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Artists in British Columbia in 2021
With nearly 40,000 professional artists, B.C. has the highest proportion of artists in its labour force among the provinces
Using custom data that Hill Strategies requested from Statistics Canada’s 2021 long-form census, this article examines the demographics, employment characteristics, and incomes of artists in B.C., as well as summary information about workers in arts leadership occupations and all occupations in the arts, culture, and heritage (a category that includes artists and arts leaders).
This article is made possible with the support of British Columbia’s Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture, and Sport. Hill Strategies Research retained full editorial control of the content.
Details of the occupational categories and other notes regarding methods are provided at the end of this post.
Context: Canada-wide data
Across Canada, there are 202,900 professional artists, representing 1.0% of the Canadian labour force. Examined differently, this means that 1 in every 102 Canadian workers is an artist. (A full article on Canadian artists is available here.)
A similar analysis examines workers in arts leadership occupations in Canada, There are more than 56,000 Canadian workers in five occupation groups, which include individual occupations such as producers, directors, choreographers, conductors, composers, curators, conservators, and arts and heritage managers. Two of the arts leadership occupations (those including conductors and composers as well as producers, directors, and choreographers) are also included as artists. As such, the number of arts leadership workers should not be added to the number of artists.
The broadest analysis relates to the 914,000 workers in arts, culture, and heritage occupations, representing 4.4% of all Canadian workers. The 52 occupation groups in this category include the 10 artist occupation groups as well as the 5 arts leadership occupation groups, other cultural occupations (e.g., graphic designers, print operators, editors, translators, architects, and professionals in fundraising, advertising, marketing, and public relations), and heritage occupations (e.g., librarians, curators, and archivists).
Artists represent 1.4% of the labour force in British Columbia, the highest proportion among the provinces
The 39,700 artists in B.C. represent 1.4% of the province’s overall labour force, the highest such percentage in Canada and well above the national average (1.0%). In B.C., one in every 72 workers is an artist.
British Columbia is home to one in every five artists in Canada (20%), much higher than the province’s roughly one-in-seven share of the overall labour force (14%).
Diverse demographics, high education levels, and a very high self-employment rate
Among B.C. artists:
55% are women (including some non-binary people), much higher than the proportion of all B.C. workers (48%) but similar to that of all Canadian artists (54%).
29% have a child at home, lower than the percentage of all B.C. workers (38%) but similar to that of all Canadian artists (31%).
4.5% are Indigenous, slightly below the proportion of all B.C. workers (5.2%) but slightly above that of all Canadian artists (3.7%).
25% are members of racialized groups, below the percentage of all B.C. workers (35%) but higher than that of all Canadian artists (19%). The percentage of artists in B.C. who are racialized is the highest in the country.
28% are immigrants to Canada, slightly below the percentage of all B.C. workers (31%) but much higher than that of all Canadian artists (21%).
3.4% are French speakers (i.e., official language minority), higher than the percentage of all B.C. workers (2.4%) but much lower than official language minority speakers’ proportion of all Canadian artists (11%).
2.8% are Jewish (by religion, ethnicity, or both), much higher than the percentage of all B.C. workers (1.0%) but slightly lower than that of all Canadian artists (3.5%).
43% have a bachelor’s degree or higher, well above the percentage of all B.C. workers (33%) but slightly below that of all Canadian artists (45%).
29% are 55 years of age or older, higher than the proportion of all B.C. workers (25%) but very close to that of all Canadian artists (28%).
72% are self-employed, four times higher than the percentage of all B.C. workers (18%) and slightly higher than that of all Canadian artists (68%).
69% reside in Metro Vancouver, compared with 55% of all B.C. workers. The City of Vancouver, on its own, accounts for 28% of B.C.’s artists.
11% reside in rural areas, 9% reside in areas with populations under 30,000 (but which are not considered rural), and another 5% reside in areas with populations between 30,000 and 100,000. Combined, areas with less than 100,000 residents account for 25% of B.C.’s artists.
For the first time, the 2021 census collected information on transgender and non-binary residents. In B.C., there are about 170 transgender and 390 non-binary artists. Combined, trans and non-binary artists represent 1.4% of all B.C. artists, similar to the national average (1.2%). More information about the strengths and limitations of the statistics on gender identity is available here.
Note about estimates related to Indigenous Peoples: Census data are less complete for Indigenous Peoples than many other groups. Some B.C. reserves and settlements were inaccessible in the spring of 2021 due to wildfires or floods. Statistics Canada estimates that 20% of B.C.’s on-reserve Indigenous population did not respond to the long-form census. As a result, the number of Indigenous artists (and other Indigenous workers) may be underestimated.
B.C. artists by occupation and industry
B.C.’s 39,700 professional artists include a wide range of occupations:
Musicians: 7,000 (18%)
Producers, directors, choreographers & related occupations: 6,500 (16%)
Actors, comedians & circus performers: 5,700 (14%)
Writers: 4,800 (12%)
Painters, sculptors & other visual artists: 4,300 (11%)
Artisans & craftspeople: 4,000 (10%)
Photographers: 3,900 (10%)
Dancers: 1,800 (5%)
Other performers: 970 (2%)
Conductors, composers & arrangers: 650 (2%)
For artists in the province, the largest industry sector is arts, entertainment, and recreation, which employs almost one-third of them (31%). Within this sector, the largest number of artists work in the “independent artists, writers, and performers” group (22% of B.C. artists), followed by those who work directly in performing arts companies (7%).
The next-largest broad sectors are information and cultural industries (where 22% of B.C. artists are employed) and educational services (18%). Other artists work across the economy: all other industries (excluding the three largest ones) employ 29% of artists.
Professional artists had very low incomes in 2020
Three measurements of artists’ incomes are provided here: median employment income, median personal income, and median household income. Employment income shows the work-related earnings of artists; personal income includes all sources of income (including pandemic supports); and household income provides a measure of the family situation of artists.
The income statistics indicate that B.C.’s artists are at a significant financial disadvantage, with personal incomes that are 40% lower than other workers. That disadvantage carries over into household incomes that are 24% lower than other workers.
The median employment income of B.C. artists was just $11,100 in 2020, which is about one-quarter of the median employment income of all B.C. workers ($41,600). The median employment income of artists in the province is similar to the median of all Canadian artists ($11,700).
The median personal income of artists (from all sources) was $29,400 in 2020, 40% below that of all B.C. workers ($49,200) but very similar to the median of all Canadian artists ($30,200). The graph below shows the median personal incomes of artists and all workers in B.C and Canada.
In 2020, the median household income of artists was $92,000, 24% lower than that of all workers in B.C. ($121,000) but very close to the median of all Canadian artists ($93,000).
Over 10,000 arts leaders
Over 10,000 British Columbians work in five occupation groups that are classified as arts leaders. The broad grouping of producers, directors, and choreographers accounts for nearly two-thirds of the 10,100 arts leaders in the province:
Producers, directors, choreographers & related occupations: 6,500 (64% of the arts leaders in the province)
Managers in publishing, motion pictures, broadcasting & performing arts: 1,700 (17%)
Library, archive, museum & art gallery managers: 800 (8%)
Conductors, composers & arrangers: 650 (6%)
Conservators & curators: 400 (4%)
B.C. accounts for 18% of Canada’s arts leaders, which is above the province’s share of all workers (14%).
Highest concentration of cultural workers among the provinces
The 154,800 workers in arts, culture, and heritage occupations in British Columbia represent 5.4% of the province’s overall labour force, which is the highest proportion in the country and well above the national average of 4.4%. One in every 18 workers in the province has a cultural occupation.
B.C.’s cultural workers account for 17% of all such workers in Canada, higher than the province’s share of the overall labour force (14%).
In 2020, a typical cultural worker in B.C. had:
Employment income of $36,400, 13% less than all B.C. workers ($41,600)
Total personal income of $45,200, 8% less than all workers in the province ($49,200)
Household income of $107,000, 12% less than all workers ($121,000)
The analysis relates to professional workers, but with a very specific concept of professional. The census data on occupations include people who worked more hours as an artist than at any other occupation between May 1 and 8, 2021, plus people who were not in the labour force at that time but had worked more as an artist than at another occupation between January of 2020 and May of 2021. Part-time artists who spent more time at another occupation in May of 2021 would be classified in the other occupation. (The same would be true of workers in arts leadership occupations and all cultural occupations.)
The occupational perspective counts people who work across the economy, as long as they are classified into one of 10 artist occupation groups, 5 arts leadership occupation groups, or 52 cultural occupation groups. Details about the occupation groups included in each of the categories is available in a recent article, which also outlined the methods behind choosing the 52 cultural occupation groups. Another article highlighted some strengths and limitations of the census for counting artists and cultural workers.
To ensure confidentiality and data reliability, no estimates of fewer than 40 people are presented in this article.
The challenging context of the pandemic in the spring of 2021 is important to keep in mind when interpreting census data on artists, which were collected in May of 2021. Income data from the census relate to the 2020 calendar year.