Starving Artists

 Published on the York University Blog on April  13 2009

     I love hanging out with artists. They’re insightful, vibrant and they challenge my way of thinking. I went to an arts high school and I have heard that a couple people have been able to earn a living in the arts. But I mostly hear about talented people who have had to abandon their artistic passions to survive financially.  I had a friend that tried to make it as an actress who finally had a heart attack due to the stress of the instability of the profession.  

     The Art Gallery of York has just released a report titled Waging Culture: The Socio-economic Status of Canadian Visual ArtistsThe report gives further proof that artists are struggling to make ends meet. The study says that the average annual income for artists is $20 000 which is $7000 below the national median. The study also shows that artists are supporting themselves mostly with the sale of their own art and that government grants only account for 34% of their income.  Artists are making less than those in other fields while they generally have more years of education under their belt.  

     The Canadian government has a long way to go in the development of its support of artists. Harper got into trouble last year with his comment about art being separate from ordinary citizens and was criticized for his $40 million dollar cuts to the arts. The government has to become more aware that our national identity is created for the most part by our artists and entertainers. When I try to boast about my country to visitors one of the first things that I talk about are the famous artists that have resided in this country.  

     A recent Toronto Star article suggested that the government should allow artists to average their income over 5 years to get better tax benefits.  Also that there should be more funding for organizations like CBC, the NFB and Telefilm. The author spoke of a New York program where workspaces are subsidized for artists. The article also claimed that artist spaces need to be protected from developers.  The government also needs to create more tax incentives for filming in major cities.

     There are some positive developments for Toronto artists and the thriving artistic community at York University.  ACTRA will open a credit union to provide financial services to artists. Also the city has helped to open the Wychwood Barns, at 76 Wychwood Ave, that houses artist spaces in recently renovated barns. Recently Canadian artists supported the Performing Arts Lodges that help artists with their health and housing concerns. The artists held Scrabble With the Stars which donated the proceeds of the day’s event to the lodge. There are also great art co operatives and organizations in the city.  

     I try to support local artists by donating at shows, trying to buy new artists’ CDs and giving money to buskers. I think that we just have to be more aware of the talent in the city and promote great artists in our circle of friends. Canadians should be able to promote their country through their arts. And our artists should not have to starve to contribute to the identity of a nation.


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