Multiculturalism Issues SSHRC project

Status: Complete

This project was initiated by the Centre for Innovation in Culture and the Arts in Canada as a one-year investigation supported by a Multiculturalism Issues Joint Initiatives grant (from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council). Below is a description of the project's parameters.

Canadian multiculturalism is, fundamentally, “an urban issue,” where the greatest impacts are felt in our largest cities (Sandercock 2004). Smaller cities, too, are increasingly coming to terms with questions of cultural diversity, with the need to accommodate new voices, new forms of artistic and cultural expression. Artist-researchers (those who use modes artistic inquiry to create new knowledge and understanding both in art and through art) have been especially important in animating the perspectives and experiences of both new immigrants and those from racial and ethnic minorities. It is our contention that artistic production and exhibition practices introduced by new immigrants and racial/ethnic minorities themselves may be read variously as implicit and explicit critiques of the workings and failings of Canada’s official multiculturalism policies. This project investigates the emerging nature/function of the state with respect to both artistic production and the spaces from which this emanates, particularly within the context of small urban settings and arts training institutes in Canada. CiCAC's role is to explore how artist-researchers perceive, investigate, and critique multiculturalism and will create new ways of thinking that lead us outside the boundaries imposed by conventional approaches and accepted public policy. We are interested in documenting and assessing artistic modes of inquiry and critique, particularly their effectiveness as modes of artistic intervention into the public sphere — how ethnically and racially diverse artistic production and research has influenced levels of community participation, community and individual self-image, access to publication and exhibition spaces, and, especially, policy development.

This research program employs an array of qualitative and quantitative methods—participant-observation; archival research (involving both public and artist-run galleries); surveys, including follow-up focus group interviews; self-documentation through self-reflective journaling; and the creation of an artistic laboratory setting where dialogue, reflection, and response converge.

Following the lead of, and in collaboration with documentation methods developed by, artist-researchers at various urban and rural institutes, we seek to record and test new models of collaborative research and public policy development based upon the practices of working artists, especially artists from ethnically and racially diverse backgrounds. To this end, the program of research engages with several key themes and/or methodological questions: (1) the concept or history of the artist as researcher, (2) the social contexts in which artistic production takes on meaning/political force, and (3) the nature of multicultural artistic space in small urban and arts training institutes.

The methodology employed is highly discursive and problem-based, informed by critics such as Monika Kin Gagnon and Roy Miki, bell hooks, Cornel West, and artists such as Jamelie Hassan and Jin-me Yoon. It will also add a crucial collaborative element to the program of research, drawing together actual arts production with the research around such practices. One of the fundamental and innovative aspects of this research program is that it involves initiating interdisciplinary artistic collaborations that negotiate such social and cultural perspectives. In so doing, it is intended to bridge the divide between research produced in institutions and cultural work by practicing artists by bringing together a wide range of artist-researchers and public intellectuals who are doing timely work on current conflicts and negotiations regarding the construction of identity within a national framework.

The project goals are threefold: (1) to develop a collaborative network of artist-researchers who will explore the social, economic, and political implications of the concept of the global-in-the-local through their cultural production (focussing on new media, literature and visual and performance arts); (2) to disseminate this cultural production widely and to the general public through a variety of means including publication, new media events, curatorial projects, exhibitions, and public symposia, and 3) to research, develop, and critique the Canadian paradigm of multiculturalism, particularly as it relates to cultural production in a variety of environments including those within arts training institutes and outside major urban centres.