and CTC)
  • Classical music, world music and jazz performances (CTC, DAAC)
  • Visual arts exhibits or art galleries/museum (AHAA, CTC)
  • Music or performing arts festivals (CTC)
  • Book or poetry readings (AHAA) and libraries (CTC)

New Canadians are however less likely than Canadian-born to attend:

  • Popular music concerts (DAAC)
  • Theatre (DAAC)

Positive attitudes towards the arts

In general, the vast majority of foreign-born Canadians value the arts and culture both for themselves and for Canadian society – and sometimes more broadly than Canadian-born. For instance, in the Access and Availability Survey, three-quarters (73%) say that arts and culture is at least moderately important to quality of life for them and their family (consistent with the Canadian-born population at 68%).

Moreover, in terms of broader societal benefits, foreign-born Canadians are more likely than others to strongly agree that:

  • Arts experiences are a valuable way of bringing together people from different languages and cultural traditions. (71%, vs. 60% among Canadian-born).
  • The arts in a community make it a better place to live (67% vs. 60%).

Community - Belonging: Helps me to feel part of collective or group with the same interests, and experience something together.

Culture Track Canada also explored perceptions of arts and culture, but with an open-ended question: “What is the greatest impact a cultural organization can have on your world?” Citizens born in Canada and new Canadians reported the same top two impact:

  • New ideas/broaden experiences
  • Knowledge of/understanding other cultures

However, new Canadians were slightly more likely than Canadian-born to mention impact areas related to social capital:

  • Bring people together/Community/Unity (12.14% vs 9.84%)
  • Openness to diversity/Tolerance/Empathy (8.39% vs 6.59%)
  • Provide sense of identity/belonging (4,77% vs 2.09%)

These more pronounced opinions of foreign-born about the benefits of the arts on social cohesion suggest that new Canadians truly see the arts as a vector of inclusion and integration.

Overcoming barriers to inclusion and participation

Unsurprisingly, the report on Diversity and Arts Attendance revealed that most recent immigrants are in general a bit less culturally active than immigrants who have been in Canada for more than five years. As with other Canadians, the cultural participation of immigrants is affected by socio-demographic factors such as income and education

In order to reduce barriers to cultural participation to contribute to the inclusion of new Canadians in the Canadian society, the Institute for Canadian Citizenship created the Cultural Access Pass ©® (CAP). The only program of its kind in the world, CAP provides new Canadian citizens with free admission to cultural attractions during their first year of citizenship. The CAP currently offers free admissions to more than 1,400 museums, galleries, parks and other cultural attractions.

Testimonials from CAP members confirm that the program is contributing to deliver social inclusion benefits that are dear to immigrants:

“It is important for newcomers [and new citizens] to be a part of the cultural life that makes them share in the Canadian experience of the past and its origins. Overall, I feel that shared experiences, connecting with a diverse set of people, and exposure to interesting places has a profound positive impact on my openness and relationships with others.”

In recent years, the CAP has been expanding to include performing arts organizations such as Arts Commons in Calgary.

Many other performing arts organizations have developed their own initiative to foster the cultural participation and inclusion of immigrants. The upcoming CAPACOA Conference will provide opportunities for these stories to be shared, with professional development sessions on arts attendance, cultural citizenship and “making space”.

Shifts and rifts in arts attendance: Hard truths and the way towards renewal will be sponsored by:

Re:Sound | Ré:Sonne



LaPlaca Cohen and Nanos Research, Culture Track Canada, prepared for Business for the Arts, 2018.

Environics Research, Arts and heritage Access and Availability Survey 2016-2017, prepared for Canadian Heritage and Canada Council for the Arts, 2017.

Hill Strategies Research, Diversity and Arts Attendance by Canadians in 2010, 2014.


Frédéric Julien
Director of Research and Development


Recent and Related News

Culture Track Canada Offers Both Reassuring and Game-Changing Insights on Cultural Participation

Attendance Trends: Where Are Performing Arts Audiences?

New Findings Confirm the Association between Arts and Belonging

Share This Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>