Arts and culture fail miserably in Waterloo Region – I need to hear from YOU

Take a quick gander at the latest Vital Signs report issued by the KW Community Foundation…

Download it: WRVS_2013_FINAL_FOR_WEB

K. Look at page 8. That is the arts and culture indicator. There is a graph that shows the decline of workers in arts and culture. And a pie chart that shows the different types of workers in arts and culture sector – and their numbers.

Two mega huge problems

From 2011 – 2012, people working in the culture sectors have declined from nearly 9000 in Waterloo Region to 6000. That is a whopping 3000 fewer arts and culture workers in a region that already suffered from too few to begin with.

Now look at that pie chart. The largest piece of the pie represents all the gears and mechanics going into the arts and culture sector: technical employees.

The creative arts on that pie represents 1120 workers. That means just a little over 1/6th of people doing cultural things in the city are actually involved in the creative arts instead of creative commercial business. Not negating the rest of the culture pie you see there, but this is a miserable number. Half a million people in Waterloo Region.. 1120 working in creative arts – likely includes organizational administrators and others similar – not purely the creative artists themselves – I wonder what that number would be. Your odds of meeting someone born  with 11 fingers or toes (1:500) are close to your odds of meeting a genuine, bonafide working artist in Waterloo Region.

This is abysmal. What a hell of a failure, Waterloo Region.

Robot Unicorn

The artist in Waterloo Region: As rare as a robot unicorn

The lack of authenticity and concern

Can we stop listening to business people about building the arts community now, and start talking to the arts community about building their own? If I need to know about a car, I ask a mechanic. If I need to know about my persistent toothache, I talk to my dentist. Why does the city think the mechanic can cure the toothache without making the pain worse??

Successful business acumen doesn’t lead to understanding in the arts. These operations run on a shoestring budget – some hiring up to 200 artists in a year (MT Space) on an operating budget less than a single C-Level executive salary in a tech company – and they persist! Condescension on behalf of enabling organizations (there’s a backward thing for you), goonish behaviour on behalf of our bureaucrats and a serious desire to be hands off is destroying the core culture of this Region. The problems are extensive: From funding to facilities. From zoning to endless red tape covered permits. Art here needs to be more than a function of economic development, even if it does develop the economy.


This is where you come in. Why don’t you help me out here:

Why are arts and culture failing in Waterloo Region?

What can we as culture workers, artists and arts lovers do to change this?

Should we meet for a conversation cafe – I would happily convene one, or several! Should we build a new advocacy council? This is horrifically upsetting news, but we see it every day around us. Can we put a tombstone in the Victoria Park green representing every artist we know who had to leave this community because of the utter lack of support? I would love to hear your creative ideas, and pragmatic ones.

So many ways – comment on this blog post, email me, facebook message me – if you know me there, dm me on Twitter – let’s get this conversation going.

7 thoughts on “Arts and culture fail miserably in Waterloo Region – I need to hear from YOU

  1. This is really good, really passionate, and ironically, I’m still exhausted from Impact, and have no energy left to think of something will. I will recover soon, and start the engines again. I have six weeks to UnHinged. I am over-worked, underpaid, but really fucking persistent. You really do so much to light a fire under people…problem is, so many of them are wearing fire-proof underpants.

  2. I left the K-W area a number of years ago, as did many of my artistic peers. I do not believe that this region holds any serious career prospects for people who want to make a living in art. You need to go where the marketplace is. Art is passion, but it is also business. While some may maintain a cheap studio there, financial success lies elsewhere.

  3. Hey there,
    This is very interesting. I appreciate your posting it.
    I’ve actually just moved back to Waterloo Region. Still working in Toronto with a theatre company there but going to try and work with the community and contribute to culture in Waterloo Region too…
    I actually was thinking of making the move about a year and a half ago. At that time I met with someone from a local funding agency. Very nice person. I discussed with her my ideas… my main artistic voice is through theatre. I want to start a company and build work that goes between KW and Toronto and beyond. She thought that was a lovely idea but why would I go and do that in KW? They already have theatre organizations. They already have artists… why do they need to fund more? I was quite taken aback by this reaction… coming from Toronto – a market saturated with artists plying their trade – I really had no idea what to say. I mumbled something about wanting to collaborate with these org’s. She then asked why I didn’t just go and ask to work with them. I tried explaining that’s not necessarily just how it works. That I have my own ideas that I’d like to explore too…
    Anyway, needless to say I was a bit discouraged. Postponed my moving. Finally I decided to say screw that and my wife and I bought a house and made the leap. Maybe we’re crazy to think this, but I have to think there can be multiple org’s in the region and sure, maybe there is some overlap but we all have our own voice, approach which makes us unique. I hope to create several collaborations over the years but I also look forward to bringing my style and vibe to the community.
    So the long and the short of my 2 cents is part of the issue I’m afraid is educating the funders that we’re not all the same. One cup of coffee is different from another. Just cuz we’re in the arts doesn’t mean homogeneity nor should there ever be a quota for how many of us should be there… Fair, there isn’t a tonne of funding for the arts but that doesn’t mean we should allow the arts and culture sector to atrophy and fall off in the Region.
    In peace and solidarity.

    • I completely agree – we need more. In a city with so little happening…

      Can I say: Good luck? With no negativity of course.

      And most artists who continue to operate here won’t let atrophy happen. Welcome, and hopefully I will see you around.

      (Solidarity. Heck yeah. And peace – always)

    • I was a bit surprised myself, to be honest. I tend to think we are more common, just based on knowing so many myself. Then I remember – I work in the arts. These are my peers. Skews it for my perspective but this clarifies it for all.


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