CMNS 334 : Cultural Policy Research Guide

Contact info

If you need help, please contact Sylvia Roberts, Liaison Librarian for Communication & Contemporary Arts at 778.782.3681 or or Ask a librarian.

This research guide provides an portal to cultural policy resources. If you do not find what you need, please Ask a Librarian OR contact Sylvia Roberts, Liaison Librarian for Communication.


Cultural policy varies in scope between countries but most culturally-related policies are described in government publications, at the local, regional, national or international level.

Finding and interpreting cultural policy documents, with supporting research literature, will enable you to understand contemporary cultural policy issues in both local and international settings.

In Canada, the scope of cultural policy is broad, including:

  • performing & visual arts, film
  • arts administration
  • publishing, copyright
  • broadcasting
  • heritage & parks, cultural tourism
  • folklife, sport
  • bilingualism, multiculturalism
  • citizenship, status of women

Local information

Publications from your organization

Using documents produced by your organization, those written about your organization, and interviews with people involved in your organization, you can research their:

  • Role in their community
  • History
  • Structure and governance
  • Policy environment: legislative, economic, social, political, cultural
  • Government programs affecting their operations

Your organization will often use their website as an informational or promotional vehicle. Search Associations Canada or Google for the name of your organization, placed within quotation marks to force a phrase search, e.g. "Firehall Arts Centre". Some organizations may have a small web presence or be part of a larger web site, such as a municipal arts or recreational centre.

Once you've found a relevant web site, look for link labels that will lead you to information about the organization, such as About Us or Newsletter or Reports or What's New. You can often find information about funding sources, the names of members of the board of directors, current issues & events and other useful information on the site.

Ideally, you will be able to find these types of "grey literature"on the web site of your organization:

  • annual reports
  • newsletters
  • publicity materials and news releases
  • budget documents
  • position papers and reports

Non-profit organizations are usually incorporated under legislation which dictates their structure and reporting requirements; for example, in BC, an organization formed under the Societies Act of British Columbia is required to file documents with the BC Registrar of Societies. 

Non-profit organizations generally hold annual general meetings and publish annual reports of their activities and finances. However, these may not be easy to find on the web. If the documents are not included on the website, you may have to visit the physical site of the organization and request to view their paper files.

Public libraries can often be a great source of this type of information about local cultural organizations, if they've decided in their mandate to collect this stuff. The Central Branch of Vancouver Public Library often holds copies of annual reports for well-established non-profit organizations in their collection which you can consult on site. Many of these are in the Social Science division.

If the organization is Canadian and has charitable status (meaning you can get a tax deduction for donations to them), you may be able to find useful financial information in the forms submitted annually to Revenue Canada. Use the Registry of Charities to search for your organization by name and then view the forms. The number of employees and other useful information is contained in these forms as well.

To find other information about local non-profit arts organizations, search in newspaper databases, particularly Canadian Newsstream and the Vancouver Public Library  British Columbia Index, because these index community newspapers which are more likely to cover smaller local organizations.

If you search the web for your organization, you may also be able to find references to them on other organization's web sites, for example, if they're received funding from government agencies or participated in public programs.


By incorporating as a society, organizations limit liability for their membership when entering into agreements on behalf of the group and enables groups to gain official recognition as a non-profit society so as to avoid assessed tax or service charges by Revenue Canada and/or financial institutions.

Most non-profit cultural organizations located in British Columbia are incorporated under the British Columbia Society Act which sets policy for how societies will be governed, membership, bylaws, finances, reporting requirements, etc. The Society Act Regulations provide more details about how parts of the act will be interpreted.

NOTE: To be sure you have the most up-to-date, official version of these documents, use QP Legaleze, a subscription database containing the text of current BC statutes and regulations.

However, given that your organization operates within other jurisdictions, you may be subject to other policies at the municipal, regional, provincial and/or federal level (see also government publications below).

Your society's operations will be subject to municipal bylaws, such as noise, smoking, business licensing, zoning.   Lower Mainland municipal bylaws is on the "Urban bylaws, legislation and planning resources" page. 

The Union of British Columbia Municipalities  provides policy documents on issues of concern to all municipalities.

British Columbia provincial government laws and policies may also affect the operation of your organization. For example, labour falls under provincial jurisdiction so policies relating to worker safety (Work Safe BC: Workers' Compensation Board of BC), conditions of work (Employment Standards Branch), and what can be done by volunteers versus unionized workers in an organization (collective agreements between unions and employers available through the Labour Relations Board) may affect the operations of your organization.

You may also find federal policies that affect your organization, such as broadcasting regulations or cultural funding programs. Canada may also subscribe to international agreements that trickle down on your organization, such as trade agreements that may (or may not) protect cultural programs. See the Government section for more direction on searching for cultural policies at the national and international level.

Related organizations

Other organizations may also have developed policies that affect your group. For example, members of your organization may require certification from a professional organization to operate or be a member of a coalition of groups that are acting on a issue of shared interest.

You can find the names of these related organizations in publications from your group, on their web site as related links, in listserv archives on the web where people have shared discussions on your topic, in news articles, etc.

You might also try searching association directories such as:

Newspaper article indexes

To supplement information in documents created by your organization, try searching for your organization or specific project in newspaper databases. Not only are news articles a source of facts but also of other leads, like the names of organizations, reports, and people with an interest in your issue.

Even if you don't find articles specifically naming your group, you may find relevant articles about similar groups in other jurisdictions that give you a sense of the environment in which your group operates.

Finding government publications on cultural policy

Municipal, regional, provincial, federal government bodies and supranational organizations may all produce cultural policies that impact your organization. These policies will be expressed through:

  • Regulatory instruments (laws, regulations, treaties, trade agreements)
  • Policies and programs
  • Public sector institutions
  • Funding sources (direct and incentives)

Consider using secondary sources such as newspaper articles to identify pertinent reports, ministries, NGOs, international bodies, etc. Search for these specific leads using Google's phrase search.

If you don't start with a known item or government body, you can often start at the main web page for that jurisdiction and use use the search feature on the site. Your results may include position papers, consumer information, legislation, committee minutes & proceedings, etc. Follow the most likely links in your result set to get to the specific web site for the body of government responsible and then try your search again for increased relevancy.


Canadian Heritage is the federal government ministry with responsibility for cultural policy at the national level.  However, many other government agencies at the national or provincial level have an interest in cultural policy. 

If you don't know the body responsible for your topic, go to the top level government site (e.g.Canada or British Columbia) and use the site search feature to look for specific reports or by topic. Look for a link to browse topic lists or lists of publications by topic.

The Library of Parliament's Research Publications provide policy backgrounders on various topics for members of parliament.  For example, under  the Culture and Communications grouping includes reports/background papers on:

Use the Parliamentary web site to investigate recent policy initiatives, as discussed in the House of Commons, as part of proposed legislation or discussed as part of Parliamentary committee business. 

Federal government

ministry or agency web sites provide information about cultural policy in Canada. When you're at the homepage for the organization, look for links labelled "policy", "publications", "research", "reports", "news", etc.

Provincial, regional and municipal governments

also provide oversight and funding for cultural activities within their mandate. Example:

Print editions of many government reports can be found in the SFU Library catalogue. Search for specific documents, by title or government author, or search for those on a specific topic.

  • Canadian Research Index provides access to Canadian municipal, provincial and federal government documents on microfiche which do not appear in the catalogue. Documents found in the Canadian Research Index database are available in a microfilm collection (JL 044 37) on the 6th floor of the Bennett Library. Individual reports are filed by the m# number in the record. You may also find them on a government web site.
  • Canadian Electronic Library is a full text of public policy documents from Canadian institutes, think-tanks and research groups



Think tanks and research centres





Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs)

Journal article indexes

Articles in scholarly publications provide research results, analysis, statistics and position papers by academics and researchers. You can get a sense of how policies in different jurisdictions affect organizations similar to your own or search for discussion of policy issues by topic.

When searching for journal articles, consider how these provide a national and international context for your organization, as well as the local, for example, creative cultural funding sources (tax incentives), the influence of globalization and developments that influence the cultural infrastructure.

NOTE: The Canadian Journal of Communication Special Issue: Making Connections: Culture and Social Cohesion in the New Millennium. Spring 27 (2, 3) 2002. Search for other full text articles on cultural policy and related issues in the CJC.

Copyright 2012 Sylvia Roberts