Canada has welcomed more than 35,000 Syrians since last year, in stark contrast to other countries that are sealing their borders in response to the refugee crisis. To help them integrate, the country is turning to art—a critical part of Syria’s history and culture.
Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum, an institution that promotes Islamic heritage, recently invited a group of Syrian refugees to view a new exhibition tracing more than 5,000 years of art from their homeland. Called “Syria: A Living History,” the show is the first major art exhibition in the West on the region since the war erupted in 2011. While museums can take as long as two to three years to plan a show, Aga Khan Museum CEO and director Henry Kim says the project was fast-tracked, with 48 works gathered from seven international museums in 9 months. “We decided to do it under fairly short notice, because the story had to be told now. It couldn’t wait,” says Kim.
Aga Khan Museum’s show is one of many initiatives across Canada using art to communicate with Syrians and help them ease into life in a new country. The governmental Canada Council for the Arts, for example, has dedicated CAD $300,000 ($226,000), with the support of a private sponsor, to providing Syrian refugees with free access
to more than 60 art spaces, theater and music performances.