Building Empathy Through the Arts: how celebrating different cultures through the performing arts can help to build students’ capacity for empathy and mutual respect

Bringing performing arts experiences into your school can help create inclusive spaces for young people to feel more engaged with their school community. When selecting programs, representation matters. Presenting culturally relevant and diverse programs promotes individuality and freedom of expression. Further, celebrating all different cultures helps to build students’ capacity for empathy and mutual respect. And this is key when standing against all forms discrimination.


Positive Collective Experiences

Art brings people together both physically and culturally. Sharing a performing arts experience together can form connections that break down barriers caused by differences. There is also so much joy in collective experience. It can stem conversations, foster community learning, and create lasting shared memories. These things are all really great for mental health as well! 

Joaquin Nunez and Rumberos play on stage at a school


Master Rumbero Joaquín Núñez can effortlessly unite a community with his uplifting music and contagious peaceful energy. We have seen him bring young people together in a school setting, and also community members and families at our Arts Break events; joining everyone together with a love of exploring diverse cultures, sounds, and even dance.



Kuné, Canada’s Global Orchestra, is truly a celebration of Canada’s cultural diversity and pluralism, with members hailing from all over the world. In their concert for young audiences – Together! A Global Music Experience – four members join together to share their cultures, and traditional knowledge of music, demonstrating how we can come together with the global language of music. 


Every teacher I met after the show thanked me! One of the teachers shared this note from [a grade three student]. Everyone in the gym was feeling Kuné via body, soul and mind! Thank you very much for bringing us the great connection through music. – TDSB Teacher

On Wednesday,… our class went to the gymnasium to see a performance by Kuné. They welcomed us with sweet music that relaxed us right away. After that, they all introduced themselves and the instruments they were playing. Then they played many songs and taught us about their languages and the countries they were from. One of the orchestra members spoke Greek, another Farsi, some spoke Turkish and some spoke Spanish…Kuné shared stories and told us about their lives. While they were playing music some of the students danced and clapped to the beat. – TDSB Student, grade 3

Matias Recharte, Aline Morales, and Padideh Ahrarnejad from Kuné

Representation to combat discrimination

Providing inclusive spaces for young people that promote positivity is an important part of building community. Representation provides validation and is an important part of standing against all forms of racism, discrimination, and bullying. Art is a great vehicle for exploring diverse (and sometimes new) topics, themes, and cultures, and can help everyone feel valued and included.


Genvieve Bealieu dances while Anwar Kurshid plays the sitar in an outdoor setting
Anwar Kurshid plays the sitar, smiling, wearing bright blue


Sitar Fusion is made up of two internationally acclaimed artists promoting cultural diversity and understanding through classical Indian music and dance; Anwar Khurshid and Geneviève Beaulieu. Their performance The Great Medieval Traveller features traditional and well-known songs from South Asia, East Asia, The Middle East, and Eastern Europe. Many audience members will recognize pieces from their own culture in the show. It stirs the opportunity for students to share their culture with their peers, celebrating cultural differences.


Rukhsana Khan uses storytelling as a means to share experiences and foster understanding in her captivating presentation series Stories for Building Bridges. The award-winning author and storyteller addresses topics like poverty, immigration, and bullying. She encourages students to look at the world through a different lens; to see different perspectives.

Thank you Rukhsana for the interactive storytelling. Thank you for sharing your lived experiences with our students and allowing them to affirm their own identities. This is especially meaningful to our students in the marginalized communities. – York Region Teacher

Rukhsana is pictured outside with green trees in the background. She wears a green hijab and a nice big smile. She is holding her book King for a Day

Celebrating African Heritage 

We all know that African Heritage is celebrated in February, a time to explore the rich cultures and diverse art forms of communities of African descent. It is certainly an important month in Ontario schools. We are lucky to work with many incredible Black artists and we encourage our community to enjoy their performances and workshops throughout the year. 


Britta B. head shot


Britta B. is an award-winning artist, spoken word poet, emcee, voice talent, and mentor. Britta uses poetry performance and discussion to explore themes of identity, diversity, women’s empowerment, and resiliency. Empowering and inspiring the next generation of poets, Britta shares how she found her voice and community, and ultimately a successful career as a professional spoken word poet.


Njacko Backo is a musician, dancer, author and educator from Cameroon. His passion for music and arts education is unmatched. In his interactive performance African Voyage/Voyage Africain, he showcases traditional dance, drumming, and stories from central Africa. He shares the importance of community, respecting one another, and playing together.  

Njacko Backo’s unique blend of music, storytelling, and interactive elements truly captivated the audience. His ability to engage with the students on such a personal level created an immersive experience that left a lasting impression. The way he seamlessly wove traditional elements with modern themes was both educational and entertaining, making it a truly enriching experience for everyone involved.

The students thoroughly enjoyed the interactive components, and the opportunity to participate in the performance added an extra layer of excitement. It was evident that Njacko Backo’s passion for his craft resonated with the audience, leaving them inspired and eager to explore the diverse world of music and culture. – Core French Teacher

Njacko playing a djembe drum in a park. He wears a colourful shirt and bucket hat.

Uplifting Indigenous Voices

We have a responsibility to understand and learn from the truth of Canada’s past, and to learn about and celebrate the history and culture of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people. We can do this by celebrating the many Indigenous cultures, languages, and ceremonies which have been preserved, despite efforts to extinguish them. We can relate this to Indigenous cultures from different parts of the world as well. Artists all over the world are working to preserve their cultures and traditions. 


Naomi Martin pictured in traditional regalia doing the fancy shawl dance
Naomi from Tribal Vision Dance demonstrates the hoop dance to students in a school gym

Tribal Vision Dance is a family dance troupe from the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. These champion singers and dancers have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with young audiences and families to build a deeper understanding and appreciation of First Nations culture. In their high-energy dance performance Visions of Turtle Island the artists explain the history and significance of their dances and illustrate the cultural experience of First Nations peoples in Canada.

 Mestre Sérgio Xocolate is a proud Afro-Indigenous Capoeira Master from Pernambuco, Brazil. As an award-winning musician, and artist educator, he is a proud cultural ambassador with a passion for sharing traditional music, percussion, dance, and important stories of cultural expression and preservation. The high-energy, authentic Capoeira workshops that he facilitates with his partner Suzanne Roberts Smith are a true celebration of his culture. 

It’s so beautiful to see how the artist honors their ancestors and continues to feel a strong connection to the culture as it would be lost without people like Mestre Sérgio Xocolate who carries the tradition. I think more classes should experience workshops like this in order to be exposed to different cultures and to embrace them with an open mind.

– Student, Tommy Douglas Secondary School

Sergio Xocolate in a Capoeira pose wearing traditional clothing from Northern Brazil


 By providing positive collective experiences, focusing on representation, celebrating cultural differences, and uplifting diverse voices, we believe that the arts can help to build capacity for empathy and mutual respect amongst young people. There isn’t a lot of data to support the claims made within this blog post; they aren’t explicitly measurable. We just hope to provide some food for thought; some ideas that help advocate for the arts, which continue to be underfunded and underrated in schools.

Submit a booking inquiry today to bring one of these fabulous artists to your school or community!