UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

"Just add colour" : unintended whiteness in Vancouver theatre and arts and culture policies in Canada Cheung, Belle Chi-Tung


Common around the world, the arts are considered an expression of culture and are a powerful vehicle for communicating and understanding a nation’s values and collective identity. Diversity is often considered a defining characteristic of Canadian identity, but the arts in Canada has long struggled with its own lack of diversity. This thesis explores the relationship between Canada’s multiculturalism and cultural policies, and how this relationship has resulted in an unintended whiteness in Canadian arts and culture. Focusing on theatre in Greater Vancouver, this relationship is illustrated in two ways: the first, an exploration of artistic expression outside of Canada’s official languages which demonstrate the limiting effects of bilingualism policies on linguistic and cultural expression in Canada, and explores transnationalism as a possible catalyst for new constructions of culture, citizenship, and belonging. The second example explores how theatre practitioners in Greater Vancouver conceptualize, create, and understand diversity in specific ways that perpetuate the invisible hierarchies of whiteness, and make it difficult for diversity to become part of the mainstream. For theatre artists and organizations in Vancouver, diversity has been defined as racialized difference and power dynamics that have resulted in a continued othering. I argue that this relationship ultimately results in a preference for and reproduction of Eurocentric models and artistic values. This thesis questions the role and responsibility of Canadian cultural institutions as accurate representations of “Canadian” identity, and advocates for innovative approaches to cultural policy that would better serve and leverage the unique potential and role of cultural communities in Canada.

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