The arts sector includes artists and organizations working in disciplines such as dance, music, theatre, visual arts, media arts, and literary arts, as well as interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and emerging art forms.

Artists and arts organizations are supported by professional producers, agents, technicians, administrators, fundraisers, marketers, publicists, curators, critics and educators. They are further supported by educational and training institutions and other bodies such as arts service organizations, guilds, unions, and trade associations. The sector includes artistic research and experimentation, creation, production and dissemination, and marketing and promotion, as well as participation and engagement by the wider public.

Forty-three percent of Canada’s artists live in Ontario. In 2011, one in every 115 workers in the province was an artist, approximately 58,100 in all, of which 52% were women. In 2011, 16% of Ontario artists belonged to a visible minority group,footnote 92 24% were first generation immigrants, and almost 2% were First Nations, Métis and Inuit. The number of artists in Ontario grew rapidly between 1989 and 2013, increasing by 48% compared with 34% for the overall Ontario workforce.footnote 93

Arts organizations include theatre companies, dance companies, orchestras, music groups, performing arts presenters, art galleries, auction houses, festivals, artist-run centres, studios, and community venues. In 2013-2014, the Ontario Arts Council provided support to 1,095 not-for-profit arts organizations across the province.footnote 94

For a more comprehensive environmental scan of the arts sector, please consult, Robyn Jeffrey & Elizabeth MacKinnon, Ontario Arts Council: 2013 Environmental Scan.footnote 95


Artists are at the core of the arts sector. The Status of Ontario’s Artists Act, enacted in 2007, formally recognizes their social and economic contributions to the province.footnote 96

A key characteristic of the working life of Ontario’s artists is the high level of self-employment. About half of all Ontario artists (47%) are self-employed (compared with 10% of the overall Ontario labour force).footnote 97

Creators and other self-employed workers in the arts face challenges with precarious status, career self-management, inadequate or fluctuating income and benefits, and instability of work.footnote 98 Nevertheless, jobs in the arts are generally associated with higher levels of well-being and offer greater personal autonomy.footnote 99

Though typically highly educated, artists earn about 30% less than the average Ontario worker. On average, Ontario artists earned $34,900 from all sources in 2011. Half of all Ontario artists earned $23,200 or less.footnote 100 Among the lowest-earning artists across Canada are dancers, artisans, and visual artists. These are disciplines in which women make up the majority.footnote 101

There are also gender-related earnings gaps in arts management. For example, in art museums across North America, women hold fewer than 50% of directorships, and the average female museum director’s salary lags behind that of the average male director. In the United States, disparity is greatest at the largest art museums, where women hold only 24% of directorships and female directors earn an average of 71% of male directors’ earnings.footnote 102

Some artists and other freelance arts workers pursue “portfolio careers,” drawing on many skills and interests to create multiple revenue streams through multiple lines of work.footnote 103 This is a choice for some and a necessity for others.footnote 104

Unlike most other professions, the overwhelming majority of artists do not retire.footnote 105 As the growing artist population extends working life well into senior years, demand will grow for programs that provide income security adapted to the needs of artists, such as flexible models of retirement benefits and affordable housing.footnote 106

Engagement in the arts

Exposure to the arts and participation in artistic activities inspires Ontarians of all ages and backgrounds. The vast majority of Ontarians believe that the arts help enrich the quality of their lives, and that arts activities are valuable to their communities.footnote 107

Virtually all Ontarians take part in arts activities of some sort. For example, 99% of Ontarians engage at least once a year in music activities, 98% in visual arts, crafts, or film activities, and 64% in theatre activities.footnote 108 In 2010, 73% of Ontarians attended a performing arts or cultural event. In the same year, 36% of Ontarians visited an art gallery.footnote 109 Studies show, however, that nationwide attendance rates are lower among people with disabilities, seniors, and visible minorities.footnote 110

Volunteering is another significant form of participation in the arts. Arts organizations funded by the Ontario Arts Council logged 1.7 million volunteer hours in 2011-2012.footnote 111

First Nation, Métis and Inuit peoples report significantly higher levels of engagement in creative activities compared with the rest of the Ontario population. Activities include writing fiction, arts learning (for example, music classes), and community-based arts including social dancing.footnote 112

Social and economic benefits of the arts

The arts have inherent value and make valuable contributions to the quality of life in Ontario’s communities. They widen individual perspectives, give voice to points of view and aspirations, stimulate curiosity, and bind people together in shared experiences. The arts are increasingly recognized as an important factor in wellness.footnote 113

For youth, there is a demonstrated link between the arts and improved education outcomes.footnote 114 For example, music education contributes to the development of hard skills such as math, logic, and cognitive processing.footnote 115 Arts education programs have been shown to build skills in critical inquiry and lateral thinking.footnote 116

Artists and arts organizations offer arts education programs for learners of all ages and engage in outreach activities in their communities.footnote 117 Arts in learning environments is associated with a wide range of social benefits, such as increased self-esteem, resiliency, and enhanced discovery skills. Youth engagement in the arts has been demonstrated to promote social relationship skills.footnote 118

The arts are also important to Ontario’s economic health, contributing $936 million to GDP and creating 24,786 jobs in 2010.footnote 119

Key trends

Evolving demographics and arts practices

Ontario’s demographic trends are mirrored in a blossoming of diverse art forms, activities, and services.footnote 120 Studies have linked cultural diversity amongst artists to the development of hybrid artistic practices that combine traditional and contemporary art forms, particularly by artists trained in both traditional and contemporary practices.footnote 121 This evolving arts scene brings opportunities for greater engagement by diverse Ontario audiences, along with the challenge of accommodating new artists and art forms within the existing physical and fiscal environments.

In the past two decades, “Deaf and disability arts” has gained recognition in Canada as an emerging field of practice. Key concerns for these artists are access to funding, access to training, and access to physical resources such as training institutions, performing arts venues, and art galleries.footnote 122 The Ontario Art Council’s latest strategic plan designates Deaf artists and artists with disabilities as a priority group and has established distinct programs and services addressing their needs.footnote 123

Responding to an aging population, collaborations are forming to place the arts in settings concerned with healthy aging.footnote 124 The Ontario Trillium Foundation supports a number of community-based projects that engage seniors in arts and cultural activities. Projects are built on the themes of Active People, Connected People, and Inspired People. Some other jurisdictions have added arts programs for seniors to their program offerings (e.g., Vancouver’s Healthy Aging Through the Arts project).footnote 125 The challenge is to ensure that the artists have appropriate supports through collaboration with health and elder-care professionals. The Vancouver program, now expanded to other parts of British Columbia, matches professional artists with people working in the seniors’ services field.footnote 126

Artists, especially young artists, are increasingly interested in working with other sectors such as environment, justice, or human rights.footnote 127 Collaborations between artists, the scientific community, and cultural industries can drive innovation in artistic expression, creative tools, and products. In Ontario, the Adjacent Possibilities in art+energy project of the Studio Y fellowship program of MaRS (a registered charity) is bringing artists and energy entrepreneurs together to reframe how climate change is considered.footnote 128

Some First Nations, Métis or Inuit artists are experimenting with and developing hybrid Indigenous art forms that bring together traditional worldviews with contemporary art practices.footnote 129 Many jurisdictions have developed policies and funding structures to encourage Indigenous arts.  The Ontario Arts Council has an Aboriginal Arts Office with dedicated staff and programs.footnote 130

Digital technologies

New digital technologies are having a sustained and dramatic impact on artistic creation, production, and dissemination.footnote 131 Artists are making creative and innovative use of new digital technologies in all disciplines, including live performing arts, visual arts, crafts, and the media arts. As digital media has become increasingly integrated into the work of artists and arts organizations in the past decade, digital distribution is increasingly taking their work to new, global audiences.

The arts sector faces two significant challenges arising from the rapid evolution of digital technology. One is the need for skills development to build and sustain capacity to fully embrace opportunities for creation, marketing, and promotion.footnote 132 The other challenge is revenue generation and fair compensation from digital distribution. Consumers now have unprecedented access to a wide range of creative works via the Internet, and they are able to make perfect digital copies. This threatens the economic returns and protections that copyright laws are meant to provide to writers, composers, performers, visual artists, filmmakers, and others.footnote 133

The fiscal environment

Demand for financial support for the arts is expected to grow throughout Canada.footnote 134 Increasing arts activity by emerging artists and arts organizations is challenging traditional arts funders to do more within their existing resources.footnote 135

Ontario's not-for-profit arts organizations have three main revenue sources: earned revenue, private sector giving, and government (all levels) support. On average, private sector giving represents 27% of an arts organization's total revenues.footnote 136

Private giving is changing around the world and across all charitable sectors, including the arts. Recent research shows that many trusts, foundations, and major donors are shifting to a more strategic approach. This generally involves narrowing the scope of their giving, seeking closer engagement with funding recipients, and an increased interest in measuring and evaluating impact.footnote 137 The challenge for Ontario's arts sector will be to develop the capacity to meet these new demands and to continue to access this vital support. They will also need to continue to explore new sources of revenues and new operating strategies.

Greater collaboration with the business sector is one way in which arts organizations are accessing new funding. The business sector can open doors to philanthropists and corporate sponsors.footnote 138 Americans for the Arts in the USfootnote 139 and Business for the Arts in Canadafootnote 140 promote partnerships between business and the arts for mutual benefit. Strategic partnerships with other organizations, whether in business, the arts, or other not-for-profit sectors, can enhance audience development as well as attracting additional revenues.footnote 141

The traditional model of the not-for-profit organization is not well adapted to all artistic work. To meet the needs of artists and their projects, new organizational models are emerging. Examples include social enterprise models and not-for-profit service providers that offer a range of professional services to eliminate the need for in-house expertise.

In the US, Fractured Atlas facilitates fiscal sponsorship and offers a number of tools for artists and arts organizations, including insurance coverage, a computer program designed to manage tickets, events, and donations, and a matchmaking tool for renters and providers of creative spaces. footnote 142 This last tool, Spacefinder, operates in 11 US cities and recently expanded into Canada with the launch of Spacefinder Toronto.footnote 143 Creative Partnerships Australia (CPA), a not-for-profit organization supported by the Australian government through the Ministry for the Arts, is another model. CPA has status as a Deductible Gift Recipient, giving it the ability to provide receipts for tax-deductible philanthropic gifts directed by donors to individual artists, organizations, or projects.

Several jurisdictions are considering charitable platforms that can host artists’ projects, eliminating the need for multiple incorporations.footnote 144 In Canada, the challenge in pursuing this is current tax law prohibiting charitable corporations from flowing funds anywhere but to other incorporated, registered charities.

Powered by social media networks, crowdfunding allows organizations and individual artists to access seed funding to launch new initiatives. Crowdfunding also allows supporters to engage with creators and the creative process. Some (e.g., Kickstarter, Indiegogo) lend support to help projects reach their fundraising targets, but to be successful, crowdfunding requires expertise as well as sufficient human and financial resources.footnote 145