February 26, 2024

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You are Your Only Limit

Artists claim Windsor unsustainable for creative career

5 min read

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Many members of Windsor’s arts community feel they do not receive enough municipal support to sustain their creative practice.

This is among the findings from a recent city-wide survey conducted by the Arts Council Windsor & Region.

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The survey was launched in response to a 2022 report by the Municipal Benchmarking Network Canada, which continues to rank Windsor among the lowest nationally when it comes to per-capita arts funding.

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I think it has to do with the history of Windsor being a community that depends on the factory as the most important way to make a living,” said Alejandro Tamayo, executive director of Arts Council Windsor & Region.

“The philosophy of labour is emphasized to the point that it takes over the importance of leisure. Art has the problem of being considered a luxury.

“Windsor comes directly from the automotive industry, so art is relegated to a secondary thing.”

The survey collected results from 62 area artists who range from 18 to over 64 years of age. The majority of data came from visual artists who are in the emerging or established stages of their practice.

An overwhelming 80 per cent of survey respondents said there was not enough support from the municipality, and 60 per cent feel the community does not value the role of artists in the city.

But Michelle Staadegaard, the City of Windsor’s manager of culture and events, cautions that the survey did not amass enough responses to offer a real overlook of the city’s arts community. 

We reviewed the results and look forward to discussing it further with organizations like the Arts Council Windsor & Region and other artistic organizations in the community,” said Staadegaard.

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The majority of the artists polled in the survey make under $5,000 annually from their creative practices, and most fund their projects with personal savings or by working other jobs.

“This is showing a picture where artists need to use their savings to produce art rather than using their art to live,” said Tamayo.

“As an artist myself, I find that has been the case for me after finishing university. I had to have other jobs to support my own artistic practice, and that seems to be the default.

“I think it’s a very, very small percentage of artists who survive from their artistic practice.”

Alejandro Tamayo
Alejandro Tamayo, executive director of Arts Council Windsor, is shown at the organization’s gallery on Friday, Nov. 10, 2023. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

The survey also identified the most significant challenges faced by artists in Windsor as being limited access to exhibition or performing spaces, followed by insufficient funding opportunities and financial instability.

“Speaking on behalf of somebody who has worked in arts administration, has directed an artist-run centre, and is also an artist in this city for 42 years, I’m not surprised by that at all,” said Teajai Travis, former director at downtown’s Artcite Inc.

“I don’t think a lot of artists go into being an artist with the expectation that they’re going to be supported by the municipality, or even that they’ll be recognized or identified as workers.”

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According to the 2022 Municipal Benchmarking Network Canada report, the average amount spent on culture grants across the country was $7.39 per capita. In comparison, the City of Windsor spent $1.54 per person, not significantly more than what was spent almost a decade ago.

When the city’s Arts, Culture and Heritage Fund (ACHF) — a bi-annual arts grant — launched in 2014, the city allotted $1.10 per person.

The funding figures, though, don’t include other arts investments the City of Windsor makes, such as the cost to own and maintain public buildings, including Willistead Manor, the Capitol Theatre, Mackenzie Hall, and Art Windsor-Essex.

Mackenzie Hall
Mackenzie Hall in Windsor, pictured on Jan. 8, 2022, was originally a courthouse and jail, but now is a community and cultural hub. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

The 2023 benchmarking report has not yet been published.

City council did increase the ACHF funding in 2022 from about $87,000 annually to roughly $118,000.

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“We’ve seen a massive amount of artists apply for the grant,” said Staadegaard. “I think about 440 artists over the last seven years, and just under a million dollars received.

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“That has a huge impact. We’ve seen so many great artists and organizations receive the funding and really move a project forward.”

There has been a marked increase in artists applying to the fund in recent years, which means funding opportunities are becoming highly-competitive.

In 2023, the ACHF attracted the second-most applicants since the fund’s inception nearly a decade ago. Out of the 112 applicant proposals with a total ask of $480,000, 43 were approved.

The most applicants came in 2020, the first year of COVID when many worked from home.

“It’d be really nice if the city really put some attention on doing a bit more community consultation with artists,” said Travis, “to try to get a better framework about what the expense is like, what goes into being an artist in the city, and what the city could do to help retain the talent that is here and best utilize the talent.”

Tamayo said the Arts Council plans to keep the survey live in order to track responses over an extended time period.

Visit acwr.net to participate in the Arts Council Windsor & Region survey.

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