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Artist Career Research Methods

A comparative analysis of research methods for understanding artists’ career paths, work conditions, and incomes

January 31, 2019
Maya’s Drawing photo by Daniel Chekalov on Unsplash


The objectives of the study were to:

  • Obtain a synthesis and analysis of the different approaches and methodologies in research focused on artists’ careers, practices and livelihoods undertaken in jurisdictions across Canada and internationally.
  • Gain an understanding of the underlying reasons and motivations behind the common and varied findings.
  • Identify best practices and lessons learned in methodologies and approaches.


Many artists have atypical work patterns, characterized by:

  • high self-employment rates
  • multiple job-holding
  • the predominance of short-term employment opportunities
  • relatively low incomes
  • low unionization rates
  • challenges regarding professional development and career advancement
  • unusual work flows

In addition, there are differences in how artists work between arts disciplines and regions of the country. These specificities make artists a challenging labour group to study.

The funding agencies wanted to understand the opportunities for future Canadian research related to the situation of artists and any potential challenges.

The report synthesizes information about methods used in the studies that were found in the literature search and interviews. This includes an analysis of:

  • the studies’ goals
  • their definitions of “artist,”
  • their novel methods (i.e., methods that have gone beyond traditional statistical sources in exploring the situation of artists)
  • the variables they analyzed
  • their analysis (or lack thereof) of sub-national statistics
  • methodological notes related to Indigenous and equity-seeking groups in the arts
  • their presentation and distribution of findings
  • other methodological considerations


This report summarizes an in-depth Canadian and international literature review into methods used to understand artists’ work conditions, incomes, and career paths.

The research team also conducted 12 semi-structured interviews with arts researchers, research commissioning organizations, and representatives of Indigenous and equity-seeking groups.

Overview / Key Findings

Outside of census data, there have been no systematic efforts in Canada aimed at understanding the situation of all the country's artists. Many Canadian studies have covered certain types of artists only.

In terms of the methodologies, given the limitations of official national statistics, researchers have conducted special studies of artists, including three main methods:

  1. compilation of lists of artists, and then survey sampling
  2. respondent-driven sampling
  3. analysis of big data

There are other research methods that have rarely been used to examine the situation of artists. A study using one or more of these rarely-used methods—longitudinal research, quasi-experimental methods, intensive qualitative research, and arts-based research—could fill a gap in the research literature.

In Canada, the vast majority of custom surveys into the situation of artists have used “convenience samples,” i.e., non-random samples with the largest possible number of responses, given the size of the group being studied.

The research identified some key studies that delved much further than conventional national statistics into two important issues: time use and incomes. However, it is worth noting that, all of the studies focusing on artists’ personal incomes, none reported on household income levels.

Some studies asked about receipt of grants and supports from other sources, such as spouses, while other studies contained questions related to other facets of artists’ working lives, such as:

  • years of experience
  • supplementary health benefits
  • retirement funds
  • recognition within the arts community
  • networking activities
  • self-assessment of their career achievements
  • international artistic engagements
  • the use of creative skills in non-arts work


This report on Artist Career Research Methods was prepared for a consortium of Canadian public arts funders:

  • the Canada Council for the Arts
  • the British Columbia Arts Council
  • the Calgary Arts Development Authority
  • the Ontario Arts Council

It was prepared in partnership with:

  • the Alberta Foundation for the Arts
  • the Toronto Arts Foundation
  • the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec