Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

A poor time to be a writer

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Some time ago my friend the author James Grainger sent me a link to a YouTube video in which famed "speculative fiction" writer Harlan Ellison spoke quite...er...forcefully about the sort of treatment writers often get from those who want to use their work. It is an entertaining venting from Ellison, but also a sad one if you are a professional writer, because you will understand that what he is saying contains more than a grain of truth. (Try a boulder.)

Though I agree wholeheartedly with everything Ellison says in this clip, I was wavering about posting the video here, because I thought it might just come off as a tad too vitriolic. But then, sometimes vitriol is warranted. Just a few days ago a company called Hill Strategies in Hamilton, Ontario released a study titled “A Statistical Profile of Artists in Canada Based on the 2006 Census”. The study looks at the income levels and standard of living for artists in Canada, including actors, authors (though not journalists), choreographers, craftspeople, composers, conductors, dancers, directors, musicians, producers, singers and visual artists. Here are some of their findings:

•The average earnings of artists are $22,700, compared with an average of $36,300 for all Canadian workers.
•The gap between artists’ average earnings and overall labour force earnings is 37%.
•To bridge the earnings gap and bring the average earnings of artists up to the same level as the overall labour force would require an additional $1.9 billion in earnings for artists.
•The average earnings of artists are only 9% higher than Statistics Canada’s low-income cutoff for a single person living in a community of 500,000 people or more ($20,800).
•62% of artists earn less than $20,000, compared with 41% of the overall labour force.
•Six of the nine arts occupations have average earnings that are less than Statistics Canada’s low‐income cutoff for a single person living in a community of 500,000 people or more ($20,800).
•A typical artist in Canada earns less than half the typical earnings of all Canadian workers.
•Artists’ earnings decreased, even before the current recession.
•There are more female than male artists, yet women artists earn much less than men.
•Economic returns to higher education are much lower for artists than for other workers.
•There are relatively few opportunities for full‐time work in the arts.

I feel we—Canada—should be collectively shamed by these stats and facts. Poverty is the cost of having your own voice in this society.

Enjoy the video.

7 comments

To me, that last one is particularly illuminating and sad. Our society only recognizes a person's ability if they can make money off it. I'm sure there are many mom's out there who understand what that feels like.

Working in the arts (even as an editor) is usually financially grim. I guess the trade off is doing something you love versus wanted to kill yourself before every workday? How do you suggest we remedy this problem? Funds from the government? How would they get distributed... who would be on the selected committee to decide who gets funding? Maybe more people would want to be artists!

Whether to undercut or not is a difficult decision, especially for new writers. If we continue to be asked to undercut our work, there must be writers who are willing to do it. And if we do, the pool of writers they can draw from will increase, making it harder for all of us to obtain fair payment. On the other hand, the more you get your name out there, the better your chances will be that when you have a completed manuscript to solicit to publishers, it will be read by the editor who recognizes your name instead of by an intern eight months later on their lunch hour.

The clip is great - but i found those stats pretty staggering. not surprising but disappointing maybe? wasn't there also one about there are almost as many artists as there are people working in the auto sector? And yet we have so much less political clout.

@snickerzmom First, sorry for getting your name wrong in my other reply. The text is small and my eyes are old. In answer to your question, I went back to the folks who compiled the survey because I wanted to be certain. Here's what they said:

"Annual earnings include all employment positions (including secondary jobs), not just artistic activities. As stated in the report: 'The earnings statistics include amounts received from all employment and self-employment positions in 2005, not just the position at which the respondent worked the most hours during the census reference week.'"

So those annual income figures in the report do indeed include wages from "day jobs" such as money earned by the proverbial actor working as a waiter.

It should be made clear, however, that the stats do not include the following:
-people working as elementary or secondary school teachers
-income to writers from work in journalism
-money received from grants
-artists who did not declare any income from their artwork

To me, that last one is particularly illuminating and sad. Our society only recognizes a person's ability if they can make money off it. I'm sure there are many mom's out there who understand what that feels like.

I didn't even notice the typo..letters are too small for me too!

Thanks for the answers. It is truly sad that those incomes were so low & included all sources. We really don't value/support the arts in Canada as we should.

I feel that the arts have been perpetually underfunded in Canada, and as a result, I choose to support the arts and education. Currently I am supporting two organizations on a monthly basis, one related to music and the other runs schools for girls in developing nations.

It is unfortunate that artists are typically so underpaid. I am curious, did the study discuss anything about artists carrying more than one job to earn a living? Most of the artists I know, do.