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Creative Adaptation: Hybrid Careers of Prince Edward Island Artists

December 1, 20101 December 2010

Situation of artists

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Recognizing that there is a lack of “specific information or research on the multiple job-holding of artists”, this report explores the different types of engagement that artists have in the cultural sector as well as the relationship between artistic work and other paid work. The goal of the report is to provide artists with useful information in thinking about their career paths and managing their complex careers.

The report is based on two focus group sessions and several individual interviews with Prince Edward Island (PEI) artists. The report argues that “the way artists live on the Island is a lesson in creative adaptation” and that “artists can be seen as modeling the situation of ‘portfolio workers’ who create their own employment and contribute to the economy in several different ways”. Working multiple jobs is an economic necessity for many artists: the report indicates that artists are often “obliged to pursue hybrid careers in order to achieve basic life goals that are often taken for granted by other workers”.

The report highlights relevant findings of other research studies:

  • The Senior Artists’ Research Project (SARP) found that 52% of Canadian artists 55 and over do paid work in addition to their art. This includes the 14% of older artists who have more than one other occupation.
  • An Australian report (Don’t give up your day job) found that “almost two-thirds of Australian professional artists have more than one job”.
  • The SARP found that elder artists’ median earnings from their art are only $7,000. Other income sources brought overall median personal incomes to $30,000.
  • Similarly, the Australian report indicated that median creative earnings were $7,300 (AUD), with other income sources bringing median personal incomes to $30,000 (AUD).
  • A Canadian study of visual artists (Waging Culture) found that, in 2007, “after taking practice expenses into account, the typical artist lost $556 from their studio practice”. Other income sources brought overall median earnings to $20,000.
  • Regarding artists’ main income sources, the SARP found that secondary occupations are as important as artistic work for artists 55 and older.
  • The visual artists study (Waging Culture) examined artists’ time spent on various activities. Of 51 hours worked per week (on average), 26 hours were spent on studio practice, another 15 hours were on art-related work, 8 hours on other work, and 3 hours on art-related volunteering.

Given this time-juggling, it is not surprising that the PEI report found that scheduling is a key skill for artists in managing their dual careers. Finding a sensitive and accommodating “secondary” employer is also important. While there are many challenges in managing hybrid careers, the report indicates that some artists also find synergies between their different activities: “In some cases, the secondary employment might bring some energy, insight or new skills to the arts practice.”

Cautioning artists to think carefully about whether to pursue secondary employment in related or unrelated fields, the report highlights some potential benefits and drawbacks in both scenarios.

The report argues that artists make a strong contribution to society through both their arts practice and other work. In secondary occupations, artists can contribute “creativity, innovation, psychological strength to withstand rejection, discipline to practice, research skills, dexterity, [and] physical fitness”.

While multiple job-holding is a necessity for many artists, the report does indicate that “most of the artists interviewed for this study were firm in their assertion that they would prefer to work full-time on their practice rather than diluting their energies by working at paid employment”.

The report highlights five actions that could improve the situation of artists pursuing hybrid careers: 1) “building awareness of the concept of hybrid careers”; 2) ensuring that employers are aware of the potential benefits of hiring artists and the flexibility that may be required; 3) more “business skills training for artists”; 4) training more artist managers and agents; and 5) ensuring that artists are more aware of the new opportunities for self-employed workers to participate in the “special benefits” portion of employment insurance (i.e., “maternity, parental, sickness and compassionate care benefits”).

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