Have artists become their own patrons in Quebec?

We’ve all heard people claim that artists “don’t work” or “don’t do any real work.” Some even go so far as to say that artists are just parasites living off the rest of society. IRIS looked into how creators, artists, and craftsmen and -women in the audiovisual sector organize their work. The findings were published under the title “Le travail des artistes est-il payé à sa juste valeur? [Are artists paid fairly for their work?]”. In this study, we expose artists’ working conditions in the audiovisual sector (we use the term “artist” to cover all the actors, screenwriters, technicians, directors… nearly everyone working in the sector) as well as the unpaid time and money they invest into their projects to ensure that Quebec culture stays dynamic.

Governments certainly fund arts and culture, but with the Harper government cutting down on funding and the provincial government’s cutting the 20% tax credits, public funding is certainly not on the rise. This prospect is far from encouraging, especially since, upon analysis, the data we’ve gathered shows that a part of the shortfall in investments is being shouldered by the workers themselves. We would like to direct those who believe that the economy will, on its own, take care of it all by eliminating non viable cultural “products” to economist Pierre Fortin, who has explained to this effect that: “The unfortunately widespread claim according to which local cultural businesses that do not pass the test of pure financial profitability should disappear contradicts not only common sense, but also all contemporary economic science canons applied to the arts and culture sector.”

How do artists invest into the audiovisual sector? Firstly, artists work an average 3.2 hours per week without being paid. This figure comes close to 5 weeks per year for which they don’t, and never will, receive monetary compensation. Secondly, one out of five projects have required investments from the part of the artists. Their average investment is $2,048, and for 20% of these cases, artists have had to borrow money to invest. We should also not forget that the median income of artists in the audiovisual sector is only about $30,000: $7,000 lower than that of the general population.

It’s hard to know exactly how much is being invested —in both time and money— into the audiovisual sector by artists themselves. However, a conservative estimate would be between 10 and 13 million dollars per year. It’s unusual —and unacceptable— that people working in any sector should be responsible for so much of its funding. Moreover, faced with such an astonishing amount, it’s worth wondering if the creators, artists and craftsmen and -women haven’t become the audiovisual sector’s true patrons.

This article was written by Francis Fortier, a researcher with  IRIS—a Montreal-based progressive think tank.

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