Waging Culture: Gallery Representation in Decline?

We have already noted that between 2007 and 2012, there was a 10 percent drop in gallery representation. We surmise that this is a result of the recession, as galleries closed and/or shrank their stables. Whether this is an accurate assessment, or whether this trend will continue, is up for discussion. Certainly, there has been analysis of the global art market that suggests the winner-takes-all model of income distribution in the visual arts is strengthening significantly, with fewer and fewer artists and galleries making more and more of the income generated; in other words, visual artists are not immune from the trend of wealth consolidation and income disparity. One might want to ask Thomas Picketty if cultural capital functions similarly to traditional capital. One would guess so, if our data is any indication.

The proportion of time spent in studio drops across the board, evenly, offset by an increase in art related activities. Non art related employment stays steady. In general, artists who are represented by a gallery have more hours in the studio than those who are not, and thus who spend more time in non-studio employment. (This holds for both proportions and absolute hours.)

Shifts in proportions of earned income shifts for those represented by galleries from 2007 to 2012, with sales dropping precipitously. Absolute amounts from fees, grants, and art related income also increase for represented artists, matched by dropping absolute amounts for artists not represented. Income from non-art sources decline slightly for those not represented, and significantly for those represented.

To be expected, expenses drop in proportion to decreased revenues, so the net result is that artists, represented or not, are marginally better off with regards to net practice income. We’re still not talking a living wage from an art practice, however, as the prorated hourly wage is still only $3.39 for represented artists, and an even less than satisfying 99¢ an hour for those not represented.

While certainly not the full reason, total income in represented artists is higher than non-represented artists (for both medians and means) by approximately the same amount as net practice income!

By looking at the differences between means and medians, we can see that income disparity is higher (e.g., skewed to the right) in those artists represented by galleries; those not represented have a much more even distribution.

Some other things to note:
Artists seem to be leaving the three large metro areas (Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver), with a particularly large segment of the represented artists doing so. This could be a result of a number of factors, from increasing cost-of-living expenses in urban areas to life-style choices.

In terms of education, artists continue to attain much higher education than the general workforce (23% of the workforce complete at least an undergraduate degree, compared to 90%[!] of artists). Remembering that education levels was (perversely) inversely correlated to income in the 2007 survey, it is not surprising to see that those artists not represented by galleries have higher educational attainment: a full 6% more of non-represented artists have earned at least an undergraduate degree. As with the inverse correlation of income to education, we honestly do not have a clue as to what contributes to this.

Other demographic markers are fairly much in line with the total artist population, although this does not reflect the broader workforce population. Non-caucasian artists increased between 2007 and 2012, from 10% to 12%, but the projected population is closer to 75% (2012). For artists born as Canadian citizens, the ratios are much more in line with the full labour force, and evenly split regarding gallery representation in the 2012 results. One aspect of this that may be misleading, however, is that (anecdotally at least) immigration for artists appears to be higher from so-called developed countries, which would lead to the discrepancy between citizenship and visible minority ratios (not that all visible minorities are immigrants, but the percentage of immigrants who are visible minorities is higher).

Where there is a significant difference regarding gallery representation, however, is in sex. Gallery representation is less biased by sex in 2012 than it was in 2007, nevertheless there is still a significant difference. This difference is highlighted even more when considering that the labour force as a whole is fairly evenly split between males and females. Within professional artists, then, females are over represented by around 13%, and subsequently, even though a larger percentage of artists represented by a gallery are indeed female, this ratio is around 6% less than a random distribution would suggest [consider this a little bit of foreshadowing].

This is one of a series of mini-reports on the results of the 2012 Waging Culture survey, a study of the socio-economic conditions faced by Canadian-resident professional visual artists. Supported by the Art Gallery of York University, it is an undertaking of Michael Maranda. This is the second iteration of the survey. For other mini-reports, and for the full 2007 report, click here. Comments and questions may be directed to wagingculture@theagyuisoutthere.org