The multicultural arts scene reflects the diversity of Waterloo Region

Multicultural arts and culture rejuvenates Waterloo Region.

Over the years, artists have come from across the globe to reside in our communities to spread their knowledge, culture and arts. A good example is Isabel Cisterna, a popular artist from Chile and a local community leader.

You may not be aware of the challenges these individuals face to get their talent noticed or to compete for funding to grow.

Waterloo Region is one of the fastest growing and most diverse communities outside of Toronto. Arts and culture brings added life and fresh value to the community. From the outside, many won’t notice the preparation and determination that goes into cultural events. It takes a lot of work, and a lot of hurdling barriers, to get an event up and running.

Funding is an important element in the growth of art. In our region, new groups find it difficult to compete alongside well-established organizations such as the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony or Oktoberfest. Ethnic artists don’t have the network or the knowledge of how the system works, or have the clout to be part of the mainstream. A major disadvantage they face is lack of knowledge or ignorance of them on the part of approval agencies or the business community. And media networks will not pay much attention to these diverse groups. These challenges leave them to compete for crumbs rather than for the pie.

In our region, multicultural events are organized by volunteers or non-profit organizations that are independent and financially still in the early stages. Local governments and corporate sponsors restrict funding for diverse groups because of a lack of prior history or because they are growing entities. For them, multiculturalism is only part of their co-operative policy, unless they are the beneficiary.

Established arts organizations do get sponsors that allocate them a set amount of funds. Sounds easy? That’s only half the challenge. Artists also have to depend on public interest. Poor audience attendance due to inefficient marketing or lack of media sponsors means another continued struggle to attract funds.

Most diverse communities cater events to preserve and pass on their culture to the next generation. Unlike established groups who do it for leisure, they have a duty to preserve and nurture. They band together under a single umbrella to promote their culture or to raise funds for the public. A good example is the walkathon organized by the East Indian community, along with other organizations, for Grand River and Cambridge Memorial hospitals.

Newcomers to Canada keep their arts and culture alive through community spirit. For them, their young people are vulnerable to unwelcomed social pressures due to their new environment, and art is one of the tools used to divert attention away from those issues.

Even though our municipal leaders see funding as an expense, they fail to realize it is an investment in their community. Politicians think financing a structure or theatre is equal to that of supporting an artist. If we think in these terms, we will end up with empty seats.

Downtown Kitchener has the Tapestry festival and the K-W Multicultural Festival. The latter is very popular, due to its variety of ethnic food and entertainment. Then there is Latinfest, Tamil Cultural Nite, the South Asian cultural festival, Indian Mela, and Chinese New Year. They are very popular and capture people’s imagination.

The multicultural art scene is an important part of our community. It reflects the diversity of not only Waterloo Region but Canada itself. The world of art is at our door step, let’s enjoy it.

Lakshmi Sivakumar is a student at Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute in Kitchener.


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