Hill Strategies Reports on Visual Arts and Heritage Organizations

In this issue: A focus on the visual arts sector, including a report on the role of artist-run centres within the visual arts, a statistical summary of heritage organizations in Canada, a British report that aims to provide benchmarks regarding visual arts audiences, and a British study of socially-engaged visual arts organizations.

The Distinct Role of Artist-Run Centres in the Visual Arts Ecology
Prepared by Marilyn Burgess and Maria De Rosa, MDR Burgess Consultants for the Canada Council for the Arts, April 2012

Based on a literature review, a survey of 85 organizations, in-depth interviews, and an analysis of aggregated financial and statistical information, this report examines the role and place of artist-run centre (ARCs) within the visual arts sector. The report reveals five “characteristics that define and differentiate artist-run centres”:

  • Self-determination.
  • Support for artistic experimentation.
  • Services that typically include support for exhibitions, support for artistic production, professional development, and the advancement of contemporary arts discourse and critical reflection.
  • A membership structure.
  • “A professional entry point for emerging artists, curators and administrators”.

The report also indicates that centres typically work via collaboration and networking and often are grounded in larger social movements. “From the very beginning of their existence, ARCs have had a desire for self-determination, a vast and expanding collaborative network of organizations and individual artists, as well as a grounding in major transformative social movements.” Gender and cultural diversity, as well as inclusive strategies more broadly writ, is also a pivotal element of many centres’ activities. 

The survey of organizations shows that the most common elements of centres’ mandates are exhibitions, advancing the contemporary visual arts, artistic experimentation, emerging artistic practices, critical engagement, and emerging artists. The statistical analysis highlights the programming undertaken by the centres in 2010. In particular, “over 4,000 artists exhibited their work in more than 800 exhibitions programmed by ARCs. A similar number of publications were also created in various formats.” Total attendance at centres’ exhibitions was 2.1 million in 2010.

On average, artist-run centres receive 75% of their funding from public sector sources, 12% from earned revenues, and 12% from private sector fundraising. Artistic expenditures account for about one-half of centres’ expenses (51%), following by administration (23%), facility operating expenses (17%), marketing and communications (7%), and fundraising (3%). 

A key priority for artist-run centres is obtaining increased financial resources to support their programming, operational needs, growth in the regions, production of critical publications, collaborative activities, artist residencies, and professional development. Another key priority is achieving increased visibility in the community at large.

The report concludes that artist-run centres “play a central role, supporting the production and critical advancement of emergent artistic practices and contributing to the development of the careers of artists and arts administrators”.

Heritage institutions 2010
Statistics Canada, February 2012

Statistics Canada recently released summary data on heritage institutions in 2010, including for-profit and not-for-profit heritage organizations such as art galleries, museums, historic sites, zoos and botanical gardens. Organizations that are part of a larger institution, such as university-affiliated art galleries, are excluded from the heritage institutions survey. 

In 2010, as in other even-numbered years, only summary data are provided. For example, no data are available regarding attendance levels or revenue sources (i.e., earned, public, or private sector). Hill Strategies has analyzed the 2010 data for this issue of the Arts Research Monitor. Note: The changes reported below have not been adjusted for inflation. 

The total operating revenues of all heritage organizations were $1.3 billion in 2010, a 3.4% increase from 2009. Total operating expenditures were $1.2 billion, leaving a small surplus of 3.1% of total revenues. The largest component of heritage organizations’ expenditures were staff salaries, wages and benefits ($576 million, or 46% of total expenditures). Total expenditures increased by 2.8% between 2009 and 2010, while spending on salaries, wages and benefits increased by 4.5%. 

Not-for-profit heritage organizations in Canada had total revenues of $1.2 billion in 2010, representing 92% of the sectoral total. Total revenues of not-for-profit heritage organizations increased by 3.8% between 2009 and 2010. Total expenses ($1.2 billion) essentially equalled total revenues, resulting in a small surplus of 2.3% of total revenues.

The key data for each type of not-for-profit heritage organization in 2010 follow:

  • Not-for-profit museums (other than art galleries) had total revenues of $633 million in 2010, a 3.0% increase from 2009. Collectively, museums reported an $18 million surplus in 2010 (2.9% of revenues).
  • Not-for-profit art galleries had total revenues of $290 million in 2010, a 5.1% increase from the previous year. Canadian art galleries reported a $2.6 million surplus in 2010 (0.9% of revenues).
  • Not-for-profit zoos and botanical gardens reported total revenues of $166 million in 2010, a 5.0% increase from 2009. Zoos and botanical gardens reported a $3.9 million surplus (2.4% of revenues).
  • Not-for-profit historic and heritage sites had revenues totalling $89 million in 2010, a 3.1% increase from 2009. Historic and heritage sites reported a $1.8 million surplus in 2010 (2.1% of revenues).

On a provincial basis, Ontario-based not-for-profit heritage organizations accounted for $466 million in revenues (40% of the Canadian total). The revenues of Quebec-based organizations totalled $334 million in 2010 (28% of the Canadian total). British Columbia-based non-profit organizations had operating revenues of $129 million (11% of national revenues), while their Alberta counterparts accounted for $120 million (10%).

There are relatively few for-profit heritage organizations in Canada. The total revenues of for-profit heritage organizations were $104 million in 2010, representing 8% of the sectoral total and a 1.5% decrease from 2009. Despite the decrease, for-profit heritage organizations earned an average profit margin of 12.4%. Ontario’s for-profit heritage organizations had revenues of $51 million (49% of the national total), while for-profit organizations based in British Columbia generated revenues of $37 million (36%).

The Statistics Canada tables also contain information about the revenues, expenses, and surplus or deficit situation of heritage organizations in other provinces (but not the three territories), although the breakdown into for-profit and not-for-profit organizations is not provided for New Brunswick, Manitoba, or Saskatchewan due to confidentiality concerns.

National Visual Arts Benchmarking Pilot (United Kingdom)
Audiences UK, March 2012

Based on 11,111 on-site interviews in the summer of 2011 with visitors at 49 British art galleries, this report highlights a range of characteristics of art gallery visitors. Even with such a large number of responses, the report cautions that “given that the data in this report was collected over three months and [that some galleries had …] quite small samples, it is unlikely to be truly representative of the audience for visual arts in England.”

Despite the caution regarding representation of all gallery visitors, the report does provide some interesting findings about survey respondents. Almost one-half were first-time visitors to the gallery (45%), while 29% had visited the same gallery in the past 12 months. The remaining 25% had previously visited the gallery, but not in the past year. Sixty-two percent of respondents spent between one and two-and-a-half hours at the gallery. 

Almost one-half of visitors came from overseas (48%), while 28% lived in the same region as the gallery, and 24% lived in another region of the United Kingdom. The high proportion of overseas visitors was skewed by the results for participating London-based galleries, which had a very high proportion of overseas visitors (53%). For galleries in other regions, overseas visitors accounted for between 3% and 13% of all visitors.

Many respondents were motivated to attend the gallery by an interest in a specific exhibition, display, or work by a specific artist (41%), while a similar number (40%) were motivated by a general interest in art. The main source of information about the gallery was a personal recommendation (23% of visitors, much higher than any other information source).

About three-quarters of visitors (77%) attended on their own or with one other person (34% on their own and 43% as a party of two).

Fully 95% of visitors indicated that “they would be likely or very likely to recommend a visit to the gallery to friends or family”. Respondents had very high rankings of the value for money, welcoming staff, and “the whole experience” at the galleries visited. Respondents had lower (but still quite positive) rankings for parking as well as the galleries’ shops, bars, and café facilities.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents have bought a contemporary work of art at some point in their lives, while another 43% have not done so but would consider doing so in the future. The remaining 20% would not consider purchasing contemporary art. 

In terms of demographic characteristics, 59% of visitors were women (compared with 51% of the population of the United Kingdom). The largest age group was those between 25 and 34 (25% of visitors, compared with 18% of the population). Five percent of respondents had a “long-standing illness, disability or infirmity”, compared with 8% of the population.

The report also provides information about which segments of the public were most likely to visit galleries, according to geo-demographic profiles in use in the U.K. Depending on the specific profile tool used, art gallery visitors tended to come from the “liberal opinions” group, the “urban prosperity” group (especially “educated urbanites”), the “fun, fashion and friends” group, and the “urban arts eclectic” group. (The composition of these groups is not provided in the report.)

New Model Visual Arts Organisations & Social Engagement
University of Central Lancashire, 2011

Based on a literature review, a review of four organizations’ mandates, direct observation, and semi-structured interviews, this study examines how socially-engaged visual arts organizations in the United Kingdom “bring about change in individuals and communities”. The report argues that socially-engaged visual arts organizations, with strong social or civic missions, coherent philosophies of engagement, and clarity of purpose, have “a key role to play in placing the arts at the centre of civil society.”

The researchers outline some key aspects of the socially-engaged arts practice of the four visual arts organizations, including experimentation and diversity. The organizations often produce “audacious, original work, characterised by attentiveness to process and informed by a social agenda”. They are also heavily involved in collaboration, participation, dialogue, provocation, immersive experiences, “engaging with people as social beings”, and stimulating “new forms of connectivity”.

The organizations often insert “art into everyday situations”, thereby demonstrating “that socially engaged art has considerable potential to revitalise the public role of art and to include culturally marginalised audiences”. They also tend to place “local issues and concerns in the context of global development, creating opportunities for cultural exchange, hybridity and connectivity”. 

The socially-engaged visual arts organizations are concerned with innovation and ethical practice: “Work that makes a sustained impact negotiates the tensions between ethical practice and aesthetic outcome and actively maintains an environment receptive to the work.” Two other concerns are authorship and participation: “the boundaries between artists, curators and publics are [sometimes] transgressed and the locus of artistic control can shift between any of those involved.”

The report indicates that “projects which produce sustainable change are often intensive and take time. The impacts emerge slowly and are diffuse, complex and difficult to measure.” The researchers also note that the organizations’ efforts may have complex long-term effects, such as “influence on professional practice in other fields; cross-fertilisation with other areas of economic and social activity; long-term sustainable effects on communities; [and] processes of personal change over time.” 

The researchers conclude that the efforts of socially-engaged visual arts organizations require policy support and funding in order to achieve “transformative practice”, which involves “creating new, shared forms for the expression of individual and collective feeling, while sustaining a critical consciousness”.


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