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Contemporary Aboriginal Arts in Canada

Fact Sheet

October 27, 200927 October 2009

Aboriginal arts

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This brief fact sheet notes that “artistic expression is at the heart of Aboriginal culture”. The fact sheet reminds us that there is not a single, uniform Aboriginal culture or art. “There has always been a great diversity of Aboriginal cultures and languages.” Currently, over 60 different languages are spoken by First Nations people in Canada.

In addition to traditional areas such as storytelling, drumming, throat singing and visual arts, many contemporary Aboriginal artists are exploring film, television and new media work. Some Aboriginal artists “are reinventing old traditions and embracing forms of new media such as digital art, electronic and spoken word performances”. Circus arts and hip-hop are increasing popular among Aboriginal youth.

The fact sheet was published before the 2006 census was analyzed regarding Aboriginal artists. The Hill Strategies report A Statistical Profile of Artists in Canada notes that there are 3,300 Aboriginal artists in Canada in 2006. The average earnings of Aboriginal artists are only $15,900, an amount that is 30% lower than the average for all artists in Canada.

Population growth has been substantial in Aboriginal communities, to the point that almost one-half of the Aboriginal population in Canada is under 25 years of age. The equivalent percentage is 31% in the non-Aboriginal population. Aboriginal arts activity can have particularly important impacts on Aboriginal youth.

The fact sheet notes that “Aboriginal artists and their organizations received little funding from the Canadian art system until after the 1960s”. As such, they have not grown and created as much capacity as many other Canadian arts organizations. Currently, professional development is a key concern, including training, mentoring and workshops.

Public interest in Aboriginal arts is shown by the fact that 55% of all Canadians indicated that “they have been exposed to Aboriginal culture within the past year”. Many Canadians believe that “there is a great deal to learn from Aboriginal heritage, culture, and the unique relationship between Aboriginal Peoples and the land”.

The fact sheet also outlines the history of contemporary Aboriginal arts in Canada, Aboriginal Peoples’ participation in the arts, government relationships, as well as success stories of Aboriginal artists and arts organizations.

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