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Study of Canadian Arts Worker Salaries Finds Stagnant Growth and Shrinking Benefits

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It’s tough out there for arts workers. (image by the author for Hyperallergic)

As most professionals in the arts sector know, love of the game can be one of the only benefits. As reported by the Canadian Art Foundation, a recent study performed by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Department of Canadian Heritage, dubbed the “2017 National Compensation Study – For Managerial and Administrative Positions in Not-for-Profit Arts Organizations” — which followed up on data last collected for a 2008 survey — revealed very little in the way of salary growth within Canada’s professional arts sector, and an attendant shrinking of benefits, especially retirement savings plans.

The study polls 426 organizations in the not-for-profit cultural sector in Canada, measured across 21 benchmarks, including wage increases, base salaries for top-tier executives, benefits, human resource priorities, and others. Results not only showed repressed growth in arts sector wages relative to the 2008 study, but found the arts lagging behind other sectors in terms of the compensation, long-term benefits, and subsequent retention of employees.

(all images derived from 2017 National Compensation Study – For Managerial and Administrative Positions in Not-for-Profit Arts Organizations unless indicated otherwise)

For example, the average employee turnover rate for arts sector workers in 2017 was calculated to be 13.3% — and though this represented a decrease from a staggering 20.3% in 2008, it is still nearly twice as high as the all-industry average of 7.1%. Smaller non-profit arts organizations (considered to be those with an annual operating budget under $1 million Canadian dollars) found that employees were routinely expected to take on a wider variety of functions to meet their organizational goals, often combining the responsibilities of multiple roles into a single position. Unable to offer competitive salaries or benefits — three-to-five times lower than those offered by organizations with annual operating budgets over $5 million — these small and mid-sized organizations often compensate with alternative methods to attract and retain staff.

“For example, 73% of organizations with operating budgets under $1,000,000 offer flexible work arrangements,” said the study. “This issue remains significant in an industry where the vast majority of organizations have operating budgets under $1,000,000.” This study was first performed in 2003, due to a growing sense of urgency in the not-for-profit arts sector, as a generation of arts managers and leaders were leaving the workforce and “the question of succession loomed large.”

A table from the 2017 National Compensation Study – For Managerial and Administrative Positions in Not-for-Profit Arts Organizations

One implication not explicitly examined by the study is the interrelationship between a sector that demonstrates very little potential for salary and wage growth, while demanding increasingly expensive post-graduate credentials from its candidates — even in Canada, where the cost of higher education is much lower compared to the United States. Top-tier arts sector workers are often tacitly expected to hold MAs and MFAs — and now, perhaps even PhDs — creating an opening for crippling student loan debt in a field with less potential to put employees in a position to pay off those loans and justify the expense of their qualifying education.

A table from the 2017 National Compensation Study – For Managerial and Administrative Positions in Not-for-Profit Arts Organizations

Certain study findings followed logical disparities between small and large organizations, for examples that larger orgs were two to three times more likely to offer a comprehensive benefits package than smaller ones (which were more likely to offer limited benefits or none at all). These findings remained consistent with the study results from 2003 and 2008, but are wildly out of step with the general scope of Canada’s other sectors — according to Mercer’s 2017 Worldwide Benefit and Employment Guidelines, 85–95% of Canadian companies provide health-related benefits.

A table from the 2017 National Compensation Study – For Managerial and Administrative Positions in Not-for-Profit Arts Organizations

This study provides yet more evidence in the ongoing effort to collect data on disparities in and among arts sector workers, creating an official record that reveals an international industry rife with issues of unfair compensation and representation. One must question if there are prevalent underlying concepts about the nature of art, its role in society, and its advancement and preservation, that enable the continued disregard of the need for job security and financial stability among its workforce. As organizations including Creative Capital and Creative Many work tirelessly to prove, arts sector work is significant to the economic health of advanced nations. One has to wonder how many studies must be conducted before sweeping change will come to an industry that continues to hold little material allure beyond the opportunity to “do what you love” for a living.

The entire “2017 National Compensation Study – For Managerial and Administrative Positions in Not-for-Profit Arts Organizations” is available from the Cultural Human Resources Council.

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Photos: Piedmont Park Arts Festival

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  1. Photos: Piedmont Park Arts Festival  Atlanta Journal Constitution
  2. Full coverage



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Fine arts and theater notes, Aug. 19

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Martha Berry was awarded the grand prize for her beaded bandolier bag titled “The Orange Monster’s Masquerade Ball.” Berry has been recognized at the show many times and this is her third time being honored with the grand prize.

The premier Cherokee art show runs through Sept. 22 and features 92 pieces by 60 artists, divided into traditional and contemporary categories. Artists competed for a share of more than $10,000, sponsored by Cherokee Nation businesses.

For a list of winners, go to anadisgoi.com. For more information, go to cherokeeheritage.org.

UCO gallery hosts national photo contest

University of Central Oklahoma’s Woody Gaddis Gallery invites the community to enter the fourth annual national photo contest, “Modern Tribalism: Polarization and the Social Connect/Social Disconnect.”

This year’s theme encourages artists to submit work that embraces, fights against or questions modern tribalism through photography.

Participants may submit up to three works, which can include traditional darkroom, digital, alternative process and manipulated images. There is no entry fee. The deadline for digital submissions is Aug. 26, and the deadline for physical submissions is Sept. 21.

For submission requirements, go to sites.uco.edu/la/masscomm/photocontestnational.asp or contact Cejda Mackey at acjeda@uco.edu or 974-5887.

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This Ottawa arts centre film program is giving 'newcomer youth a voice'

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An Ottawa arts centre is hoping to inspire young people from the city's refugee and immigrant communities to use video to tell stories — especially their own.

SAW Video has partnersed with the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization to launch a six-week video production program for youth between the ages of 13 and 24. 

Filmmakers Radamis Zaky and Aia Raafat are helping 10 youth conceive, shoot, direct and edit short videos about their experiences as newcomers to Canada.

Zaky told CBC Radio's In Town and Out that he felt the need to share his skills.

"These young people are excellent in telling stories. And they know how to tell stories. They are always on the social media," Zaky said.

"[But] they need to [learn the] basics. They need to understand the different shots, the different frames, different editing techniques." 

A partnership between SAW and the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization created a new six weeks video production and filmmaking program specifically for newcomers, immigrant and refugee teens. 13:00

The next generation  

The program, called New Voices, is hoping to remove some of the barriers young people who are newcomers to Canada may face trying to learn video production.

Once they complete their final projects, participants will receive a certificate and have access to SAW Video's facilities and equipment. 

"This program is very valuable because it gives newcomer youth a voice," said Gabby Calugay-Casuga, a literary arts student at Canterbury High School who's enrolled in the program.  

"I think it's really great that we take a really diverse group and we are all pushed into a media setting and get to make films."

The program also teaches students about sound, lighting, composition and special effects. They'll eventually use those skills to create documentaries, dramatic films and experimental films.

"We started from the basics — and I needed that," Calugay-Casuga said.

'Sort of a therapy'

Some of the program's students are hesitant at first to share their stories, Zaky said.

Sometimes that's because they're too shy, but other times it's because they feel their stories are too despairing, he explained.

One of the program's students, Zaky said, is telling his story about the abuse he faced from teachers in one of the host countries he lived in as a refugee — and how that experience initially made him feel afraid in Canada. 

"This program is beyond just teaching the kids the basics of the video production … I would argue that this is sort of a therapy," Zaky said. 

One brilliant way for people to know each other is to watch… films.– Radamis   Zaky ,  filmmaker and New Voices Instructor 

"The program is helping them express frustration and also [recover] a little bit from the trauma that they had in their transition … from their countries of origin until they came to Canada." 

The films the students produce will be screened sometime this fall, he added. 

"People need to understand and to know each other," Zaky said. "And one brilliant way for people to know each other is to watch … films."

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