Facts About the Presence of the Visual Arts in Canadians' Lives

T.J. Cheney Research Inc.

Canada Council for the Arts, Department of Canadian Heritage, Department of International Affairs and Foreign Trade

…facts about the presence of the visual arts in Canadians’ lives: visual artists, art galleries, visits to art galleries, expenditures on the purchase of art, the Canadian visual arts abroad, the role of government, and Canadians making art themselves

You may not know that…

  • the visual arts are a billion dollar business in Canada and directly touch the lives of over 7.5 million Canadians
  • 25% of Canadians visit an art gallery each year
  • nearly 1 million school children are given tours in public art galleries yearly
  • exports of original visual art grew from $45 million in 1996 to $145 million in 2000
  • asked what the ‘arts’ involve, Canadians cite painting more than theatre or music
  • Canadian art is on display in galleries and in public buildings, in workplaces, in restaurants, exhibition centres, at local art fairs, and at major international exhibitions
  • 10% of households purchase a work of art each year, spending half a billion dollars
  • 17% of Canadians do visual arts in their leisure, spending $250 million on supplies
  • in the world market Canadian paintings can sell in the millions of dollars. Total sales of Canadian paintings in auctions was over $25 million in 2000
  • the visual arts have maintained their audience through the 90s, while reading, the performing arts, and even watching TV, have witnessed declines

People and the Visual Arts

There were 6 million visits to public art galleries in 2000, an increase over a generation from 3.2 million in 1970. This attendance reported by institutions is consistent with survey data which find 25% of Canadian adults reporting visits to public or commercial galleries and art exhibitions each year. When asked what they think of when they think of the arts, people more often cite ‘painting’ (33%), than theatre (24%) or music (21%).

Art gallery programs also occupy an integral place in communities, especially through links with children: art galleries funded by the Canada Council for the Arts report over 30,000 tours offered to school groups, representing nearly 1 million children a year.

Major exhibitions draw significant numbers of visitors: the Barnes Exhibition at the AGO had 600,000 visitors (representing $30 million in spending), the National Gallery saw 340,000 visitors (and $32 million in spending) to its three month Renoir exhibit.

People’s views about art galleries are very positive. In Ontario, 90% of respondents think school children should be taken to visit a public art gallery once a year, with three out of four agreeing it is important to have an art gallery in their community.

17% of Canadian adults report painting, sculpting or doing artistic photography in their leisure time, a rate especially high for youth (25%). Over 50,000 Canadians report spending time helping as a volunteer in the visual arts, 155,000 are members of art galleries, and over 170,000 take courses in the visual arts.

Canadians also purchase works of art. Statistics Canada data show that typically between eight and ten percent of households purchase an original work of art each year, totalling to over $500 million for 1998.

Accessibility of the Visual Arts

Art collections providing access to the arts have been part of the Canadian cultural landscape since the 19th century. The National Archives of Canada holds over 300,000 paintings, watercolours and drawings of historic interest. The Canada Council Art Bank has 18,000 paintings, prints and sculptures from over 2,500 Canadian artists. Public art galleries possess over 100,000 paintings. Public art galleries funded by the Canada Council for the Arts acquire 500 works a year.

Statistics Canada surveyed 185 public art galleries in 2000. These galleries represent $200 million in operating spending, and have the support of 8,000 volunteers. In addition, over 200 other museums have an art gallery component, and non-profit artist-run centres, numbering over 100 in Canada, provide venues for Canadians to have access to local and national artists.

Canadian art is also displayed in (and on) public buildings and in workplaces, in restaurants, and in public installations. Canadian art is also to be found at major international exhibitions and galleries, and is showcased in embassies and consulates abroad.

In the private sector there are hundreds of commercial galleries presenting original works of art, and, for serious collectors, art auctions, as well as studio tours and local art fairs which increase the availability of the visual arts. In the Internet age, Canadians can visit over one hundred web sites where Canadian art is available for viewing or for sale, (in addition to the sites of nearly all public art galleries where digital tours are provided).

The Canadian Visual Arts Abroad

In terms of international trade, the value of original visual art exported from Canada grew from $45 million in 1996 to $70 million to 1998 to $145 million in 2000, typically including in the order of $25 million of Aboriginal visual art. Imports of works of art from abroad have been in the range of $100 million.

Canadian artists are present in international exhibitions, in commercial galleries, fairs and public expositions and biennales. Canada’s artists are found at the Venice and Sao Paulo Biennales, at the Tate Gallery in London, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and the Setagaya Museum in Tokyo. Foreign fairs are the path to international presence with collectors, and Canadians are at fairs in Barcelona, Cologne and Chicago, among others.

Canada’s visual artists receive not only invitations to show at foreign exhibits but have won major international prizes, and enthusiastic responses – Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, as one example, won first prize at the prestigious Venice Biennale in 2001.

Canadian private gallery directors are able to place their artists in galleries around the world, while visual artists actively pursue an international presence to broaden their markets internationally and enhance their reputation at home.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade supports over 50 Canadian visual artists and arts organizations, allowing them to tour in over 100 cities. The Canada Council for the Arts itself funds about 200 artists a year to travel internationally.

The Economics of the Visual Arts

Canadian households have consistently reported purchasing original works of art over the past twenty years. One household in ten does so each year at an average expenditure of about $400. This represents a retail visual arts market of nearly a half a billion dollars for household purchasing.

This figure does not include sales to corporations, nor to public institutions or from commissions of works of art, nor likely does it reflect private collectors. Information on the latter reflected by sales at auctions indicate over $25 million spent annually, with an average selling price of over $5,000, as part of a international market estimated at over $12 billion (US). Public art galleries themselves in Canada report spending between $4-8 million each year purchasing works of art, with the National Gallery of Canada accounting for a large share of this total. Many public galleries also acquire works of art through donations which represent additional economic value.

The scale of the economics of visual arts can be arresting. On the global market individual works of art have sold for as much as $85 million (US). Individual Canadian works can sell for over $1 million each. Collections of works of art can be worth in the hundreds of million of dollars. In two recent examples, donations of such collections to Canadian art galleries have been valued at well over $100 million each.

The number of people working as artists was just over 15,000 in 2001, a number which was increasing faster than most occupational groups. It is estimated that the number of other jobs relating to the visual arts (work in retail stores, art galleries) is over 40,000.

Government and the Visual Arts

According to Statistics Canada figures for 2000, combined federal and provincial/territorial government spending identified with the visual arts from all levels of government amounted to $58 million. Nearly three-quarters of this figure comes from the provincial/territorial governments. Federally, $18 million comes from the Canada Council for the Arts, about $2 million from the Department of Canadian Heritage, and a further $1 million is provided by the Department of External Affairs and International Trade.

Incorporating data on the support for publicly administered art galleries (e.g., the National Gallery of Canada) increases the total to over $175 million. This figure represents 3% of all government spending dedicated to culture.

The Presence of the Visual Arts in the Future?

The presence the visual arts in Canada is a naturally changing entity.

Key questions to consider for the future include:

  • Demographics - what will be the impact of Canada’s changing demographic profile on participation in the visual arts: the effects of an aging population, a more educated population, a more culturally diverse population, a more urban population?
  • Technologies - what will be the impacts of new technologies, especially digitization, on both production and use: what products will artists create, how will they be displayed, will households both view and purchase visual art more or less, and what will the role of art galleries be?
  • Globalization – how will Canadian visual artists and visual art fare in global markets and in face of global competitors?

Will Canadians go on having access to Canadian visual art?

Submitted to
The Canada Council for the Arts
The Department of Canadian Heritage and
The Department of International Affairs and Foreign Trade

T.J. Cheney Research Inc.
March, 2003