A Declaration

I came across this in a street front window in Halifax, during a tromp through the streets to see Nocturne, the city’s annual night of art.


There’s a lot of ground covered here.

I wasn’t able to get any information on the source of this screed (I welcome any opportunity to be educated about it, who wrote it, etc from anyone reading), but I applaud the directness with which this text points to many of the very serious issues at play in the tricky world of making art and making a living at making art (yes, often mutually exclusive things).

I would love to have some conversations with people about what ‘making it up ourselves’ would look like … I’ve had a few already with some people I know, but I think the more we all talk to one another – especially outside our regular ‘home’ communities – the more that can happen. I am hearing frequently from artists of all disciplines: the systems currently in place are working for very few people, and most if those benefitting aren’t the artists themselves.

There have been several tidbits making the internet rounds in the last while about the correlation between work and worth and payment for artists that point to many of the same issues outlined here, including Jessica Hische’s witty flowchart.

That CARFAC is still having to advocate for the establishment of the Artist Resale Right in Canada, and face the National Gallery in court (again) to try to establish a minimum fee schedule for artists speaks volumes about how difficult it is to be a professional artist in Canada, and how crucial it is that artists derive income relating to their artistic practice from as many sources as possible in order to do what they do best.

The Autumn issue of C Magazine was devoted entirely to a critical examination of artist residencies as an aspect of artistic practice. An interesting article by Laura Kenins points to the various aspects of viability and sustainability of residencies that need to be considered, not the least of which is that there are situations for younger artists in which “residency-hopping” replaces having a fixed address, simply because funding to be able to make work (but only elsewhere) is sometimes easier to access than it is to make enough money to have a full-time practice on home turf.

So. Some things need to shift, and that shift has to come from all kinds of directions, including the artists themselves.

There are questions about value: the value placed on the work artists do within the broader cultural context. The value placed by artists on art-making as a profession. The value placed on the art itself, and who benefits from the sale.

There are questions about economic realities. According to the Hill Strategies report issued in 2009, the average earnings of artists (from all sources of their income) are $22,700, compared with an average of $36,300 for all Canadian workers. Furthermore, over half of visual artist make less then $8,000 a year on their art practice alone. The gap between artists’ average earnings and overall labour force earnings is 37%. The average earnings of artists are only 9% higher than Statistics Canada’s low-income cutoff for a single person living in a community of 500,000 people or more.  Median earnings are only $12,900 for artists, compared with median earnings of $26,900 for all Canadian workers; 62% of artists earn less than $20,000.

As a practicing artist, I have more questions than answers at this point.

The New Year is coming … may it present many opportunities for positive and creative change.

2 thoughts on “A Declaration

  1. We are two artists, who have jumped into a different direction by creating a cruising gallery on a narrowboat in the UK. In the uk we have similar problems as you mention in this blog.
    We wanted to open an artists managed gallery but the costs of rent in a good position put us well off, there is no way we can make than much art to cover all the coasts and make a living. The shops we could afford where in a location which would not bring in the people we needed. The established gallery have enough artists on their books and have, except the few, a hard selling time as well. Art markets were also out of our reach due to high costs or only galleries could attend. SO what than?
    Lots of artists do pop-up galleries but came across all kind of legal issues and often still needed some kind of premises.
    We now bring the art to the people as we can go with the narrowboat right into the centres of several big towns and cities. We can moor and sell along the canals in the UK, we needed a special licence and insurance but the costs were well within our budged.
    The boat is also out studio, so people can see the making of the art. We are developing some ideas how to involve the people and other artists. A vision is lots of different artist on boats meeting up and doing pop-up art events along the canals.

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