Accès Asie Showcases Asian Art and Culture

In a groundbreaking move aimed at changing Canada’s institutionalized conception of arts and culture, Accès Asie, Montreal’s Asian Heritage Festival, is moving to bring Asian-Canadians to the forefront of the arts scene by hosting the first national Asian Heritage Month symposium in Montreal.

“We want to build a participatory, democratic, network support in order to facilitate national touring efforts and to increase Asian-Canadian visibility and presence in Canada’s cultural landscape,” says General Manager Khosro Berahmandi, who is a distinguished Persian-Canadian artist based in Montreal.

According to coordinator and founder Janet Lumb, one of the goals of Accès Asie is to break through false perceptions of Canada’s cultural makeup that have “until recently excluded Asian traditional art forms from the world of professional arts.”

Lumb says that Accès Asie is making it easier for Asian-Canadian artists to find their artistic place in Montreal.

She said that all this began to change when Asian-Canadians began to organize themselves and lobby the Canada Council to better reflect the changing dynamic of Canada’s ethnic and cultural mosaic.

The ethnocentric Canada Council would at first only fund “professional” artists from the European tradition, which excluded the many artists of the Asian traditions, according to Lumb.

Until the Canada council recognized Accès Asie, Lumb said that there was little to no way for Asian-Canadian artists to obtain funding. She explained that although a traditional Asian musician or other artist may be the best in their field, if they did not receive training from a Western-style institution they were not considered eligible for funding.

Inspired by Black History Month, the month of May was declared Asian Heritage Month in the United States in 1978. Toronto picked up the idea in 1993 and Montreal followed suit in 1995. Now, Accès Asie remains the longest surviving Asian cultural festival of its kind in Canada.

The festival kicks off with a speech by Vivian Poy, who fought for the recognition of Asian-Canadian artists at the Canada Council and CBC and who, as Lumb described, is a champion of Asian heritage in Canada.

The festival will host a talk by Rice Paper Magazine editor Yuri Chang and a lecture by University of British Columbia Professor Ray Hsu, who is teaching the first Asian-Canadian writer’s course in Canada.

“Canada must embrace an open mindset of diversity in the arts,” Lumb said.

Accès Asie will take place from Sept. 17 to Sept. 19 with a cover charge of $15 per day, which includes an Asian-style lunch and drinks. For more information visit www.accesasie.com.

This article originally appeared in The Link Volume 31, Issue 05, published September 14, 2010.

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