Over 200,000 artists in Canada
2021 census data in context
Happy (Gregorian) new year! This is my first detailed post about artists based on the 2021 census. In case you missed it, I analyzed 2021 census data in a December post about women in arts leadership positions (not artists per se).
This post contains a brief analysis of the number of artists in Canada. It does not contain demographic, financial, or historical analysis. Stay tuned for those – their timing will depend on when I receive custom data from the census.
As discussed in previous posts, I am including 10 specific occupation groups as “artists”:
Actors, comedians, and circus performers
Artisans and craftspersons
Authors and writers (excluding technical writers)
Conductors, composers, and arrangers
Musicians and singers
Painters, sculptors, and other visual artists
Producers, directors, choreographers, and related occupations
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Important considerations regarding census data
Before getting to the counts of artists, I will highlight some important things to keep in mind regarding census data on artists.
Do these data relate to “professional” artists?
This is a common question, and I thought I’d address it right away.
Basically yes, my analysis relates to professional artists, 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.
The census cares not a whit about other notions of “professional”, such as acceptance by peers, a body of work in the field, etc.
One crucial thing to understand about the census definition of workers is that …
Part-time artists who spent more time at another occupation in May of 2021 would be classified in the other occupation.
We know that many artists compile multiple activities into a portfolio career, or at least into a bundle of gigs that (hopefully) earn them a living income. Because many of these artists would be counted in their other job(s), I have always noted that the census tends to undercount artists.
On the other hand, the statistics may include some people who are not pursuing their art professionally but who told Statistics Canada that they worked as an artist in May of 2021 and did not work more at another occupation (e.g., retired people).
“Most artists I know have other jobs. The money is not always consistent. On one hand, you don’t do it for the money, but on the other hand, you don’t want to be taken advantage of. Art = work… and work is work is work.”
-Artist Emma Hassencahl-Perley, quoted in ‘Tea and Bannock’
Setting the context: May of 2021
The pandemic context in the spring of 2021 is important to keep in mind when interpreting census data on artists.
As of May 8, 2021, 39% of Canadians had received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and just 3% had received two doses, according to the Government of Canada. At that time, the country was recovering from the third wave of COVID-19, which at its peak saw the largest number of cases as of that date (see this graph). The federal government had just approved the first vaccine for children between 12 and 15 years of age.
The Canada Recovery Benefit was still in place in May of 2021, providing income support to some of those who needed it.
Arts attendance was still very low as of May 2021. Between the start of the pandemic and May 2021:
Just 6% of Canadian culture goers had attended an indoor arts or cultural performance.
10% of Canadian culture goers had attended an outdoor arts or cultural performance.
14% of Canadian culture goers had visited an art gallery or museum.
These statistics are drawn from the July 2021 issue of the Arts Response Tracking Study.
Between the time of the 2016 census (i.e., the second quarter of 2016) and the time of the 2021 census (the second quarter of 2021), Statistics Canada’s national culture and sport indicators indicate that the direct impact of the arts on Gross Domestic Product had not changed at all, after factoring in inflation. Similarly, total output in the arts (similar to total revenues) had increased by just 0.4% during this 5-year period, after adjusting for inflation.
Please don’t compare my 2021 analysis with my previously published data. Here’s why …
There are some important changes between my analyses of artists in 2016 and 2021:
Photographers have been added to the list of artist occupations. This addition, probably the most significant change from my previous census analysis, increased the number of people counted as artists by more than 10%.
The new category for “authors and writers” excludes technical writers. Previously, this category included technical writers. This will slightly decrease the number of people counted as artists.
Circus performers were removed from the “other performers” category and added to the revised “Actors, comedians, and circus performers” category. Both of these occupation groups remain artist occupations. This change will affect statistics for each occupation group but not the overall estimates of artists.
My data analysis from the 2021 census is not comparable to published reports in the Statistical Insights on the Arts series from prior census years. I will eventually work out appropriate comparisons to previous census years.
Over 200,000 artists in Canada in 2021
There are 202,900 artists in Canada who spent more time at their art than at any other occupation in May of 2021, plus people who were not in the labour force in May of 2021 but had worked more as an artist than any other occupation since the start of 2020.
Artists represent 1.0% of the Canadian labour force, which consists of 20.6 million people.
Examined differently, this means that 1 in every 102 Canadian workers is an artist.
The following graph shows the number of people in each of the 10 artist occupation groups (in alphabetical order).
The two occupation groups with the largest number of artists are musicians and singers (37,500) and producers, directors, choreographers, and related occupations (36,200). There is also a large number of non-technical writers (27,700).
Three visual artist occupations have roughly 20,000 workers: painters, sculptors, and other visual artists (21,500), photographers (20,500), and artisans and craftspeople (19,600). Similarly, there are 19,600 actors, comedians, and circus performers in Canada.
Three artist occupations have fewer than 11,000 workers: dancers (10,900), conductors, composers, and arrangers (3,900), and other performers (5,400).
Qualitative aspects of artists’ working lives
While my posts here are largely focused on statistical information, I also follow and read others who offer insights into the working lives of artists. If intrigued, you might want to check out these writers:
The Creative Independent offers a daily email featuring “interviews, wisdom, and guides that illuminate the trials and tribulations of living a creative life, as told by working artists with insights in the working lives of artists”. (Some of the interviewed artists are Canadians.)
The Craft is a Substack newsletter about “writing & publishing & living a creative life”.
Tea & Bannock is (was?) “a collective blog by indigenous women photographers”.
The Honest Broker, also on Substack, strives to be “a knowledgeable and trustworthy guide in matters of music and culture”.
While I’m recommending other writers … My most liked post so far has been about the environmental practices of arts, heritage, and entertainment organizations. If you were interested in that post, you might also be interested in these Substack newsletters:
Arts and Climate Change, a new offering (in this format) from artist Nicole Kelner (with great visuals).
The Climate Fiction Writers League, with its fairly self-explanatory name.