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Yukoners say conditions for artists are not as rosy as survey suggests

Report says Yukon artists make the most compared the the rest of Canada. Residents point to problems with data collection.
Crystal Schick/Yukon News Katie Avery, a Whitehorse musician and music teacher, sits for a photo with her dog Wolfgang on Dec. 9. Avery said a new national survey saying Yukon artists have the highest income in Canada is not representative of the true situation.

Yukon artists make the most dough compared to other places in the country, according to a new report. But some in the territory say there are flaws in the data gathering process. They say the report is not as representative as it should be.

What they want to change, however, is up to Statistics Canada, and it’s unclear when or if those changes could take root.

Artists here make a median income of $32,900 a year, says a report conducted by Hill Strategies Research Inc., the highest in Canada. This is compared to $24,300 nationally. The Yukon also has the third-highest concentration of artists at 1.14 per cent (250 people). Forty-two per cent of artists in this country call Ontario home, almost double the amount of other jurisdictions.

“I mean, it seems to say we’re doing a good job, but it seems to me that’s still below the poverty line,” said Katie Avery, 32, a Yukon musician and music teacher.

Avery said she has concerns that the report leaves out people like her, noting that she clocks unpaid hours all the time at both roles.

“Am I counted as someone who makes their whole living from art? I would say no.”

Al Cushing, former CEO of the Yukon Arts Centre, said something similar in that the report only captures those whose incomes primarily come from the arts.

“Many artists may be a post person because they’ve gotta put bread on the table, but their vocation may be visual arts, and they may spend 80 per cent of their time doing visual art but it’s not the thing that makes them the money, which Statistics Canada is measuring,” Cushing said. “So, what we see is a whole slew of people who either are not included or incorrectly included in different sectors.”

The research firm relied on census data collected during one week in May 2016. The report captures time artists worked on their art. That said, their incomes include all sources of income, said president Kelly Hill.

“So, there’s no information about art-specific earnings for artists and we know that they have multiple jobs — quite common in the sector — so it could be higher for that reason,” he said.

He clarified that it doesn’t matter whether artists made money that week from that work. What does is the time they spent on their art then.

“It’s the best sample we have, but it’s not the best possible arts sample by any means.”

The report says that the census doesn’t collect information about secondary occupations.

Asked whether arts earnings and total earnings can be teased apart, he said it would be “impossible” based on the data collected by Statistics Canada.

“You’d have to do a custom survey of the people you want to survey to try to find that out because we don’t get that from any official statistics,” Hill said.

Avery said it’s unclear whether the report accounts for partners or spouses who may be the breadwinners of households.

Hill said total household earnings are included, a separate tab accounts for, in theory, what artists contribute.

A typical Yukon artist has a household income of $58,300, the report says, which is akin to the median of Canadian artists at $57,800. This is below what all workers earn in the Yukon, who make, as a collective, $95,600.

There are trends that are picking up steam — the gig economy being one. This could lead to change, Hill said.

“Artists have been in a gig economy for a long time, so there is hope the census will do a better job of capturing multiple professions and earnings from each, possibly in the future because the gig economy is growing, but it’s not a guarantee or anything,” he said. “It’s just kind of a hope, on my part.”

Contact Julien Gignac at