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Facing the challenge: Performing arts in the 1990s

October 17, 200517 October 2005

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This article in the Statistics Canada publication Focus on Culture paints quite a bleak picture of the state of non-profit performing arts organizations in Canada in the 1990s (using the results of six StatsCan surveys from 1991-92 through 1998-99). However, the statistical evidence itself appears to be mixed. On the optimistic side of things, the 1990s saw a significant 22% expansion in the number of not-for-profit performing arts companies in Canada. Even with this strong growth in the number of organizations, revenues per company still rose by 3.9% – greater than the 3.1% increase in expenses. Despite a 13% reduction in government grants (per company), overall revenue grew thanks to a 10% increase in earned revenues and a 30% increase in private sector contributions. On the pessimistic side, the text makes reference to the fact that 75 performing arts organizations permanently or temporarily stopped operations during each year of the survey. This makes the overall growth in the number of companies even more surprising.

Possibly the most sobering note in the article is the fact that in each of the six years of survey results, performing arts organizations reported an overall deficit. However, as the report itself notes, 99% of the reported deficit is accounted for by 34 of the largest non-theatre companies, mainly the 18 largest orchestras. Although disappointing, this result leaves one wondering what a picture of the financial situation of the 591 other organizations reporting in 1998-99 would look like.

Many other interesting facts emerge in the article. For instance, despite the size of the performing arts sector, government expenditures on this sector comprise only 4.4% of all government cultural spending.
A close look at StatsCan’s government expenditure surveys shows that broadcasting and libraries take up the lion’s share of government spending on culture.

Perennial deficits or strong growth in the sector? This is just one question raised by this important – although inconclusive – contribution to our knowledge of trends in the non-profit performing arts sector in Canada.

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