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Discrepancy between wealth created and wealth earned widens for visual artists

Ottawa, February 4, 2009 – Recently released statistics from Hill Strategies shows that the discrepancy between the wealth created and the wealth earned by visual artists has widened.

While the cultural sector contributes more than $46 billion to the Canadian economy, visual artists earned an average of $13,976 in 2005. This is down from $20,936, in 2000, and $6,824 below the Statistics Canada low-income cutoff.

Breaking the numbers down gives an even bleaker picture. The median, or typical, earnings for a visual artist is less than $8,000 placing them in a position of extreme low-income. CARFAC has discovered that even Governor General Award winning artists find it difficult if not impossible to make a living from their art. Some have incomes that fall significantly below the national average and others work full time jobs to subsidize their practice.

Artists create wealth – but not for themselves

Artists create value in the communities they inhabit, both in economic and social terms. The presence of artists in a neighbourhood attracts skilled workers and increases property values as has been seen on Queen West in Toronto and Vancouver’s East Side where condo developments threaten to displace artists’ studios. A recent study by the Conference Board of Canada shows that the direct impact of the cultural sector in 2007 was $46 billion and the indirect impact was $84.6 billion or 7.4 percent of GDP.

The Conference Board study also listed several social benefits of participation in the arts such as personal development, social cohesion, community empowerment, local image and identity, imagination and vision, and health and well being.

An opportunity to invest in our economy

Visual artists can be part of the solution to Canada’s current economic troubles. According to the Canadian Conference of the Arts, the costs of creating jobs in the arts and culture sector are the lowest compared to other sectors of the economy. While other sectors have been shrinking, the number of visual artists has increased 56% since 1991.

When including all disciplines, the number of artists is slightly larger than the number of Canadians directly employed in the automotive industry. The cultural sector as a whole has nearly double the level of employment of the forestry sector and more than double the level of employment in Canadian banks. Given the structures already in place, the sector can quickly mobilize to achieve the objectives of creating jobs, increasing economic and creative activity.

Despite encouraging investment in the arts, the federal budget does little to help individual artists, the backbone of the creative economy. The recommendations CARFAC made to the Finance Committee can be found here.

CARFAC (the Canadian Artists’ Representation/le Front des artists canadiens) is the national association of Canada’s professional visual and media artists. CARFAC defends artists’ socio-economic and legal rights through advocacy and professional development and produces a schedule of artists’ fees that is widely recognized as the national standard. The Status of the Artist Act empowers CARFAC to negotiate with national organizations on behalf of all visual artists in Canada.


For more information contact:

April Britski
Executive Director
CARFAC National
Toll-free: 1-866-344-6161

Melissa Gruber
Communications Coordinator
CARFAC National
604-681-3535 x208 (until the end of April)

For media inquiries outside business hours, call 613-255-4645 or 613-791-6411.