Baker Rheanna Melnick AKA musician Feed the Birds (CBC)
A few things to think about before you ditch your day job:
A 2001 Statistics Canada study on the status of artists reported that artists had, generally speaking, "very low income." Not just low, mind you, but "very low." By 2006, Stats Can stated that artists -- and this category includes dancers, singers, actors, performers, musicians, composers, arrangers, visual artists, crafts persons, writers, authors and comedians -- earned an average annual income of $22,700, meaning that 62% were living under the single-person low-income cut-off. The financial situation was even worse for aboriginal, immigrant and visible minority artists.
Clearly, the money is lousy, but passion seems to count for something. "Can't regret what I did for love," as those (probably underpaid) Broadway performers sing in A Chorus Line. Between 1971 and 2001, the number of Canadians working as artists tripled, compared to an increase of 10% across the general workforce.
Art isn't just some fancy add-on to "the real world." The cultural sector is a crucial cog in the Canadian economy. In 2002, the cultural industries contributed $40 billion to Canada's GDP. (In contrast, mining and oil and gas extraction contributed $35.4 billion.) Twice as many people work in Canada's cultural sector as in Canadian banks.
So, if art creates not just intangible benefits (cultural identity, urban revitalization, the development of creative and critical thinking) but also bottom-line boosts, why don't artists earn more? Why do so many have to subsidize their art by waiting tables or working in call centres, by scrimping and saving and eating Mr. Noodle for supper?
Part of it comes down to attitudes. Take the case of the visual artist. For much of Western history, painters and sculptors were average working Joes and Janes. They formed guilds, passed down the trade to their kids, got regular gigs from absolute monarchs and the established church. But by the 19th century, they were freelancers, hanging out in bohemia, drinking absinthe and having disastrous love affairs. They had more opportunity for self-expression but less steady income.
There seems to be a societal fear that if being an artist paid as well as being a chartered accountant or an orthodontist, we'd all want to be artists. And then who would find tax loopholes and put braces on our children's teeth? Poor incomes are also tied to a lingering puritan suspicion that art is too much fun to be labour.
Some of these attitudes might change, though, as we all face a massive redefinition of work. The pin-straight career path, the job-for-life, the gold watch in your 25th year of service -- these are all disappearing. Most people will work in several different jobs, often redirecting, retraining, or going back to school in mid- or late life. More people are looking for balance between work and life, money and time, job security and job satisfaction, and that balance can shift during different stages of life. Flex-time matters most when your kids are little, while pension needs loom as you confront your fifties.
The whole concept of the day job is changing. And in this, as in many things, artists could lead the way.
Alison Gillmor, CBC reviewer