Official Language Minority Communities
We have prepared a series of context briefs that contain key information and resources about emerging, minoritized and less-understood arts communities and practices. Our intention is to foster greater understanding, and help ensure that internal and peer committees are equipped to make informed recommendations.
Each Context Brief is a living document and is updated from time to time to evolve with the ongoing dialogue about the topic.
What are official language minority communities?
The Canada Council for the Arts Official Languages Policy defines official language minority communities (OLMCs) as groups of people whose maternal or chosen official language is not the majority language in their province or territory―in other words, anglophones in Quebec and francophones outside of Quebec. For the purposes of its granting programs, the Canada Council defines OLMC individuals, groups and arts organizations as those who self-identify as belonging to one of these groups.
There are 1,007,583 francophones living in an official language minority situation in Canada. About 54% reside in Ontario and 23% reside in New Brunswick. There are 1,058,000 anglophones living in an official-language minority situation in Canada. About 80% reside in the greater Montreal area.
Recognized OLMC arts organizations in Canada enrich their communities and must be supported and valued. They are quite often the heart of community artistic activities and allow artists and audiences to come together to the benefit of all involved, including the media and arts venues.
Arts organizations can be extremely effective drivers for presenting works to the world, thereby strengthening OLMC cultural identity and showcasing OLMC artists both locally and across the country. Without these organizations, we would see far fewer artists coming from OLMCs, and the diversity of Canadian OLMC artistic production would suffer as a result.
“Additional information about official languages in Canada,” Government of Canada, Canadian Heritage. Last updated: July 27, 2016.
Issues and analysis
Many issues are shared by anglophone and francophone OLMCs across artistic disciplines. However, it is important to note that the situations of anglophone and francophone OLMCs are not identical. The anglophone OLMC experience within the urban centre of Montréal is vastly different than the anglophone experience in other parts of Quebec. Lack of access to institutional training in French and the closure of existing universities heightens the risk of gradual assimilation of francophone minority communities. Given the differing reality and cultural contexts, as well as the various levels of barriers faced by these communities, the Council is committed to developing specific strategies to address the distinct needs of each group.
For the purposes of its granting programs, the Canada Council defines OLMC individuals, groups and arts organizations as those who self-identify as belonging to one of these groups and have a primary residence in a province or region in which they are an official language minority at the time of application.
Key challenges facing OLMC artists and arts organizations
A need to nurture aesthetic variety versus niche aesthetics
Artistic creation can be an issue for many OLMC artists and arts organizations that reside outside urban centres. Smaller communities typically have few artists and arts professionals (such as curators, producers, playwrights, publishers and agents), and few schools and universities where artists can share their talents. As a result, the advancement and dissemination of a variety of artistic practices often fall to OLMC arts organizations. Presenting a variety of work and targeting a variety of audiences might be perceived as not having a clear vision and therefore might be not be well assessed in a competitive arts granting competition.
Insufficient funding and infrastructure
Because OLMC arts organizations outside urban centres have broader mandates than their urban counterparts, their range of activities (artistic creation, dissemination and events) is often a question of necessity rather than a choice. However, non-urban arts organizations rarely have the required resources and cannot generally count on sufficient municipal or provincial support.
Despite the cultural importance many artists and arts organizations have in their regions, they either do not have a proper space or have difficulty managing the space they have due to lack of resources. These issues hamper their operations.
Multiple challenges for dissemination
OLMC artists and organizations have a slightly more limited primary market than either the French-language market in Quebec or the English-language market outside Quebec. Even where OLMC communities have large populations, their audiences are often spread across a wide area and immersed in a large majority-language population. The status of the dominant language also affects a population’s consumption habits and can significantly limit audiences for OLMC artists. These realities make it difficult to develop their markets.
For OLMC artists, there are few places to share art, and the prominent festivals and presenters of their home provinces may not have dedicated spaces for artists from the linguistic minority. OLMC artists and organizations also often have difficulty reaching larger audiences in the parts of Canada where their language is the majority, either through media attention or touring. And even when artists do reach these audiences, they still face competition from home-grown renowned artists.
Lack of institutional training
There are many language-minority communities with no arts institutions to help create the next generation of artists. It is therefore up to arts organizations to train and maintain local resources who are at the desired level of professionalism.
Multiple systemic issues
Due to their minority situation, OLMC artists and arts organizations work in a cultural environment that is often far less dynamic than the cultural scene in Quebec (for francophones) or outside Quebec (for anglophones). Here are some reasons why:
- The communities they are trying to reach do not always have as much access to the cultural institutions (schools, universities, cultural centres, museums, etc.) that generally support cultural life.
- Arts resources tend to be less diversified and arts events are taken on by small groups of people.
- Artists cannot count on many media outlets in their areas to cover their work.
OLMC artists and arts organizations often cannot rely on structural support from their governments or institutions, as it is difficult to assess them in comparison to those working in a majority-language context since the context in which they operate might not be understood or taken into consideration.
The Council’s equity considerations for official language minority communities
In recognition of the significant challenges and systemic barriers faced by OLMC artists, groups and arts organizations, the Council considers OLMC applicants among the groups for which it has developed specific support policies, as identified in the Council’s Equity Policy.
What is equity?
Equity is a principle and process that promotes fair conditions for all people to fully participate in society. It recognizes that while all people have the right to be treated equally, not all individuals experience equal access to resources, opportunities or benefits. Achieving equality does not necessarily mean treating individuals or groups in the same way but may require the use of specific measures to ensure fairness.
The Council’s approach to OMLCs within the context of equity also takes into consideration the measures that have evolved over time related to the Council’s obligations under the Official Languages Act. The Council therefore has distinct tools, practices and mechanisms in support of OLMCs. These are explained in more detail in the Official Languages Policy.
Canada Council values on OLMCs
The Canada Council believes in the distinct contribution that Canada’s two official languages and its OLMC artists and arts organizations make to the diversity and richness of the arts in Canada. It also recognizes the important role the arts can play in promoting linguistic duality and the vitality of OLMCs. The Council works to ensure its activities make tangible, ongoing contributions to both linguistic duality and the development of OLMC artists and arts organizations.
For more information about the artistic and cultural context of OLMC artists and organizations, please consult the following sources: