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  • Putting Artists and Cultural Workers on the Map

    Putting Artists and Cultural Workers on the Map

    Who is an artist? Who is a cultural worker? These are NOT simple questions. Answering these questions requires us to first define the terms “arts” and “culture” – and that is no easy task!

    Raymond Williams, considered the ‘father of British cultural studies’, referred to culture as “one of the most complicated words in the English language.” It is hard to disagree.

    One of the most difficult aspects of building a cultural map for Ottawa has been determining what to include – and conversely, what not to include. Broadly defined, ‘culture’ can include almost anything: from singing in a choir to watching a hockey game.

    For the purposes of this website, the project team decided to start with these eight categories of cultural resources: built heritage; cultural events and festivals; cultural facilities and spaces; not-for-profit cultural organizations; cultural and creative businesses; cultural umbrella and service organizations; natural heritage; and public art. Definitions have been created for these categories. Even with those definitions in place, there have still been tough decisions regarding what to include/not include in each category, and inevitably some things have likely been missed. If you feel like something is missing from one of the eight categories, we encourage you to contribute to the map. We also welcome your input in the comments space below regarding the definitions. Are they too broad? Too narrow? Are there additional categories that should be considered?

    One the of additional category that we will be adding is for individual artists and other people who do cultural work or who work in the cultural sector. Building out this category will be a much bigger task than populating any of the current eight categories. Right now, there are about 2,000 cultural resources in the database. By comparison, census data from 2006 (the last long form census) showed that there were 4,600 artists in Ottawa. That is only a small fraction of the 22,500 ‘cultural workers’ that were in Ottawa at that time (see Hill Strategies, Mapping Artists and Cultural Workers in Canada’s Large Cities, 2008). Those numbers are likely to be even bigger now as the city has continued to grow.

    Building a reliable database of even a fraction of the thousands of artists and cultural workers in Ottawa will not be easy. However, it is a worthwhile endeavour. While a census can provide statistics on how many artists and cultural workers live in each part of the city, it cannot give us any information about these individuals. Unlike the census, an artists/cultural workers database will be able to specify who works where, provide contact information, and show who is looking for what opportunities, who needs space and for what, and so on. Building this database could support collaboration in the cultural sector, while showing the size and reach of this part of Ottawa’s workforce.

    So let’s return to the questions at the start of this article. Who is an “artist”? Who is a “cultural worker”? Part of the difficulty in answering these questions stems from the fact that most of the established definitions have been created with a specific purpose in mind. For example, the City of Ottawa’s Cultural Funding Program, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Canada Council for the Arts all have definitions for “professional artists”, since that is who is eligible for their individual grants, but do not have definitions for artists more generally.

    The Hill Strategies study referenced earlier probably offers the most applicable definitions, as this study had somewhat similar objectives as the City’s cultural mapping project. The Hill Strategies team wanted to show the full breadth of the cultural sector in Canada’s major cities (including Ottawa), and to understand where artists and cultural workers are located within these cities. They defined artists as including: actors and comedians; artisans and craftspersons; authors and writers (excluding journalists); conductors, composers, and arrangers; dancers; musicians and singers; other performers; painters, sculptors, and other visual artists; and producers, directors, choreographers, and related occupations. Cultural workers are defined in the Hill Strategies study as including “creative, production, technical, and management occupations in the areas of broadcasting, film/video, sound recording, performing arts, publishing, printing, libraries, archives, heritage, architecture, and design.” (Hill Strategies, 2008)

    The list of occupations included as artists was selected following discussions with arts councils and funding bodies. Each occupation is recognized and defined by Statistics Canada, making it possible to use census data in the study. However, this categorization has limits. For example, there is no category for filmmakers, though they may be captured in other categories. Also, the authors and writers category is quite broad. Even though journalists are excluded, this category likely still includes a lot of writers who are not writing creative, original work, so does it really make sense to consider all of them artists? (Hill Strategies, 2008)

    The areas in which cultural workers can work (broadcasting, film/video, sound recording, performing arts, publishing, printing, libraries, archives, heritage, architecture, and design) do not explicitly include the visual arts, though arguably that could overlap with areas such as printing and design. Also, one might argue that there are other areas that ought to be included, such as the culinary arts.

    Despite those limitations, the Hill Strategies study is the most comprehensive study to date that looks at artists and cultural workers in Ottawa. The fact that the categories are clearly defined and were developed in partnership with key groups in the cultural sector makes this a good starting point for developing a framework for putting artists and cultural workers on the map. That said, there are numerous other ways of defining and categorizing artists and cultural workers, and this project remains a work-in-progress.

    As we begin to build a list of artists and cultural workers in Ottawa, we welcome your input into what should be included. Also, if you feel that you should be on this list, please let us know. 

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