In Hill Strategies Blog

Arts research insights and absences

What we’ve learned and what we haven’t during the pilot year of Arts Insights Canada

March 9, 20229 March 2022


Kelly Hill

At the outset of the pilot year of Arts Insights Canada, our national Advisory Panel identified key themes where research could be particularly useful for Canada’s arts sector:

  • Reconciliation
  • Precarity
  • Benefits, impacts, and outcomes of the arts
  • Equity, diversity, and inclusion
  • Climate change / sustainability
  • COVID-19 and post-pandemic transformations
  • Impacts of digital technologies
  • Public engagement in the arts

In our publications to date, we have attempted to provide quantitative and qualitative insights into these issues. We have:

  • Documented the precarity of the arts, and artists in particular, during the pandemic.
  • Pointed to challenges for women artists, both in terms of work opportunities and workplace harassment.
  • Highlighted complex perspectives on Indigenous arts, thereby helping our readers imagine, think, and work toward decolonization.
  • Examined public engagement in the arts, as well as stress and resilience within arts organizations.
  • Provided insights into the arts practices of D/deaf and disabled peoples, their accessibility challenges, and suggestions for how artists and arts workers can improve the accessibility of the works that they create and produce.
  • Highlighted the bi-directional link between the arts and the environment.
  • Noted the need for post-pandemic “regeneration”, rather than “recovery” to the pre-pandemic situation, especially given the situation of racialized arts workers and Black-led organizations.
  • Outlined visions of the challenges and opportunities for artists and the arts after the pandemic.

In the process, we have commissioned and examined data from dozens of datasets, many of which have never been mined for their arts content.

Without a doubt, our greatest challenge throughout all this work has been the lack of recent and reliable statistics on significant portions of the arts. We can point to a lack of detailed data on artists and public engagement in each province and territory, in municipalities small and large, as well as for women, non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals, Indigenous Peoples, Black and other racialized people, D/deaf or disabled individuals, 2SLGBTQIA+ people in Canada.

On the organizational side, there is a lack of information about the situation (including the basic survival) of different arts organizations, including those in different disciplines, Indigenous led groups, Black led groups, women led organizations, and more.

Information that is available on these topics is often partial – typically specific to an arts discipline, not the arts sector as a whole.

Alongside these gaps, there is the challenge of identifying why certain changes have occurred, something that is not available in most data sources.

In the absence of information, the arts community (and the broader community) lack the ability to see the sector clearly. To some extent, “seeing is believing”. Our field of vision is unduly narrowed when it comes to conversations about equity, transparency, and accountability. We lack the tools, analytics, and other supports to inform deep insight, foresight, and decision-making. In short, it is nearly impossible to find solutions for problems that we don’t know exist.

Below, we provide more details about the key takeaways and challenges to date.

Text box: If you're interested in discussing these issues, please register for our webinar on Tuesday, March 15 (2PM EDT).Key findings

The first three AIC blogs produced during this pilot year offer the following insights:

  • On precarity in the arts (October 2021) showed that the 25% decrease in employment levels (including self-employment) in the arts, entertainment, and recreation was higher than any other industry in 2020. Stress or burnout was found to be very high among arts workers (62%), especially those who are hard of hearing, D/deaf, and/or have a disability (65%), BIPOC artists and arts workers (68%), primary caregivers of a child, a senior, or someone at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 (69%), and LGBTQ+ artists and arts workers (78%).
  • Green(er) arts? (January 2022) noted the inextricable link between the arts and the environment, highlighting strong connections through the power of artistic storytelling to address environmental subject matter and through creative activism. We also highlighted the environmental impacts of the arts sector, the sector’s environmental practices, and shared policy issues between the sectors. The blog argued that more can be done to align the arts with climate solutions.
  • Harassment and discrimination: Important aspects of the precarity of women in the arts (February 2022, author: Laurence D. Dubuc) showed that workplace sexual harassment is an important aspect of gender discrimination in Canada’s cultural sector. Laurence highlighted the fact that 92% of respondents to one survey reported experiencing or observing sexual misconduct at some point during their arts careers. She also outlined efforts to mobilize the cultural community, the challenges of reporting misconduct, and potential changes to protect both victims and whistleblowers.

The four issues of the Arts Research Monitor published during the year have highlighted many important topics:

  • Deaf and disability arts: Arts practices and accessibility challenges and tips (October 2021) provided insights into the arts practices of D/deaf and disabled peoples, their accessibility challenges, and suggestions for improving accessibility of works that artists and arts organizations create and produce.
  • Collectively, the four reports in Equity, diversity, inclusion, and decolonization: Signs and effects of anti-Black racism in the arts (November 2021) reminded arts sector leaders that post-pandemic “regeneration” may be required, rather than “recovery” to the pre-pandemic situation. This issue offered insights into the challenging employment situation of racialized workers in Canada’s screen-based industry, insufficient philanthropic investment in Black-led organizations in Canada, the relative lack of diversity on the boards of Canadian not-for-profit organizations, and the pandemic’s effects on racialized arts workers in the United Kingdom.
  • Indigenous arts: Resources for imagining, thinking, and working toward decolonization (February 2022) highlighted complex and insightful perspectives on Indigenous arts on the territory known as Canada, including information about Indigenous arts and ways of being that might be useful in imagining, thinking, and working toward decolonization.
  • What is the role of artists and the arts in a post-pandemic future where the goal is to “build back better”? The arts and post-pandemic transformations: Societal changes, artists, and the arts (March 2022) summarized four recent articles that offer interesting perspectives and visions of what this future might look like and how it might happen. Some common themes  were found, including: a desire for radical transformation in the arts; significant improvements in equity and justice within the sector; a need to better connect and embed artists (and the arts more broadly) with other societal issues; and an increased focus on artistic processes rather than products.

Many insights were found in the three statistical reports published during the pilot:

  • Organizational stress and resilience in the arts in Canada (November 2021) pointed to the uniquely challenging operating environment for Canadian arts organizations. Challenges range from threats to business continuity caused by government regulations, staff stress or burnout, financial constraints, and consumer confidence in the safety of indoor arts activities. Despite these challenges, there is evidence of resilience.
    • The total value of all goods and services sold in the culture sector decreased by 10% between 2019 and 2020, reaching its lowest level since 2015.
    • Some organizations have closed (there were 8% fewer organizations in May 2021 than in January 2020).
    • Many others are in a fragile state due to significant revenue losses: between 2019 and 2020, 55% of organizations experienced revenue loss of 30% or more (36% experienced a loss of 50% or more).
    • The performing arts and festivals have been the hardest hit, losing 52% of sales and 36% of jobs between 2019 and 2020.
    • On the pessimistic side, throughout the pandemic, many pre-pandemic attendees have remained unsure about when they would return to arts events. Some pre-pandemic attendees have seen their income decrease, while others have changed their spending habits or taken on new hobbies.
    • On the optimistic side, spending on culture goods and services has increased consistently since a severe pandemic-induced decrease in the second quarter of 2020. Surveys show that many Canadians have missed and are eager to return to arts activities.
    • On a regional basis, public engagement intentions vary significantly. For example, residents of Quebec and the Atlantic provinces were most likely to have already visited an art gallery or museum and least likely to wait before doing so. Residents of Ontario and the Prairies are least likely to have already visited and most likely to wait before doing so. Residents of British Columbia are between these two extremes.
    • Self-employed artists were the worst hit during the depths of the pandemic, experiencing a 29% decrease in hours (the lowest level on record since the first year of the commissioned data in 1997).
    • In 2021, hours worked eventually rebounded to pre-pandemic levels for the overall labour force, but not for self-employed artists.
    • Women artists have been particularly affected by the pandemic. Between 2019 and 2021, their hours worked decreased by 5%, while hours worked by men artists increased by 9%.
    • Data on hours worked and stress levels point to a risk of burnout in the arts sector.
    • Other reports cited in the study showed how Indigenous, Black, and racialized artists have experienced significant precarity during the pandemic.

Arts Insights Canada: list of publications during the pilot year

Gaps and limitations

The Arts Insights Canada reports to date have clearly shown that the arts sector is not well served by existing statistical sources. There are many gaps and limitations that restrict our ability to see the sector clearly. As noted above, it is nearly impossible to find solutions for problems that we don’t know exist.

Sector-wide data

Through Statistics Canada, the Culture Statistics Strategy Consortium has developed and tracked some key indicators in the arts, including detailed statistics on jobs and direct economic impact.

However, the most up-to-date economic data are usually not fine-grained enough to allow for a detailed analysis of the arts sector. For example, standard measurement systems lump the arts and heritage together with recreation and sports, and the cultural industries with telecommunications and data processing. In addition, occupational categories used in national datasets are an imperfect fit for some types of artists (e.g., community arts workers, some media artists, etc.).

Most surveys stop short of providing insights into the reasons behind certain trends (e.g., why and how have certain groups of artists or arts organizations been disproportionately affected by the pandemic?) Qualitative studies and qualitative survey questions are needed to address this gap.


Except for the quinquennial census, there is a lack of detailed data on artists. Almost no breakdowns of other data sources are possible, whether those breakdowns are by geography (provinces, territories, municipalities) or by identity (women, Indigenous Peoples, Black and other racialized people, D/deaf, or disabled Canadians, 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals, and more). The census itself does not adequately capture artistic work, primarily because of a focus on the job where someone worked the most hours (thereby ignoring secondary jobs).

Many data sources do not adequately cover the situation of self-employed workers. For example, the monthly Labour Force Survey captures only salaries, not self-employment earnings.  While this is a significant challenge in the arts, it is also a gap that affects statistics on many parts of the economy, thanks to an increase in gig work across the economy.

Outside of Statistics Canada, other studies of artists are incredibly useful in filling gaps in our knowledge, sometimes delving into deeper questions behind the data (e.g., how and why). However, these studies have tended to be one-offs, tailored to the needs of specific audiences and not repeated over time. Trend information is therefore lacking.

To fill these gaps, we identified the need for a regular and consistent survey of artists. Such a survey should have a robust sample size to provide significant granularity regarding artists – i.e., intersectional aspects that affect so many artists’ working lives. It could also provide insights into the reasons behind certain findings.


On the organizational side, we pointed to a lack of information about stress and resilience in different arts organizations, including those in different disciplines, Indigenous led groups, Black led groups, women led organizations, and more.

There are many other basic questions about arts organizations that are incredibly challenging to answer. How many arts organizations are there? In what arts disciplines? What are the similarities and differences in the situations of different types of organizations (regarding public funding, overall revenues, expenses, employment, and COVID-19)?

Arts participation

Regarding public participation in the arts, we are again lacking information for Indigenous, racialized, D/deaf, or disabled Canadians. We noted that COVID-19 case rates have been above average in many of these communities, and members of these groups may have different engagement preferences emerging from the pandemic.

The ever-shifting pandemic situation has varied over time in different provinces and territories, but we are lacking in accurate, up-to-date information about engagement preferences and safety perceptions in different jurisdictions.

One of our statistical reports identified other unanswered questions about public engagement, including:

  • Are there enough willing and ready attendees to fuel a full renewal of the arts? Have many Canadians permanently diverted their time and money away from activities that were not available during much of the pandemic, such as out-of-home arts activities?
  • Will arts sector risk taking be inhibited if the overriding goal is to generate predictable revenues?
  • How lasting is the switch to online participation? Can this provide a solid business model for the arts? How? In which arts disciplines?
  • In a crisis such as the pandemic, can the arts be better integrated into government responses such as wellbeing and mental health initiatives?
  • Has the pandemic had an influence on the accessibility of some arts activities, thanks to digital engagement, the prevalence of outdoor performances, (generally) lower ticket prices for digital works, and new outreach strategies?

User survey feedback

We are very pleased that 96% of respondents to our user survey agreed that our research is of high quality, and 91% agreed that our work makes a real impact on the arts sector. Regarding new distribution methods that we asked users about, a solid majority reported interest in all three: webinars (70%), video summaries (60%), and peer learning / discussion sessions (56%).

Respondents provided suggestions for improvements, including working to increase the availability of our information and to improve our summaries (e.g., “presentations by you at all conferences, visits to sectoral and regional meetings, etc.” and “getting the information in smaller chunks … with a slightly different take-away”). Others asked us to work toward solutions, beyond highlighting important issues (e.g., “Make more recommendations. Maybe have some field leaders digest and make recommendations.” And “offer insight into the hows and wherefores of moving forward”, possibly as a follow-up to the reports).

Our sincere thanks go out to the 100 people who responded to the user survey. We will integrate your thoughts into our planning for the future of Arts Insights Canada.

About the Arts Insights Canada initiative

This blog is part of Arts Insights Canada, an initiative that also encompasses the Arts Research Monitor and Statistical Insights on the Arts reports. Arts Insights Canada is a partnership between Hill Strategies and three leading foundations engaged in the Canadian arts sector: the Azrieli Foundation, the Rozsa Foundation, and the Metcalf Foundation. We are honoured to be working with an Advisory Panel composed of leaders within the Canadian arts community.

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