Getting the facts straight

Kelly Hill, photo by Sean McLennan

Those of us in the arts and cultural industry feel that what we do is important: to human beings,  communities, and the economy.  That feeling was backed up by about 90 slides of data points shared by Kelly Hill of Hill Strategies based in Hamilton, Ontario last night at a session put on by Arts Council Wood Buffalo.

The information is contained in a presentation called Artists, Arts Attendance, and Impacts in Alberta which Kelly has conveniently made available on his website.  If you're ever looking for facts to support a funding proposal, or just help change minds, you'll find them somewhere in the treasure trove of survey data and insights contained on this website.

There are a couple of things that stood out for me during last night's event attended by a good crowd of arts practitioners, leaders and advocates.

Based on 2010 data, the economic impact of arts, cultural and heritage activities was found to be $47.8 billion.  The economic impact of sports using that same data set was $4.5 billion.  In that light, I wonder why we often feel that arts and culture play second fiddle to sports?


Artists, on average, make less money than their cultural industries colleagues and much less than the national or provincial averages.  This is not a surprise, but it's still a little disheartening to see average salaries for artists in Alberta sitting in the low 30s.

People are consumers and participants in arts, cultural and heritage activities.  How many people?  Almost all of them, or 98.8 percent of those surveyed.  Most people read a book, watch a movie, go to the theatre or visit a museum.


While 2010 data suggests that attendance is on the rise in Alberta, with numbers that almost doubled from 1992.  Interestingly, there was a dip in 2005.  It struck me that two things were happening about that time: 1) the economy was super hot; there was more work than workers, and 2) there was a great influx of people into the province.  I wonder if those two factors impacted that number?  Perhaps people were too busy, or not settled enough into their new communities, to fully appreciate and consume available arts, culture and heritage offerings.  Conversely, perhaps the strong numbers in 2010 were reflective of a softer economy and people having a bit more time on their hands.

Good data leads to great questions and lots of theories.  I appreciated Mike Mankowski's question about how to use the data to our advantage.  It is a question that dogs me about a growing number of survey and data points that we have in our toolbox.  How do we use them to build stronger, more resilient and remarkable communities?  How do we use them to be more proactive than reactive?  How can we identify patterns and trends that can inform public policy and inspire innovation?

Last night was a great introduction to some fascinating data.  I'm excited to see what we will collectively do with it.

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