Study reveals huge disconnect between artists’ wages and education

A national survey released March 30 by the Art Gallery of York University reports that Canadian visual artists are dismally underpaid.

The report, "Waging Culture: The Socio-economic Status of Canadian Visual Artists", is the first national survey of Canadian visual artists since Statistics Canada’s 1993 Cultural Labour Force Survey.

Unlike studies that use only census data, the study analyzes both the sources of revenue for artists and their practice expenses. In 2007, the typical artist’s income, from all sources, was $20,000, significantly less than the average Canadian income of $26,850. Only 43.6 per cent of visual artists made any money at all from their studio practice.

“In 2007, the typical artist’s studio practice actually lost $556,” says Michael Maranda, assistant curator at the Art Gallery of York University. “When you look at it this way, it’s quite dismal.”

Worse still, says Maranda, there’s a huge disconnect between artists’ earnings and their level of education. “Canadian visual artists average more than six years of postsecondary education,” he says. “But we actually found that the more education they possess, the less they actually earn in terms of practice-based revenue. On the plus side, higher education for artists does equal significant increases in the amount of compensation from secondary employment.”

According to the study, there are between 22,500 and 27,800 visual artists in Canada. Their average age is 43, with 80 per cent practising professionally before age 35.

Compared to the national total labour force, artists are more likely to be female, anglophone, in a relationship and born Canadian, and less likely to be members of a visible minority.

Report highlights:

  • The vast majority of an artist’s studio revenue is from sales (54 per cent), with grants (34 per cent) and artist fees (12 per cent) making up the rest. Expenses that exceed an artist’s revenue are covered by other employment income.

  • In 2007, the average artist worked 26 hours per week on their studio practice, 14.5 hours on art-related employment and 7.6 hours on non-art-related employment. In addition, they volunteered just over 3 hours a week to art-related activities.

  • Those artists who spent the majority of their employment time in the studio earned significantly less total income, a median of $15,000, versus $28,994 for artists who spent most of their time in art-related employment, and $21,793 for those who spent most of their time in non-art-related employment.

  • Compared to artists who received no grants in 2007, artists who earned large ($5,000+) grants in 2007 also had higher levels of self-generated practice-based income from both sales and artist fees, while artists who earned smaller grants (less than $5,000) had higher levels of artist fees, but a lower level of sales. Large grants resulted in higher studio expenses and more hours dedicated to studio work, while small grants only offset net practice-based losses.

  • Visual artists are extremely well educated; More than 84 per cent have at least an undergraduate degree, and almost 45 per cent have graduate degrees (compared to 23 per cent and 7 per cent of the total labour force, respectively). 


  • More than 30 per cent of artists have no supplementary health benefits, and an additional 22 per cent have only self-financed benefits. Over one-third of artists have no retirement funds whatsoever, and another third only have self-financed retirement funds.

The final report is available in PDF form on the Waging Culture Web site. For more information, e-mail Michael Mranda at