Syrian family at the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, Vancouver, BC

The Arts and Culture Welcome Refugees

November 27, 2016

Arts and culture in Canada can be a refuge, a celebration of diversity and a source of inspiration and connection. Canadians from coast to coast have been global leaders in welcoming Syrian refugees, and the Canada Council for the Arts and Sun Life Financial have created the ‘Arts and Culture Welcome Refugees’ initiative for our new citizens and connect these new members of our communities to arts organizations. The initiative enabled arts organizations to offer Syrian refugees free access to a performance, exhibition or arts event in their communities.
Today, participants are getting back to us with stories about their experiences – the encounters, the challenges and the rewards.

Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, Vancouver, BC

The Merry Wives of Windsor


Bard on the Beach prepared their event in advance to ensure an optimal experience. The choice of a musical performance and a plot summary of The Merry Wives of Windsor written in Arabic would make it easier for the Syrian families to understand. It sought advice from the refugee service organization that accompanied the Syrians, Immigrant Services Society of BC, and the response was generous: the organization prearranged the connection between the festival and the refugees, and sent members of its team to the performance so that the refugees would recognize a few familiar faces.

Syrian family at the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, Vancouver, BC
Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival, Vancouver, BC

They were amazed, saying they have never seen something like that before, even in their own country; it was like a film without the screen!

Theresa Yu, Immigrant Services Society BC

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, as language is often an obstacle, especially for making reservations. But the organization learned so much, appreciated the experience enormously, and wants to continue the program with other refugees.


During intermission, members of the audience went out of their way to welcome the newcomers, speaking to them and meeting their children. The Syrian families loved the experience – for most of them, it was unlike anything they had ever seen. Despite their enthusiasm, the families did not stay for the post-performance meeting; the fear of travelling by bus during the night was a concern for them.

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