Visual artists make ‘dismal’ bottom line: York study

The typical Canadian visual artist made just $20,000 from all income sources in 2007 and, after expenses, lost money, says a newly released study by Michael Maranda, assistant curator at the Art Gallery of York University, wrote The Globe and Mail March 31.

However, the study, titled Waging Culture: The Socio-economic Status of Canadian Visual Artists, concludes that despite this “dismal” bottom line, the number of visual artists working in Canada continues to hold strong.

Maranda, working with several partners such as Statistics Canada and the Toronto polling firm Stratcom, determined that a median annual income of $20,000 puts visual artists nearly $7,000 below the national median. Only 43 per cent of visual artists made any money at all from their studio practice – after expenses, the median loss was $556. Yet Canada still boasts between 22,000 and 28,000 professionals in the field.

While the report proposes there is a widespread perception that these artists are propped up mostly by government funding, most of artists’ studio income comes from their sales (54 per cent), not from grants (34 per cent) or artist fees (12 per cent).

“We can categorically state that the primary funder of artistic practices in Canada is artists themselves,” the report says.

But the more time they devote to art, the more financial challenges surface. The average visual artist worked 26 hours per week on studio work, supplemented by another 14.5 hours at art-related jobs and 7.6 hours at work with no artistic link. Those who split their time more evenly between jobs inside and outside the art world earned more: between $21,793 and $28,994, the report says. Those who dedicated the majority of time to creating art earned an average of $15,000.

As a group, the study says, visual artists average six years of postsecondary education. Eighty-four per cent have at least an undergraduate education, and 45 per cent hold a graduate degree, compared with 23 and 7 per cent respectively for the general population. But all those years of schooling aren’t helping artists earn more from their art: The study shows that the higher an artist’s education level, the less they earn from their artworks after expenses.

The study also sheds light on the ways grants affect artists. When given grants over $5,000, visual artists see a spike in their sales and artist fees, presumably from more time spent in studio. Smaller grants seem to only offset what would otherwise have been losses.

“Grants, in essence, buy time and materials for the production of art and not increased living standards,” the report concludes.

Other findings include a wage gap between men and women that is well below the national average in most areas of their work; that immigrant artists have slightly higher incomes than Canadian-born artists; and that Caucasian artists earn slightly more than those from visible minorities.

Artists in Quebec hold the peculiar distinction of having the lowest average incomes, at just slightly over $15,000, but the highest net profits from their studio work at nearly $1,400. Albertans are the virtual opposite, with the largest average loss on their artwork – $2,000 – but the second highest average income. The most lucrative province for visual artists to work in is Ontario, where the average falls just a few dollars shy of $23,000.

Maranda’s study was conducted in two phases using the Respondent Driven Sampling model. The demographic data in "Waging Culture", based on 1,229 responses, is considered accurate to, plus or minus, 3.96 per cent, 19 times out of 20. The financial data, based in 769 respondents from the same pool, is considered accurate to within plus or minus 5.83 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

  • Maranda’s study, “Waging Culture: The Socio-economic Status of Canadian Visual Artists”, contains a handful of revelations, wrote the Toronto Star March 31. Contrary to the anecdotal observations of Stephen Harper, the Canadian taxpayer is paying only a fraction of that $20,000 each year – on average, about a third.

Perhaps the most depressing aspect of the economic plight of visual artists in the country comes from Maranda’s analysis that “typical” artists actually lose money from their studio practice: a $556 deficit each year. Quebec artists average the highest income from their studio practice, at $1,383, while Alberta artists lose the most, at about $2,000.

A money-losing career necessitates an actual job and most artists have them; but, as a group, they also volunteer their time more than the general population, at just over three hours a week. Add to the frustration that most of them are significantly better educated than the general population: 84 per cent have undergraduate degrees and 45 per cent have graduate degrees, compared with 23 per cent and 7 per cent of the general population.

Maranda’s study counts between 22,000 and 28,000 full-time artists in Canada (the definition being difficult to draw). It’s the first such detailed study into the economic status of visual artists since Statistic Canada’s 1993 Canadian Cultural Labour Force Survey.

Moms get down to business in MBA class – kids are welcome

Being a mother was part of the reason 33-year-old Stephanie Loi Nguyen decided to get her MBA, wrote the National Post March 31 in a feature on MBAs. Nguyen, who has two sons, one five-and-a-half years old and the other four, and is graduating this June from the Schulich School of Business at York University, had taken four years off her career to be a stay-at-home mom.

“I didn’t feel I was prepared to go back to work. I wanted to get my brain working again, upgrade my skills and make myself a bit more marketable,” she says. Last summer, she received a Women in Capital Markets Scholarship from Schulich worth $7,500 that included a summer internship working at TD Securities. “I had a four-year gap in my resumé, so the internship gave me some work experience, that competitive edge,” she says. It worked. She has been hired by a major bank and will be starting after she graduates.

  • “I wanted to bridge the gap between just being self-employed to actually building a successful company,” said Jacqueline Sava (MBA ‘08) in a National Post feature on MBAs March 31. “I have friends and classmates who have set up businesses based on their great ideas and designs but they have someone come in and do all their monthly reporting and have nothing to do with the administrative side. I take pride now in understanding my own year-end. I can go through it with my accountant and check off on the whole thing.”

Sava took the course part time at the Schulich School of Business at York University so that she could continue to run her business alongside studies, making time to develop her newest venture, Soak. Now the 34-year-old reaps the rewards from the three letters after her name every time she enters a boardroom. “When I present to a senior buyer at a major department store, I show them how buying my product will fit every one of their company’s strategic objectives. They fall off their chair when you do that,” she said. “Before the MBA, I wouldn’t even know where to find a company’s annual report, let alone how to read it, or what to do with that information once you’ve got it.”

The flexibility of the Schulich program appealed to Sava. After candidates complete core classes in the first half of the program, their paths diverge. Schulich offers 20 different MBA specializations, including entrepreneurship. Despite her background in this field, Sava concentrated on the strategic management and marketing branches, believing her businesses, especially the upstart Soak, had most to benefit from these areas.

“I really thrived on the chance to create my own curriculum,” she said. “That high level gives you a whole different perspective on quality of work. Now I can combine the instinct with the experience and knowledge that I’ve gained, to justify and explain what’s right or wrong with a marketing strategy.”

3-in-1 pill effective for heart

A new three-in-one-pill could reduce the risk factors for heart disease and stroke by 50 per cent and revolutionize prevention of these medical conditions, which kill thousands of Canadians every year, according to a study released yesterday, wrote The Globe and Mail March 31. The medical community reacted with optimism to the study, published in The Lancet. However, physicians also cautioned against the idea of a “magic bullet”.

“If you are born rich, you will have less of a chance of dying from cardiovascular disease,” said Joel Lexchin, a professor in York’s School of Health Policy & Management, Faculty of Health, and an emergency-room physician. “But you also need to concentrate on lifestyle factors you can modify, such as diet, exercise and smoking.”

Lexchin questioned the wisdom of giving people with only one medical issue a pill to address others. As well, there are concerns about the inability to change the dosages of the different components in the polypill. “Blood pressure medication, for example, often requires a lot of fiddling,” said Dr. Lexchin, who added that the polypill may be a worthwhile alternative for those already taking all five medications.

The push for broader accountability

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) promises to create a whole new area of business for accounting firms, say leaders within the profession, wrote The Globe and Mail March 31. Indeed, it is taking the accountants’ stock in trade of measuring, monitoring and reporting to new heights.

They argue that CSR will ultimately lead to improved financial returns. But that goal continues to be more a bright hope than a hard reality in Canada, say CSR experts such as Dirk Matten, Hewlett Packard Chair in Corporate Social Responsibility at the Schulich School of Business at York University. “The recognition that social responsibility is now fundamental to financial performance is much more advanced in Western Europe, Britain and even in the United States,” he said.

“When I came to Schulich two years ago from Royal Holloway [one of the colleges at the University of London] I expected – because of Canada’s commitment to things like multiculturalism – it would be far more advanced. Instead, it is a very young plant that needs to be nourished.”

For companies that have decided to show corporate citizenship by working with HIV/AIDS patients in Africa, for example, the challenge in measuring the success of that support can be significant, Matten said. “Do you do it through patient outcomes?” he asks. “Do you track and report a reduction in deaths or a reduction in new cases, or both?”

Matten can see two potential changes to drive wider adoption of CSR. First, he can see possible government intervention through regulation to ensure that companies embrace social responsibility. Second, he sees government beginning to offer incentives to industry to speed voluntary acceptance.

Klees ready for another leadership run

There are three other contenders for the job of leader of Ontario’s Conservative party: Niagara West-Glanbrook MPP Tim Hudak, Whitby-Oshawa MPP Christine Elliott and Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox & Addington MPP Randy Hillier, wrote the Newmarket Era-Banner March 30 .

“I would say the two front-runners are Hudak and Elliott,” said Robert MacDermid political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts. “But leadership races are funny. Anything could happen.”

The political pundit doesn’t have any doubts about Frank Klees raising the $50,000 required of each candidate to enter the race, adding his membership in the party for the past 25 years could cut both ways. It may prove to be an advantage because of the experience he would bring to the job or a disadvantage because he ran for the leadership in 2004 and came third, MacDermid said.

“Hudak has a lot of the Mike Harris member support, which could prove a challenge for Klees,” he said. “Elliott has close connections with members, but she hasn’t been in politics for very long, which could work to Klees’ advantage.”

MacDermid predicts the campaign will be a real struggle with the time constraint, giving members only until May 14 to sell memberships.

Municipal elections can confuse voters

Robert MacDermid, a York political science professor who has done studies on municipal politics, argues that because municipal politics don’t involve political parties, voters have a hard time figuring out what candidates stand for, wrote the Vaughan Citizen March 30.

York film student has been acting since he was nine

Talk to him for a few minutes and you’ll quickly realize Aurora’s Adrian Roberto eats, sleeps and breathes movies, wrote the Aurora Era-Banner March 30. After all, the 22-year-old York University film studies and screenwriting student can’t remember a time he didn’t want to act.

Even as a young boy, while other children were giggling at the antics of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie or enjoying other typical kid-friendly TV fare, Roberto was watching films, trying to pick up tips. And, while he can’t recall a defining moment when he knew acting was it for him, whenever it was, he has never looked back.

As he grew older, Roberto’s passion for acting made life rather hectic at times as he frequently found himself juggling film auditions, acting with community theatre groups and his dramatic studies in the Arts York program at Unionville High School. Gradually, however, he decided it was on the screen where he truly belonged. “As an actor, you’re always trying to touch as many hearts as you can,” he said. “Film is the largest medium with which to reach your audience.”

To that end, Roberto has been very active appearing in film and TV projects, including YTV’s “Dark Oracle”, CBC’s “11 Cameras”, “Degrassi: The Next Generation” and the TV movie Our Fathers, which starred Ted Danson, Brian Dennehy and Christopher Plummer among others.

On air

  • Ray Mar, psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Health, spoke about his research into reading non-fiction and social skills on CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning” Marcg 30.
  • Bernie Wolf, economics professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about the rejection of GM and Chrysler restructuring plans on CBC Rado Windsor March 30.