Arts & Culture

Ottawa Artists’ Incomes Top National Average at $25K

Artists in Ottawa-Gatineau aren’t exactly out shopping for Rolls Royces and Cartier watches according to Ottawa Insights.

A new initiative of the granting agency Community Foundation of Ottawa, Ottawa Insights is an online “community knowledge centre” that pools information about issues and trends in eight “theme” areas affecting quality of life in Ottawa – everything from health and wellness to education and learning. The organization recently released findings on the seventh of its eight themes: Arts & Culture.

Among those findings: in 2011, creative and performing artists in this region earned a median after-tax income of just under $25,000 (latest available numbers from Statistics Canada’s National Household Survey).


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The good news is that local artists’ income beat out that of their compatriots in five other major Canadian cities including Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver (a paltry $19,600 in the case of Vancouver).

One the other hand, the median after-tax income for all people in Ottawa-Gatineau in 2011 was $41,000. Artists, in other words, earned less than two-thirds of what the general population brought home.

Ottawa Insights points out that because of the small number of artists in each city, the findings may not be as accurate as they would be in a larger employment category. In fact, the organization reports that in 2011 only 0.5 per cent of employed residents in Ottawa-Gatineau worked directly in the arts as directors, choreographers, musicians and the like.  The organization also says that the higher median income of artists here compared to elsewhere may relate partly to the presence of national (read: well-funded) arts organizations.

Ottawa actor Kristina Watt . Photo by Stéphanie Godin courtesy Undercurrents Festival
Ottawa actor and theatre teacher Kristina Watt earns less than $30K annually, which is more than the national average for people working in the arts . Photo by Stéphanie Godin courtesy Undercurrents Festival

The income numbers reported by Ottawa Insights are pretty accurate according to Kristina Watt. With two decades of professional experience behind her, the Ottawa-based actor and theatre teacher whose stage experience includes gigs with the National Arts Centre and the Great Canadian Theatre Company says she typically takes home an annual income in the upper $20,000s.

She says she lives simply:  “A little apartment, two pets. But a salary that doesn’t allow for vacations and all the rest!”

Interestingly, as a young person she had both the grades and ability to study medicine but chose theatre instead.

Does she regret it? Says Watt, “I have an artist’s way of life and I love that more than having a car.”