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  • What was learned from mapping artists and cultural workers?

    What was learned from mapping artists and cultural workers?

    Artists help make their communities beautiful and vibrant places. Artists can entertain and inspire us – and neighbourhoods that are rich in artistic character are great places to live, work, and enjoy. Fortunately, Ottawa has plenty of artists – thousands of them, in fact. At the time of the 2006 census (the last long form census), there were 4,600 artists in Ottawa, which was a 9% increase from the previous census in 2001. There were also 22,500 cultural workers.

    Having information about where artists and cultural workers live can help determine what impact they have on neighbourhoods. Plus, this information can shed light on some of the challenges these artists and cultural workers may face, such as gentrification and the rising cost of space. Though artists and cultural workers give a lot to their communities, they are not always well compensated. In fact, the same census referenced above, also showed that Ottawa artists earn over 50% less than the average Ottawa worker.

    It is for these reasons that many cities have become interested in knowing where artists and cultural workers are located. In 2008, Ottawa was one of five Canadian cities – along with Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, and Calgary – that took part in a study led by Hill Strategies that set out to map artists and cultural workers using census data.

    The Study

    The researchers divided each city using postal code prefixes (the first three digits), as this was how they were able to get census data. Canada Post refers to these areas as “Forward Sortation Areas”, but they are more commonly called “postal regions”. Unfortunately, postal regions do not correspond perfectly with neighbourhoods, but are often fairly close in urban areas (i.e. Vanier is K1L). Unlike the other four cities in the Hill Strategies study, the City of Ottawa includes a large rural area. Postal regions in this part of Ottawa often cover very large areas that include a mix of rural villages, agricultural lands, and ‘exurbs’ (essentially suburbs – just further out from the urban core). This needs to be considered when reviewing Hill Strategies’ findings for Ottawa.

    The Hill Strategies study 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 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.”

    The definitions are limited by the way that census data is collected. 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 it is not clear that all of these people should really be counted as artists. Additionally, art teachers are captured by the census as teachers (not artists), and there is no way of distinguishing art teachers from other teachers, so they could not be included in the study.

    Another issue is that the census only asks which occupation the respondent did most during the Census Reference Week (usually a week in May). Therefore, part-time artists that have another full-time job would not be counted, nor would artists who were not working that week (i.e. artists working for a theatre company whose season had ended). As well, there is a disconnect between the census questions that ask about occupation and earnings. While the respondents are asked for the occupation they did most during the Census Reference Week, they are asked for their total employment earnings from the previous year, even if this money was earned from working in other occupations.

    One final limitation of the census data is that it can tell us where artists and cultural workers live, but not where they work. However, the City itself already collects data on where businesses are located within Ottawa and how many people work at each of these businesses and in which occupations. It could be interesting to compare these two datasets to see if the neighbourhoods in which creative work takes place are also the neighbourhoods in which artists and cultural workers live. This is one of the reasons the City of Ottawa decided to undertake a cultural mapping project – to compare different datasets from different sources to uncover new information about Ottawa’s cultural sector.


    Despite its limitations, the census is still a great source of data. It is by far the largest survey in the country, and Canadian residents are required by law to fill it out. The Hill Strategies study made some interesting findings in Ottawa, which we will now be able to consider along with the other information that we have about Ottawa’s neighbourhoods and cultural sector.

    Artists and cultural workers are not an insignificant part of Ottawa’s workforce. As noted above, there were 4,600 artists in Ottawa, which was a 9% increase from the previous census in 2001. There were also 22,500 cultural workers. This is despite the fact that the census did not count part-time artists and cultural workers that have another job to which they devote more time. Also excluded were people who work part of the year as an artist or cultural worker, but were not doing this work during the Census Reference Week. There was substantial variation in earnings between neighbourhoods, but only in the K2A postal region (west side of Westboro) did the average artist earn more than the (approximately) $35, 300 that the average Ottawa worker earned in 2005. This means that it is not unreasonable to expect that many artists need to do other work to supplement their income, so the census data may actually be understating the number of artists in the city. Interestingly, cultural workers actually earned 9% more than the city average, so the cultural sector can (and does) provide a good income for thousands of people in Ottawa. The sector can also be a good source of income in lower-income neighbourhoods, such as the K1L postal region (Vanier) where cultural workers earn 25% more than the neighbourhood average.

    Both artists and cultural workers tend to cluster in certain neighbourhoods. This is true in all five of the cities in the Hill Strategies study. Usually these neighbourhoods are close to the core. This was true in Ottawa where the postal region with the highest concentrations of both artists and cultural workers was K1M (Rockcliffe and New Edinburgh) and the postal region with the most artists and cultural workers in absolute numbers was K1S (south side of Centretown and Old Ottawa South). However, “close to the core” is a matter of perspective – and perspective is different in each city. All of the other cities in the study could fit within the City of Ottawa with room to spare – Ottawa is THAT much larger than the other major cities in Canada. That means that neighbourhoods that seem fairly close to the core by Ottawa standards, could be seen as being on the outskirts if they were the same distance from the core in another city. That said, there is one postal region, K2K (Kanata North area), that is outside of the Green Belt (therefore, far from the core even by Ottawa standards), but still is among Ottawa’s top ten neighbourhoods in terms of the concentration of artists. The Hill Strategies study did not consider the reasons why a neighbourhood might have a larger concentration of artists or cultural workers than what one would expect based on its location within the city, but it is possible that the above average concentration of creative people in Kanata North is connected to the cluster of very innovative companies in that area. This finding means that Kanata North is one of the neighbourhoods that should be considered for future neighbourhood studies.

    Another interesting area is the K1M postal region (Rockcliffe and New Edinburgh), which, as mentioned above, had the highest concentrations of both artists and cultural workers. However,  it also experienced the largest decline in its concentration of artists of any postal region in Ottawa between the 2001 and 2006 censuses (down from 3.0% to 2.3%). Again, the Hill Strategies study did not investigate the reasons for its findings, but this decline may have to do with the high cost of housing in the area. Artists in this neighbourhood may earn more than artists in other parts of the city, but they earn 32% less than the average worker in the Rockcliffe/New Edinburgh area. In fact, even cultural workers here earn 6% less than the neighbourhood average. If artists find themselves priced out of the neighbourhood, what does that mean both for the neighbourhood and for the artists themselves? In 2011 the mandatory long form census was replaced with the optional National Household Survey (NHS). Unfortunately, this makes comparing 2006 and 2011 data difficult, so it is hard to know if the trend has continued.

    Next Steps

    Data by itself is not very useful, but it is a starting point. The Hill Strategies study presented census data in a way that shows how artists and cultural workers cluster in cities and provides some other key information about these workers (i.e. earnings). This has led to some interesting findings for Ottawa, and offers suggestions for future neighbourhood studies. As more data is added to the cultural map, we will gain a better understanding of the cultural sector in each part of Ottawa, and this may shed light on some of the questions raised by the Hill Strategies study.

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  • Posted by David on June 30, 2014, 3:48 pm

    You’re summary on the Hill report was informative. To the extent that one can now learn how many Artists and Cultural workers produce what Art we see and experience in Ottawa, was interesting.
    Excellent work.

    Reply →

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