Arts and Social Inclusion

Arts and Social Inclusion

The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation’s Arts and Social Inclusion initiative draws on lessons and insights from over fifteen years’ experience in supporting arts’ role in catalyzing social change.

In 1998, the Foundation founded ArtsSmarts, an initiative whose purpose was to protect the role of the arts in education by integrating art with the teaching of other subjects – using music to teach math for example, or mural making to study history. This award-winning initiative no longer exists as a national program, but is embedded in numerous partnerships among Ministries of Education, school boards, Arts Councils, galleries and so on, across Canada. We learned from ArtsSmarts that the arts can reveal new possibility and connections among people and communities; engage and validate those who feel marginalized; and bring qualities of imagination, diversity and perspective to public spaces and institutions. These are the very qualities that we seek to integrate and promote in the Arts and Social Inclusion initiative.

Recognizing that most arts funders focus on artistic excellence within particular forms, we do not hesitate to declare that our primary emphasis is on social engagement. Our experience is that this in turn produces work that is often of excellent quality and that might not have been produced otherwise.

Why do we do this? Poverty and social isolation engender a sense of invisibility, of not mattering. Providing access to the means of artistic expression can enable marginalized individuals and groups to feel valued and enabled, making them visible to themselves and to one another and to the broader society. Inclusion results in greater diversity. A civic ethos that reflects the diversity of cultural origins that make up our communities, and that makes room for the differently abled, contributes to a more socially productive and engaged citizenry. By creating trust and connections among people from all parts of the community; by posing questions about how things could be done differently; and by engaging institutions in creative renewal, socially-engaged arts engender civic resilience.

The initiative makes relatively few grants, and emphasizes those projects that are national in scope but locally accessible, or that are local in nature but have the potential for national impact. We also convene practitioners, thought leaders and funders at the national level, and support work that strengthens the connectedness and visibility of the socially engaged arts field.

(The Cities for People initiative includes a socially-engaged arts component).

Granting Total to Date


Arts and Social Inclusion Granting Summary


Organization Dates Amount
ArtBridges — for the support of national community-engaged arts networks 2013 – 2015 295,000
Judith Marcuse Projects/International Centre of Art and Social Change — for the creation of a national network of academics and practitioners working in the field of socially engaged arts 2013 – 2018 125,000
Culture pour tous — for the introduction of ‘cultural mediation’ in Quebec communities 2012 – 2015 500,000
Culture Days — for the support of a learning network to accompany this national arts showcase 2012 – 2015 750,000
Jumblies Theatre — for the support of disseminating an approach to community engaged theatre 2012 – 2015 320,000
Wapikoni Mobile — for the expansion across Canada of this Quebec-based film and music production program for Indigenous youth 2012 – 2015 520,000
La Ruche d’Art (Concordia University) — for the documentation and distribution of a model for university-linked community arts studios 2012 – 2015 300,000
National Theatre School of Canada — for the support of establishing the Cultural and Artistic Leadership Program (CALP)/Theatre Engaging Communities Program (TEC), an endowment to support graduates’ work across Canada 2011 – 2015 1,455,000
National Arts Centre Foundation — for supporting the exploration of a national Sistema music program 2012 – 2013 95,300
Exeko — for supporting idAction Mobile, a culturally based intervention with the homeless 2011 – 2012 150,000
New Brunswick Youth Orchestra — to support the introduction of the El Sistema music program in NB and Canada 2010 – 2013 200,000


Photos courtesy of: Kathleen Fleitas/Jumblies, Sistema New Brunswick, Karl Ang/National Theatre School of Canada, Marc Andre Goulet/Exeko


The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation 1002 Sherbrooke W., Suite 1800, Montreal, Québec H3A 3L6