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Arts & Belonging

What is belonging?


Simply put, belonging is being part of a collective we. It’s about how much we believe we fit in a group or place – and how much that place or group welcomes or includes us.

Since 2015, our national Vital Signs program has been exploring how our sense of belonging has an extraordinary capacity to transform our lives and our communities. Our research found that 38% of Canadians don’t feel like they have a stake in their local community. So we asked: How can we strengthen our sense of belonging to each other and to our communities?

One of those ways is through the arts.

Why the arts?

Whether we perform, applaud or volunteer, the arts breathe life into every community. They touch the lives of almost everyone. They can make us think, laugh, cry, dance or debate. We feel pride when local artists succeed. We reminisce about joining thousands in a special concert or festival. We gather in art spaces for special celebrations or at memorials for powerful remembrance. Relationships and belonging grow in that moment when our hearts and minds are open to new experiences and to one another.

In partnership with the Canadian Arts Presenting Association (CAPACOA), this national Vital Signs report shines the spotlight on compelling data and stories that demonstrate the power of the arts to build a greater sense of belonging to our communities, to our country, and to each other.

This research project was realized with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council. The opinions and interpretations in this report are those of the authors and do not reflect those of the Canada Council for the Arts or the Ontario Arts Council.

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There is a need for art that emphasizes our essential interconnectedness rather than our separatedness. Art that evokes the feeling of belonging to a larger whole.

– Suzi Gablik

Arts are for everyone

Turn on the radio. Walk past a mural. Take in a show. Arts participation is universal. In 2010, 99.7% of Canadians participated in at least one arts, culture or heritage activity – a record level.

Art participation creates a virtuous cycle. The more we attend performances and visit museums, galleries or heritage sites, the more likely we are to attend again. The more we understand and appreciate the arts, the greater we perceive the importance of arts on our own quality of life.

Arts volunteers are also among the most engaged. 900,000 people volunteer in arts and culture and contribute, on average, 120 hours per year – more than volunteers in any other type of organization.

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Participation builds belonging


77% of Canadians agree or strongly agree that arts experiences help them feel part of their local community. Regular arts attendees are three times more likely to feel this way.


Canadians who rate arts, culture and leisure in their city or town as excellent are nearly three times more likely to report a very strong sense of belonging to their city or town as those who rate them as poor.

The more Canadians attend live music, the stronger their sense of belonging. Those who attend most regularly are almost two times more likely to have a very strong sense of belonging to their city or town as to those who do not attend.

Facilities get a failing grade

Almost 90% of Canadians say that performing arts facilities are important to quality of life, sense of pride in community and economic development. Yet only 43% of Canadians say the number of arts facilities in their community is good or very good.

In terms of the quality of those facilities, only 53% think their community’s existing facilities are good or very good. These sentiments are especially pronounced in Indigenous, rural, remote and minority-language communities.

The shared experience of art provides common ground for social interaction.

– Kevin F. McCarthy

For newcomers and new citizens


While Canada is more diverse than ever and demand for multilingual culture products and services is increasing, programming in performing arts centres remains largely based on European traditions.

Increasing multi-cultural programming; reflecting diversity on the stage, screen and airwaves; and better integration of foreign-trained artists could help people of all backgrounds feel more connected to the arts and build bridges between communities.


Research in Ontario found that almost 7 in 10 people take a strong interest in the cultural customs of their own cultural heritage, and that those who did were much more likely to  be engaged in arts activity overall.


Since 2008, the Institute for Canadian Citizenship offers a Cultural Access Pass to all new Canadians during their first year of citizenship. The pass provides complimentary admission to more than 1,300 Canadian museums, art galleries and discovery centres.


A September 2016 survey found the majority of CAP users felt “welcomed, special and included in Canada.” And for one in four, the CAP inspired them to get more involved in their community.

For rural and remote communities


While rural communities often have less access to arts opportunities and facilities and have a greater reliance on volunteers, some evidence suggests the arts have a bigger impact in smaller places.

In smaller communities, 34% of people feel the community benefits more from the presence of arts than the individuals who attend.

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Among Canadians who live further than 70 km from a centre with professional performing arts, only 57% had attended in the past year and 65% attended at any point in time compared to 93% among Canadians living near a larger centre.


People living in a rural or farm area are less likely to regularly attend live music events (22%) than people in small cities, suburbs, or large cities (28%). They are also less likely to visit their local library or recreation centre (30% vs 36% in larger communities).


In rural areas, community-based, volunteer-run presenting organizations dominate the landscape. There is more pressure on volunteers, fewer resources, less funding and fewer skill building opportunities.

For Indigenous people and communities


For centuries, Indigenous art and cultural practices have been marginalized, threatened, banned, appropriated and often destroyed. Yet Indigenous art has survived as a means of keeping history, skills, culture and identity alive.

Creative and performance art can help communities preserve or reconnect with lost languages, knowledge and stories. Art creates a catalyst for renewed cultural connection and understanding in Canada, and a platform to share talent with the world.

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While Indigenous people are as likely as non-Indigenous people to feel proud to be Canadian (87%), pride for Canada’s achievements in the arts and literature is higher among Indigenous people than non-Indigenous people (57% and 51% respectively).



85.7% of First Nations youth feel that traditional cultural events are very important or somewhat important in their lives.



Children who speak an Indigenous language are four times more likely to be involved in culturally related activities than children with no Indigenous language knowledge. Even children who understand but do not speak an Indigenous language have more than two and one-half times higher odds.

For francophone minority populations


For more than 400 years Canada’s Acadian and minority francophone communities have fought to preserve their language and culture.

While French minority language communities across Canada may be extremely diverse in size, concentration, resources, history and character, for more than 1 million people, the French language is at the core of their arts and cultural identity. For all Canadians, it’s at the heart of Canada’s linguistic duality.


93% of people from official language minority communities feel it’s important to their own identity to access a dynamic arts and culture community in their own language and to pass that on to the next generation.


73% of minority francophones say the community as a whole benefits equally or more than the individuals who attend performing arts presentations in their community – above the Canadian average of 65%.


64% said they would miss it if they could not attend live, professional presenting arts in their community – much higher than the average in English Canada (59%) and in Quebec (53%).

Read the full report

By helping the arts to flourish in all its forms we can continue to create communities that are both reflective of Canada’s rich diversity and where everyone feels like they belong.

Read the full report to learn more, including our recommendations for action to build belonging through the arts in communities across Canada.