Judith Marcuse’s Presentation to the Heritage Standing Committee, March 23, 2022

March 31, 2022 by ICASC Events, Featured, News /

Judith Marcuse presented at the Canadian Heritage Standing Committee on the “Status of the Artist Act and its Impact on Improving Basic Working Conditions for Artists,” with Art Spring, Digital First Canada, Guilde des musiciens et musiciennes du Québec (GMMQ), among others.

Presentation to Heritage Standing Committee, March 23, 2022
by Dr. Judith Marcuse

Thank you for inviting me to present today. I am 75, an artist, producer, educator, and consultant working here in Canada and abroad, most recently with the World Health Organization in Geneva on the arts and wellbeing in relation to the UN’s Strategic Development Goals. I have been involved with arts policy questions over some five decades.

I’m taking a wide shot about the wellbeing of Canadian artists.

Pre-pandemic, professional artists in Canada earned 46% of the median income of all Canadians. The incomes of IBPOC artists are significantly lower.

According to Hill Strategies, 72% of professional arts workers are independent, gig workers.

Some 94% of all arts funding in Canada goes to the largest arts institutions…opera, ballet, symphonies, museums, etc., leaving 6% for the rest of the sector. The Canada Council is Canada’s largest granter.

These are just three statistics, but they speak to the ongoing struggles of most artists and their organizations simply to survive. Many are predicting that there will soon be reduction and triage of government spending, putting the sector and its artists in further jeopardy.

On May 7th last year, some 50 arts organizations and arts service organizations signed and sent a letter titled “Reframing the Arts” to then-Heritage minister Guilbeault and 44 other officials. It proposed a fresh, more inclusive approach to arts and cultural policy, including better recognition of community-engaged arts. This sector of over 400 professional arts organizations and hundreds of independent artists work with and within communities in every corner of Canada. We have yet to receive a response to that letter.

Some thoughts to share:
We need to conduct an inclusive scan of Canada’s whole, interconnected arts ecology, a multilayered mapping. Led by artist/researchers, it would collate existing data and fill in the gaps. The last full, national survey was carried out by the Massey Commission in 1949, 70 years ago. The landscape has changed radically and policies that impact artists need to respond to today’s realities.

  • I advocate for a Universal Basic Income. Basic Income programs for artists are currently running in Ireland, Finland and New York State. Ireland also provides pensions to their artists. A model of guaranteed income, in the form of CERB, has been a critical economic survival mechanism for artists.
  • Status of the Artist legislation will not fulfill its potential without changes to tax and labour codes, including income averaging for artists, and tax relief for those who donate to arts organizations such as the size of charitable tax deductions allowed in the US. We also need changes to EI that respond to the self-employed status of the majority of art workers.
  • Support and convene dialogue with non-arts policy makers and, very importantly, with those who are now open to integrating the arts into their own change agendas, especially in the areas of: health and well being, environment, social justice, housing, immigration, job creation, and economic development. These partnerships create employment. The doors to arts integration are more open than ever before, providing new earning possibilities for artists.
  • Reinstitute regular exchange across geographical and jurisdictional silos, involving Heritage, the Canada Council, provincial and territorial arts councils, municipal arts agencies, foundations, AND artists. Some funders are currently addressing the inequities of arts funding policies, and adjusting them to become more inclusive and fair.
  • Develop more clarity on Heritage’s role vis-a-vis arts and culture; expand Heritage’s current, very limited, parameters for support of artists’ professional training and capacity building. Develop new supports for community-engaged artists whose work directly affects the wellbeing of families and communities.
  • Advocate for the Canada Council to become considerably more transparent, responsive and accessible to the artists it is tasked to serve. I would be pleased to provide context for this recommendation.
  • Arts education at all levels is a critical element of a healthy, interconnected arts ecology. Heritage can liaise with arts educators, researchers, national organizations and policymakers. The situation for arts education across the country is dire and jurisdictional barriers should not be an excuse not to talk.
  • Look to policies that are working outside of Canada…the extraordinary success of social prescribing in the UK; pensions and other support for senior artists in many countries; arts organizations that are also social enterprises. It’s a long list.

And critically now for the wellbeing of artists, define how we reframe arts and cultural policy, not as something separate from us, but an essential, creative element in all our lives, a way to imagine, co-create, and nurture connection and possibility, even across difference. I believe that support for the rights and wellbeing of our artists is core to the wellbeing of our country.


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