Syrian refugees will see free arts, cultural events in Canada Council initiative

Syrian refugees arriving in Canada will get a free taste of Canadian culture — watching a stage play or visiting an art show, for instance — through a new Canada Council of the Arts initiative.

Arts body and Sun Life Financial team up with initial $200K in funding

Syrian refugees arriving in Canada will be treated to a taste of Canadian culture —  watching a stage play, taking in a concert or visiting an art exhibit, for instance — through a new initiative spearheaded by the Canada Council of the Arts.

The national arts body and Sun Life Financial have teamed up to create a program to provide refugees free access to a performance, exhibition or arts event in their new communities.

The Canada Council will provide $150,000 to the new program in 2016-2017, while Sun Life will provide $50,000.

"It's a modest piece of much broader collective and national efforts," Canada Council CEO Simon Brault said Friday, announcing the initiative at Théâtre d'aujourd'hui in Montreal at an event also attended by Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly.

We welcome you to our spaces, performances and events – when you are ready,- Canada Council CEO Simon Brault

"The message is: 'Welcome. We welcome you to our spaces, performances and events – when you are ready.'"

"We made a very rough calculation that we could have, with $200,000, roughly 8,000 refugees attending one event during the year," said Brault.

Simon Brault, CEO of the Canada Council for the Arts, said by April 2016 a program will be in place to offer every Syrian refugee arriving in Canada a chance to attend an arts event or performance for free. (CBC)

"[It's] significant enough to open the door," he said, adding some organizations had already started thinking about ways to help Syrian refugees explore Canadian culture, and this initiative will encourage others to do so."

"We want to be a partner," Brault said.

​The program is slated to begin in April 2016. 

Charter of rights in Arabic

Further details will be revealed in March, allowing newcomers from Syria a few months to adjust to life in Canada. The window will also give arts organizations interested in participating in the program time to get involved.

"We want to make sure that in general, refugees understand the importance of arts, the Canadian values and, more than that, the culture they will be living in for the rest of their lives, we hope," said Joly.

Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly said every Syrian family arriving in Canada will receive welcome kits, including NFB videos, books and copies of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in English, French and Arabic. (CBC)

Joly said her ministry is giving each arriving family a welcome kit with Canadian children's books and short films from the National Film Board, as well as copies of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in French, English and Arabic. 

She said Canadian publishers have donated thousands of books nominated for the Governor General Literary Awards books over the past several years to be included in those welcome kits. 

Joly is MP for the riding of Ahuntsic-Cartierville, the riding which has received the greatest number of Syrian refugee families to date in Canada. She said she can see their evolution – especially the changes in the children – since the summer. 

"It's touching to see the openness on the part of the refugees to get to know the culture and to find their anchors in Canada," Joly said. "I think that these kits and this mobilization will be very well received."

With files from Jeanette Kelly