the pen of
Robert Genn's twice weekly letter for
insight and inspiration for your artistic
January 16, 2015
"I'm laptopping you from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, at the top of a snowy track descending 4,380 feet to the Colorado River. Papery flakes float down from an infinite, domed sky into a bottomless pink bowl -- all visible through the picture window of a small wood-framed studio jutting out from the rock-edge.
In 1901 twenty-five year-old Ellsworth Kolb came to the Grand Canyon from Pennsylvania to work as a bellboy in the Bright Angel Hotel. His younger brother Emery was in nearby Williams, Arizona purchasing a photography business for $425. Emery promptly moved the new venture to the Canyon where he and Ellsworth set up a tent to sell photo souvenirs. Initially they worked on a dirt floor in an abandoned mineshaft and used muddy water from nearby cow ponds for developing. Well-to-do tourists paid a hefty sum of $1 to ride a mule in and out of the canyon on an old Havasupai Indian track, now called the Bright Angel Trail.
With their business hopping, the Kolbs soon leased an old mining claim at the head of the trail and blasted into the rim to build a permanent photography studio. Nestled into the rock, the studio had no electricity, no running water -- a picture window overlooked trail and canyon. Next they constructed a darkroom four and a half miles down the trail at Indian Garden -- a spot with a fresh water spring they could use for developing. Ellsworth shot the mule-riding parties from the studio window, and then Emery would run the film down the trail to the darkroom. Before the riders could make it back up the trail after their sojourn, Emery had already returned to the studio with their developed photos..."
Read the Painter's
Keys Content Archives.
Peace of Mind
I recently received an e-mail regarding
a member of the arts community who had
become ill, was no longer able to work
and needed some financial assistance.
As I have done in the past, I sent a
cheque to assist, though I knew this
was only a band-aid solution. In the
e-mail it indicated that the individual
had no savings, no RRSPs, and no Disability
Insurance. Unfortunately this is not
an uncommon story. I suspect that many
readers of this article are in need
of reviewing their financial management
As I wrote the cheque I thought back
to other cheques that I have written
in similar situations and decided it
was time to spread the word to freelancers
about the importance of carrying Disability
Insurance. To begin, I conducted an
unscientific survey, asking freelancers
if they have disability insurance. The
good news was that the majority knew
what Disability Insurance was; the bad
news was that the majority did not carry
I know that this is an old topic but
clearly the message has not resonated
with its target. This is evidenced by
the recent announcement in the States
that the Altman Family will be matching
donations to support a fund for members
of the arts community who have been
injured or fallen ill.
Why didn’t the surveyed freelancers
have coverage? One individual seriously
said, “I don’t require coverage
because I am careful at work”.
Most indicated that they are covered
by WSIB or the group plan offered with
their membership in an industry association.
While these are valuable to freelancers,
WSIB only covers an individual when
they are injured on the job and many
group plans only offer short-term coverage.
Disability Insurance offers extended
coverage and, most importantly, covers
you when you slip in front of a bus,
fall ill, or, in the worst case, have
been diagnosed with an incurable disease.
After understanding the limitations
of WSIB and group plans the next reason
given for not having coverage was the
cost and hassle of signing up. I did
not have an answer for this so I enlisted
the help of my Insurance Broker to review
various plans and find a financially
viable option with simple sign up procedures.
For those unaware, Disability Insurance
is a form of insurance coverage that
provides a portion of income lost as
the result of a total or partial disability
caused by either an accident or an illness.
Who should carry this insurance? Everyone.
Who MUST carry this insurance? While
it is not the law, it is commonsense
that all individuals who are freelance
and/or small business owners should
carry disability insurance.
As noted, the reason many individuals
in the arts community don’t have
disability insurance is because it is
perceived to be expensive. On average
by investing approximately 3% of your
annual income you can protect almost
90% of your income. More importantly
Disability Insurance offers peace of
mind, knowing that in the event that
you are injured or fall ill, your financial
situation will remain relatively solvent.
As a small business owner, I am very
aware of the cost of insurance and the
need for Disability Insurance. But I
am also very aware of the cost when
an individual does not carry the necessary
insurance and becomes injured or is
fallen by an illness. We are all human
and tragedy can strike at anytime. There
are too many in the community who have
ignored the need for RRSP’s, life
insurance, savings, and most importantly
This article is only the first step
in ensuring that I don’t have
to write any more cheques.
Step 2 - continue to spread the word
about the importance of Disability Insurance
Step 3 - offer assistance to those with
Step 4 - source a cost effective and
hassle free disability insurance plan
Step 5 - ensure that the curriculum
in all Arts related programs includes
a course on the
financial responsibilities of the freelance
Disability Insurance = Peace of Mind.
Recent Artist CD Reviews
Chris MacLean Feet Be Still (Independent)
Show of Hands Arrogance Ignorance and
Jenny Whiteley Forgive or Forget (Black
Ariana Gillis To Make it Make Sense
Po’ Girl Live Po’ (Girl
at Penguin Eggs
of the Arts
CCA Bulletin 27/10
October 26, 2010
After 30 years, what has UNESCO’s
Recommendation concerning the Status
of the Artist achieved?
Just the Facts
This year marks the 30th anniversary
of the UNESCO Recommendation concerning
the Status of the Artist. With the support
of the Canadian Artists and Producers
Professional Relations Tribunal, the
Canadian Conference of the Arts (CCA)
has conducted a critical review of this
initiative in Canada. After 30 years
of efforts, what exactly has been achieved
for artists and creators in this country
and abroad? The question is particularly
relevant as we prepare for the CCA’s
upcoming conference Artists: Powering
the Creative Economy? Many of the issues
analyzed in Status of the Artist in
Canada will frame the panels, debates
and conversations held on November 2
and 3 at the National Arts Centre in
The paper analyzes how Canadian artists
fare at social, economic and cultural
levels. By exploring key issues like
taxation, social benefits, training
and professional development, health
and safety, collective bargaining and
other issues, the main concerns of artists
in Canada’s current environment
are established. Status of the Artist
in Canada takes a look at federal initiatives
used to bolster the ability of the artistic
workforce followed by a breakdown of
After examining Canadian standards for
artists, the document includes a brief
analysis of international standards
and best practices. This leads to a
discussion regarding the relevance of
status of the artist today and to the
specific recommendation that states
that the first $10,000 of net income
earned from artistic activity be free
from federal income tax liability. This
special exemption would be added on
top of the universal basic exemption.
Tell me more
Status of the Artist in Canada describes
a category of legislation and other
public policies directed at improving
the economic and social status of professional
artists. The concept has two components:
the important role that artists play
in every human society should be acknowledged,
and government legislation and programs
should encourage creative expression
and ensure equitable treatment for artists
by responding to the atypical manner
in which they work.
The UNESCO Recommendation addresses
issues and recommends government actions
on the following:
Employment, working and living conditions
Recognition of the rights of their professional
and union organizations.
Social status, including measures to
ensure equivalent status to other workers
in areas such as health and insurance.
Protection of freedom of expression
and protection of intellectual property
The education and training of artists.
The importance of arts education.
Measures related to income, support
during periods of unemployment and retirement
In Canada, there are many specific issues
that have an impact on the social and
economic circumstances of professional
artists. The work of artists has certain
defining characteristics and each artist
will combine a few or many depending
on the nature of their art. While some
of the individual characteristics are
shared by other professions, taken as
a whole, for all artists, they create
a pattern of work very different from
most others in the labour force.
Most become an artist because of their
love for the art form. A person must
love to dance, paint, write, sing, act
or play a musical instrument, and they
often do so for many years before becoming
They can spend a substantial amount
of time preparing to earn income, in
training, rehearsal, study, research
or in creating a finished product.
They sometimes work for a number of
engagers simultaneously, or for none
at all. They may sell nothing for long
periods and then suddenly secure a great
They often have to train and rehearse
even when they are working, either as
an artist or outside their art.
Experience and skills do not guarantee
marketplace success. The creative element
of the work is difficult to define and
perhaps impossible to teach.
Many professional artists must supplement
their income with revenue generated
from part-time work outside their area
of professional expertise, in order
to survive economically. For some, this
may come to represent the bulk of their
Because of the creative nature of the
work, they often have an ongoing economic
interest in their completed work, either
through copyright law or contracts,
and they can receive income from it
long after the work is finished.
There is a distinction between creative
artists (such as authors, visual artists,
composers and designers) and interpretive
artists (such as actors, dancers and
musicians) since the artists in these
categories generally have different
working relationships and engage different
methods to earn artistic income.
According to census data and studies
on the cultural labour force, the number
of professional artists is growing rapidly;
a high proportion of artists are self-employed;
artists are highly educated but their
earnings are low compared to that of
other Canadians; and their income can
fluctuate dramatically from year to
year. Most artists do not have access
to the social benefits generally enjoyed
by other Canadian workers, such as paid
vacations and holidays; income maintenance
when there is no work or when they are
sick; maternity/paternity and adoption
leave; medical, dental and life insurance;
and retirement/pension plans.
What can I do?
This paper, along with our conference
on November 2 and 3 will help outline
a policy roadmap necessary to benefit
artists in Canada. Read this paper and
then join in the conversation by attending
our conference. Comment on our blog
to give us input on your policy needs
and priorities as a Canadian artist.
Conference of the Arts