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Artist Career Research Methods

A comparative analysis of research methods for understanding artists’ career paths, work conditions, and incomes

July 31, 201931 July 2019

Situation of artists

Canada Council for the Arts, BC Arts Council, Calgary Arts Development Authority, and Ontario Arts Council, in partnership with the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, Toronto Arts Foundation, and the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec


Kelly Hill and Alix MacLean, Hill Strategies Research Inc.

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Studies of artists’ work conditions, incomes, and career paths use a variety of methods, and this “in-depth Canadian and international literature search” examines novel research methods and provides an annotated bibliography of over 60 reports that study artists. In addition to the literature search, the research team conducted 12 interviews with arts researchers, research commissioning organizations, and representatives of Indigenous and equity-seeking groups.

The report notes that artists are a challenging labour group to study, with atypical work patterns, high self-employment rates, multiple jobs, many short-term employment contracts, relatively low incomes, and unusual workflows. One key finding of the study is that there is no one single “best practice” for studying the careers of artists. Another key finding is that, outside of census data, “there have been no systematic efforts in Canada aimed at understanding the situation of all the country’s artists”.

For each of the reports found by the research team, the literature review includes an analysis of the studies’ goals, their definition of “artists”, methods that have gone beyond traditional statistical sources, variables analyzed (such as time use and income), and specific methodological notes related to Indigenous and equity-seeking groups in the arts.

Three main methods used to study artists in Canada and internationally are:

  • Compilation of lists of artists, then survey sampling: “In Quebec, Saskatchewan, Australia, and Ireland, major research projects have attempted to uncover details about the situation of artists by compiling a ‘master list’ of artists and then conducting a survey of artists on the list”.
  • Respondent-driven sampling: “Respondent-driven sampling (RDS), combines ‘snowball sampling’ (getting individuals to refer those they know, these individuals in turn refer those they know and so on) with a mathematical model that weights the sample to compensate for the fact that the sample was collected in a non-random way”.
  • Analysis of big data: “While it is not likely to be used to examine the situation of all artists in any jurisdiction, the analysis of alternative datasets (or big data) has been used to provide insights into the situation of certain types of artists in certain sub-sectors of the arts”.

The report contains a comparative analysis of the strengths, opportunities, weaknesses and risks of these and other research methods.

Regarding the situation of Indigenous artists, the research team found that best practices include consulting extensively with communities affected by the research, incorporating oral histories, and considering different definitions of artist rather than Euro-centric “professional” artist definitions.

Some inclusive practices found that relate to the study of artists from equity-seeking groups include consulting affected communities while designing research studies, translating surveys and research tools to be fully accessible, and using locations that are widely accessible to all.

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