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2017 Arts Professionals Survey

January 23, 201923 January 2019

Situation of artists

Calgary Arts Development

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The Calgary Arts Professionals Survey aimed “to learn how art is made in Calgary, what the lifestyle patterns and living conditions are for those working in the arts, and how Calgary is perceived as a supporter of arts activity”, based on a survey of 721 arts professionals, i.e., respondents “who self-identified as professional artists, arts administrators, arts educators, avocational or amateur artists, and/or other arts professionals”. As the report cautions, “because the sample is based on those who self-selected for participation, rather than a completely random sample, no margin of error estimate can be calculated”.

A key finding of the survey is that 53% of respondents had gross individual incomes below $35,000 in 2016. (This was the lowest reported income category.) The median individual income is therefore slightly below $35,000, which is just over one-half of the median individual income of all Calgarians ($67,700).

The prevalence of low personal income (i.e., the proportion with incomes below $35,000) is much higher for women than men (59% vs. 40%) and for respondents from a visible minority group than those not from a visible minority group (70% vs. about 50%).

Many respondents are active in multiple disciplines and roles in the arts community. For example, 56% of respondents worked in multiple arts disciplines during the year. In addition, 49% of professional artists were also active in other roles, most commonly as arts educators or administrators. Just over 40% of survey respondents indicated that they received all their personal income from arts-related sources in 2016.

Regarding household incomes, the survey found that 66% of Calgary’s arts professionals have total household income under $90,000 (meaning that the median household income is well below $90,000, likely around $75,000). In comparison, the median household income for all Calgarians was nearly $100,000 in 2016. As was the case for individual incomes, arts professionals who are women or members of a visible minority group are more likely to have low household incomes.

The report outlines elements of “the precarious working conditions for those in the arts”, including the fact that “only one-third of arts professionals report that they would be eligible for employment insurance or income support should they need it (34%)”. Among professional artists, over 80% indicated that their work is structured on a self-employment basis, and almost one-half indicated that they work on a contract or freelance basis for one or more employers. (Respondents could select multiple options.) The third most common response was that “I work in service to my community or cultural tradition with little or no pay” (close to 20% of artists). In addition, more than one-half of professional artists reported working 20 hours per week or less as an artist.

Despite the prevalence of low income, home ownership is relatively common among Calgary’s arts professionals: 52% reported that they own, rather than rent, their current residence. However, most respondents (59%) exceed the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s recommended maximum spending for housing costs (30% of household income).

The survey found that about one-half of respondents (47%) “feel they are not fully in control of their career as artists”. Time is a major challenge: 54% of respondents indicated “that they do not have the time to satisfactorily complete their work, and 64% say that they do not have the time needed for creative reflection and incubation”. Other challenges include “working spaces used to create art [that] are both too small and difficult to secure long-term”. Even with these challenges, as well as the prevalence of low income, 78% of respondents indicated that they are satisfied with their life.

Regarding perceptions of arts activity and support in Calgary, 77% of respondents agreed “that Calgary has a strong and vibrant arts scene”, and 57% agreed “that Calgary is a good place to be an artist”. Despite these positive findings, only about one-half of respondents (48%) indicated “that Calgary is supportive of their work in the arts”.

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