Last year I had the pleasure of working with a group of Toronto-based independent dance creators to examine their work/life situation as mid-career artists. The group of eight*, formalized last April as the Alliance of Independent Mid-Career Dance Creators (AIM-CDC), commissioned me to investigate how they, and others like them, were managing their lives and careers. Their intent was to glean some insight into where there are common challenges and potential opportunities for collaboration, and to open conversations in the field about how to improve overall working conditions for indie artists.
Stuck in the Middle: A story about 14 mid-career dance creators in Toronto was released in October 2010, and reveals some challenging (though not surprising) statistics about the lives and careers of dance creators in Toronto.Consider this:
• The average Toronto-based, mid-career independent contemporary dance creator is 39, has worked professionally for 18 years, and earns $18, 130 – 78% of which is earned from dance-related sources. (The low-income cutoff for Canadian cities with populations over 500,000 is $20, 800).
• 80% of artists function on a project-basis with a typical budget of about $27,400 per cycle of activity. Half operate as charities, the other half as sole proprietors.
• In their last cycle of activity, 14 artists engaged a total of 194 individuals and paid out over $357,000 in salaries and wages.
• Artists volunteer time in virtually every aspect of their business. For every paid hour, an additional 36 minutes of volunteer time is required to realize a cycle of activity. This does not include time volunteered by board members.
• Artists spend less than 50% of their time on artistic activity.
• Nearly 60% of business revenues come from government sources.
The report highlights that these artists want and need two key things: more opportunities to promote and disseminate their work, including connecting more with presenters and new markets and an appropriate resourcing strategy and administrative support structure to facilitate a range of activities that support their artistic mandates.
It also points to the fact that artists are replicating an existing business model that isn’t effectively supporting their artistic careers and suggests that a conflict of values between various sources of support may be causing dysfunction in how artists address the advancement of their work.Stuck in the Middle makes four recommendations about the ways in which they and the sector can begin working towards achieving a healthier environment for contemporary dance. In particular, moving away from the independent working model toward a culture of collaboration could allow for more efficiency and impact on a number of levels.
The Dance Current magazine has recently published an online feature article about the study. Also, CIUT 89.5FM interviewed me just today on their program Evi-dance. The podcast should be available shortly here. To read the full report, visit www.hub14.org and download a copy, available under ‘activity’. This study was generously supported by Canada’s National Ballet School, the Dancer Transition Resource Centre, Dance Ontario, Canadian Children’s Dance Theatre, and hub14.*AIM-CDC members include Kate Alton, Susie Burpee, Tanya Crowder, Allison Cummings, Susanna Hood, Sasha Ivanochko, Meagan O’Shea and Heidi Strauss