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Waging Culture: A Report on the Socio-Economic Status of Canadian Visual Artists

September 29, 200929 September 2009

Situation of artists and arts administrators

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Based on a two-stage survey of Canadian visual artists, this study delves more deeply than any existing reports into visual artists’ sources of revenue, art practice expenses and time use. As noted in the report, “the bottom line for artists is dismal, with the typical artist losing $556 in 2007 on their practice. (Other income sources bring median total earnings to $20,000….)” In other words, more than half of all visual artists (56%) lose money on their artistic practice. The study indicates that “artists pay a significant economic penalty to pursue their practice”. The report therefore argues that visual artists themselves are the primary funders of artistic practices.

The study estimates that there are somewhere between 22,500 and 27,800 visual artists in Canada. These figures are about 30% and 60% larger than census counts. The 2006 census captured 17,100 “painters, sculptors and other visual artists” with employment income who worked more hours on their art than on any other activity in May of 2006.

Among respondents to the survey, the highest-earning visual artist had a net income of $60,000 from their artistic practice (after expenses). Visual artists in Quebec earn the highest net income (median of $1,383), while those in Alberta lose the most from their studio practice (median loss of $2,000).

On average, visual artists work 51 hours per week, with 26 hours devoted to their studio practice. Another 15 hours are on paid art-related work, 8 hours on other work, and 3 hours on art-related volunteering. In terms of income from all sources, those who spend the most time in their practice earn less than those who do more art-related or other work.

Among all respondents, sales account for more than half of all revenues (54%), followed by grants (34%) and artist fees (12%). The study indicates that grants essentially “buy time and materials for the production of art” but do not increase overall living standards. Artists with lower or no grants tend to work more in other occupations.

While the wage gap between male and female visual artists is relatively low (10%), the difference in sales is nearly 50%.

The study finds that over 30% of visual artists do not have supplementary health benefits. Similarly, more than one-third have no retirement funds. Another third have only self-financed funds. Just over one-half of all visual artists own their own homes, much lower than the average of 69% in the overall labour force.

The survey was done in two stages. The demographic information (1,200 respondents) has a margin of error of +/- 3.96%, 19 times out of 20. The financial information (560 respondents) has a margin of error of +/- 5.83%, 19 times out of 20.

Many more details about the socio-economic condition of Canadian visual artists are provided in the full report.

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