Assessing Professional Conditions for Performance Artists in Canada

May 30, 2019 — From May to August 2018, the Artist-Run Centres and Collectives Conference/Conférence des collectifs et des centres d’artistes autogérés (ARCA), Canadian Artist Representation/Le Front des artistes canadiens (CARFAC), and the Regroupement des artistes en arts visuels du Québec (RAAV) conducted research on the professional conditions for performance art in Canada. The organizations approached this study according to their respective mandates to support presenters and artists, with the implicit understanding that many performance presenters in Canada are also practicing artists.

ARCA circulated an online survey throughout the artist-run centre and performance art festival networks in Canada, while CARFAC/RAAV circulated a survey to their individual members and conducted a series of interviews with professional performance artists. Sharing many findings in common, these two surveys provide a current, detailed overview of the field’s particular requirements, recommend adjustments to CARFAC/RAAV’s royalties schedule, and highlight an array of best practices currently in use in the sector.

This research was undertaken as a result of discussions held during a series of community meetings initiated in 2012 by Vancouver’s LIVE International Performance Art Biennale and pursued since then every two years by the organizers of various festivals such as L’Écart’s Biennale d’art performatif (Rouyn-Noranda, QC), FAAS (Sudbury, ON), M:ST (Calgary, AB), and RIAP/RIPA (Québec, QC). While the surveys acknowledge performance art festivals’ and artist-run centres’ established structures and supports, the responses will also inform timely revisions to CARFAC/RAAV’s schedule of recommended fees and the development of best-practice guidelines aimed at improving the professional conditions of performance artists presenting their work with the support of Canadian arts organizations—organizations frequently unfamiliar with the presentation of performance art.

Overall, the survey results underline the need for organizations and artists alike to advocate for better conditions through negotiation while challenging existing hierarchies between studio and post-studio art forms. The results also differentiate the conditions of festivals from those of artist-run centres (which enjoy resources such as exhibition spaces and established sources of funding, and which program according to a cyclical timetable). The survey data illustrate plainly that better support is needed for festivals that present performance art, the more so given that they often are in competition for funding with much larger festivals.

Perhaps the most difficult to pin down among the visual arts, performance art may be understood to include furtive actions, relational projects, durational works, happenings, and infiltration projects. As such, determining a schedule of recommended fees is no easy task and simply cannot be carried out reliably without valuing and taking into account the perspectives of the artists who work in the field.

Some 51 respondents participated in ARCA’s survey (conducted May 2–19, 2018), the majority representing artist-run centres and festivals with operating budgets corresponding to Category I organizations in the CARFAC/RAAV Minimum Recommended Fee Schedule (<$500K). 154 respondents participated in the CARFAC/RAAV survey (conducted in August 2018), and ten performance artists were interviewed personally.

–> Read an executive summary of both reports, available in French and English, here.

–> Read full ARCA report, here

–> Read full CARFAC report, available in English, here.