Immigration matters in arts and culture

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Canada is home to a vibrant and lucrative arts and culture sector. Canadian artists, musicians, actors and authors are known around the world. Immigrants play an important role in helping this sector grow and flourish.

Let me express the hope that Canadians will always remember that immigrants have helped make us the envy of the world.

Peter Herrndorf, former President and Chief Executive Officer, National Arts Centre

We don’t all share the same backgrounds, but there are so many things we humans have in common throughout time and space in history: love, families, and the need to belong. Let’s spread empathy and solidarity.

Sophie Deraspe, award-winning Canadian filmmaker

Impact of immigration

  • There are more than 80,000 immigrants working in professional and technical occupations in arts and culture across the country.
  • 1 in 4 people employed as an artisan or craftsperson in Canada is an immigrant.
  • Over a quarter of theater, fashion, exhibit and other creative designers are immigrants (26% of the total).
  • 29% of independent artists, writers and performers are immigrants.
  • Across the country, there are more than 3,000 businesses (defined as self-employed persons with paid employees) in the arts and culture sector owned by immigrants.

All statistics are from the Statistics Canada 2016 Census.

Percentage of immigrants in creative occupations
Percentage of immigrants in creative occupations - text version below
Text version: Percentage of immigrants in creative occupations
  • Photographers: 22%
  • Graphic designers and illustrators: 24%
  • Painters, sculptors and other visual artists: 24%
  • Artisans and craftspersons: 25%
  • Theater, fashion, exhibit and other creative designers: 26%

Source: Statistics Canada, 2016 Census.

Famous Canadian immigrants

Michael Ondaatje

Author Michael Ondaatje was born in Sri Lanka and immigrated to Canada from England. He’s perhaps best known for his novel The English Patient, which was adapted to film and won 9 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. He won numerous literary awards such as the Man Booker Prize and the Giller Prize. He’s also an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Kim Thúy

Author Kim Thúy came to Canada as a refugee from Vietnam and settled in Quebec. A graduate in translation and law, she worked as a seamstress, interpreter, lawyer, restaurant owner and food commentator. She published several acclaimed novels as well as a Vietnamese cookbook. Kim Thúy has received many honors and awards. Her first book, Ru (2009) won the Governor General's Award for French-language fiction and the 2015 edition of Canada Reads. She was named Chevalière of the Ordre national du Québec and Compagne des arts et des lettres du Québec.

Domee Shi

Storyboard artist and director Domee Shi immigrated to Canada from China and studied Animation at Sheridan College. She worked on major animated films for Pixar and was the first woman ever to direct a Pixar animated short, Bao. Set in Toronto, Bao won the Oscar for the Best Animated Short Film at the 91st Academy Awards.

Deepa Mehta

Oscar-nominated film director and screenwriter Deepa Mehta immigrated to Canada from India. Her films include the Elements Trilogy, Fire (1996), Earth (1998) and Water (2005), as well as Midnight’s Children, all of which have gained international recognition. Water was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best International Feature Film category. Mehta was the Creative Executive Producer and one of the Directors for the Netflix Original Series, Leila. She’s the recipient of the Order of Canada, the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award, the Order of Ontario and more than 15 honorary degrees.

Ins Choi

Actor and playwright Ins Choi immigrated to Canada from South Korea. He’s best known for his award-winning play and television show Kim's Convenience. The show is about a Korean immigrant family who run a Toronto convenience store.

Rohinton Mistry

Born in India, Rohinton Mistry is an award-winning Canadian author, best known for his novels Such a Long Journey, A Fine Balance and Family Matters. He won the Governor General’s Literary Award, Commonwealth Writers Prize, Giller Prize, and Neustadt International Prize, among others. He became a Member of the Order of Canada in 2015.

Moshe Safdie

Moshe Safdie is an Israeli-Canadian architect known for designing almost a hundred projects globally. Among his works are the 1967 World’s Fair (Expo ’67), Habitat ’67 (housing complex in Montréal) and the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. He was awarded the Gold Medal from both the American Institute of Architects and the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada among other accolades. He also became a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2004.

Dan Hanganu

Romanian-born Dan Hanganu was a recognized Canadian architect. His award-winning designs include several Montréal landmarks like the Pointe-à-Callière Museum of Archeology and History, HEC Montréal and other residential, institutional and cultural buildings around Québec and internationally. He was recognized by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada and the Ordre des architects du Québec among others. He became a Member of the Order of Canada in 2009.

Mena Massoud

Mena Massoud is an Egyptian-Canadian actor who quickly rose to fame in 2019 for his lead role in Disney’s adaptation of the film Aladdin.

Rupi Kaur

Rupi Kaur is an Indian-Canadian from Toronto, Ontario, who became a New York Times bestselling author for her debut poetry book Milk and Honey, which sold over a million copies worldwide.

Raffi Cavoukian

Born in Egypt, Raffi Cavoukian is a celebrated children’s singer, author, and advocate. His gold and platinum-selling records include “Baby Beluga”, which has millions of views on YouTube. He founded the Raffi Foundation for Child Honouring in 2015 to advance his work on respecting the earth and children. He became a Member of the Order of Canada in 1983 and received the Order of British Columbia in 2001.

Immigrant stories in arts and culture

Striking a chord in the community

Astrid Hepner’s Hamilton Music Collective is creating opportunities for the city’s next generation of musicians.

Finding new musical voices in Newfoundland and Labrador

Dr. Jakub Martinec has brought his musical background from the Czech Republic to help boys and young men sing out across Newfoundland.

Supporting writers, promoting literacy and creating jobs

Hong Kong immigrant Allen Lau co-founded Wattpad, the hugely successful tech start-up that is helping writers find audiences far and wide.

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