One in every five professional artists in Canada resides in a rural area or a small town

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This article offers a statistical analysis of artists who reside in the rural areas and small towns of Canada, based on custom data that Hill Strategies requested from Statistics Canada’s 2021 long-form census. The article is quite long, because there are many details about artists in rural areas and small towns, including:

  • Number of artists in rural areas, small towns, and both size categories combined

  • Types of artists in rural communities and small towns

  • Demographics of artists in rural areas and small towns

  • Incomes of artists in rural areas and small towns

Brief statistical summaries of arts leaders and all cultural workers in rural areas and small towns are also provided.

Next week, I’ll examine similar statistics for each province.

“Rural areas and small towns” include all communities with less than 30,000 residents, which is a combination of Statistics Canada’s categories for rural communities (defined as areas “with less than 1,000 inhabitants and a population density less than 400 people per square kilometre”) and small towns (my term, referring to “small population centres, with a population between 1,000 and 29,999”), The counts of artists can be combined for these two groupings, but only separate income estimates were requested.

  • The 202,900 professional artists in Canada represent 1.0% of the national labour force. A finer analysis shows that 1 in every 102 Canadian workers is an artist.

  • 56,200 Canadians work in the five occupation groups that are classified as arts leaders. Readers should note that all arts leadership occupations are included as cultural workers, and two occupations (conductors / composers and producers / directors / choreographers) are also included as artists. As such, the number of arts leadership workers should not be added to the number of cultural workers or artists.

  • The broadest category – cultural workers – includes 914,000 Canadians who work in 52 occupation groups in the arts, culture, and heritage. These workers represent 4.4% of the Canadian labour force. One in every 23 Canadian workers has a cultural occupation. This category includes both artists and arts leadership occupations, so the number of artists and arts leaders should not be added to the number of cultural workers.

The occupational perspective in this article 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.

More national statistics are available in this article. For a deeper dive on the occupation classifications, please see my articles on the methods behind choosing the 52 cultural occupation groups and the strengths and limitations of the census for counting artists and cultural workers.

Census data indicate that there are 41,500 professional artists in rural communities and small towns.

As a share of all professional artists in Canada, 20% reside in rural areas and small towns, compared with 74% who reside in cities with over 100,000 population, and 6% who reside in cities with populations between 30,000 and 99,999.

There are 25,600 artists who reside in rural communities and 15,900 who reside in small towns. The proportion of artists in the overall labour force is the same in both rural communities and small towns (0.7%), below the national average of 1.0%.

In the census, artists must spend more time as artists than in any other occupation to be classified into an artist occupation group. More specifically, occupational data from the census are based on the number of people who worked more hours in an occupation than in any other between May 1 and 8, 2021, plus people who were not in the labour force at that time but had worked more in that occupation than any other between January of 2020 and May of 2021.

The prevalence of “gig work” and the often-atypical nature of artists’ workflows can make it challenging for official statistics to count artists as artists. As such, census estimates of the number of artists might be low.

It is possible, but lacking statistical evidence, that artists in smaller communities may be more likely than their larger city counterparts to work more at another profession than as an artist.

My recent national survey of artists and other cultural workers found that the 70% of rural artists have multiple jobs, which is similar to the multiple job-holding rate among urban artists (73%). Readers should be aware that the rural sample was fairly small, and these results should not be considered definitive. The survey received 97 responses from rural residents, including 59 artists and 38 other cultural workers.

Because of the smaller sample size in rural areas, the results of an even more detailed question (about whether respondents worked more hours in their main job or another occupation) cannot be considered reliable.

The remainder of this article examines many other statistics related to rural and small town artists, including their artist occupation groups, their demographics, distribution by province and territory, as well as their incomes. At the end of the article, brief summaries of workers in arts leadership occupations and those in all occupations in the arts, culture, and heritage are provided.



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