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Canada’s Galleries Fall Short: The Not-So Great White North

Taking a cue from the recent circulation of gallery breakdowns—including revisitations of the Guerilla Girls’ original gallery report card and the Art Newspaper’s findings that one-third of solo shows in the US go to artists represented by five galleries—we began to look into the demographics of solo exhibitions at Canadian public institutions. This accounting also has its roots in the work done by Joyce Zemans, whose infinitely more methodical and extensive research has offered quantitative data about the careers of female artists in Canada. Taking a more restricted focus, we have collated information on institutional solo exhibitions, as we feel that these shows function as a critical measure of artistic success, a marker of establishment and a necessary step in an established artist’s career.

To gather these figures, we looked back through solo exhibitions held since the beginning of 2013 at a major art institution in each province (in addition to the National Gallery of Canada). Focusing exclusively on living artists, we averaged out the artists, looking for the gender breakdown (men and women), and racial distribution (how many artists of both genders were non-white). The results were predictably underwhelming, as this national average indicates:

Gallery Demographics Average


We’re past the point where these kind of statistical analyses are shocking. But they remain necessary, since, apparently, nothing changes. According to the 2012 Waging Culture report, women constitute 63% of living artists, yet they only account for 36% of solo exhibitions at these Canadian institutions since 2013. Between institutions, exhibitions by female artists ranged greatly. At the Vancouver Art Gallery, for example, a mere 15% of contemporary solo exhibitions featured female artists.

Vancouver Art Gallery, British Columbia


By contrast, at the Art Gallery of Alberta, the Rooms and, especially, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, solo shows by female artists were much higher, ranging from 45% to almost 70% of the galleries’ exhibiting history since 2013. The representation of women at remaining institutions hovered around 30%.

Art Gallery of Alberta, Alberta


The Rooms, Newfoundland and Labrador


Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia


As these charts indicate, similar disparities can be found when breaking down solo exhibitions according to race. Across Canada, 11% of solo exhibitions since 2013 featured non-white artists. This is on par with the figures presented in the 2012 Waging Culture report: around 11.2% of living artists in Canada identify as Indigenous or as a member of a visible minority.

However, while the general representation of non-white artists mirrored statistics of self-identification, the distribution of solo exhibitions by non-white artists was dismayingly uneven. More than one institution failed to present a solo exhibition by a living non-white artist since 2013: the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, the Rooms and the National Gallery of Canada. As we were sorting through exhibition histories to collate these statistics, it became apparent that Indigenous artists and artists of colour are much more frequently included in group exhibitions, which are, in turn, often focused on the contemporary art production of these demographic groups, an approach that could risk siloing these artists.

When placing artists into these categories, it would be remiss not to mention the entirely traditional model we are employing. We have applied a metric that assumes a cisgender binary—this is limiting, but also reflective of the limited representation in our galleries: no trans*-identified artists appear in our survey because no trans*-identified artists had solo exhibitions in any of these Canadian institutions since 2013.

Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatchewan


Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba


Art Gallery of Ontario, Ontario


Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, Quebec


Beaverbrook Art Gallery, New Brunswick


Confederation Centre of the Arts, Prince Edward Island



National Gallery of Canada, Ontario


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Miranda says:

How is it considered falling short that the majority of solo shows lean towards white male artists?

Should the shows not be about the quality of the art first and foremost?
As a female artist I understand that there is a gap between the representation in our community but it is really fair to to label this article “The Not So Great White North”?

Kirsten says:

Miranda, what makes you so sure men are getting those shows because they make the best work? It seems more likely that women and people of colour who are equally talented are being passed over for opportunities in favour of white men, then that white men magically have ended up with an unfair share of skill and good ideas.

Great work is made by a relatively small percentage of people who identify as artists, but talent doesn’t discriminate. Galleries, however, apparently do. The numbers speak for themselves.

Xenia says:

This is the best!!! but I’d like to see a reflexive breakdown of artist coverage in major canadian publications, starting with CA.

Gerald Vaandering says:

It would be interesting to see which galleries pay CARFAC fees to their artists.

PDMinBC says:

I don’t understand how the results are seen as “underwhelming.” In several parts of the country women are artists are represented more than men. Maybe they are simply better. And perhaps male artists are simply better in other parts of the country. Perhaps instead of basing such ridiculous studies on gender you should look at actual talent, sales, auction results, the academic studies of artists. Looking at gender is ONE criteria and shortsighted at that.

Michael Maranda says:

The only gallery to match the demographic make-up of the national population with regards to sex of artists is the AGNS (for which they should get recognition) and the next closest is The Rooms (for which they should also be recognised).Alas, the tallies in both these galleries, taking ethnicity into account, the score is dismal.

As for other metrics, looking to the wage gap for male to female artists in Canada, the numbers are perhaps more telling. For every dollar a male artist earns from their practice, a female artist artist makes 40¢. If you want to write that off as merely a reflection of quality, then go ahead. I think it’s telling a different story, and not a particularly flattering one.


Roy Arden says:

The length of the time period examined here is just too short for the findings to have any real value or use. This is an example of meaningless statistics. They should have examined at least a ten year span.

Anne Dymond says:

I have examined a 10 year time span, and the results have been published here in pp7-9 here:

And we also looked at group shows and found them only slightly better.

Donna says:

Institutions are still more willing to invest in white men.

To Miranda and PDMinBC: Sure, some artists are “better” or more popular than others, but to believe that white male artists deserve 56% of the solo exhibitions due to having “more talent” is pure ignorance. What they have in addition to varying levels of talent, is a sex and colour that our society still deems most acceptable. Every culture on Earth produces men and women artists. Good art presentation requires diversity, and requires a willingness to push past predominantly representing the “safest” demographic.

Anne Dymond says:

It’s great that Canadian Art is looking at this important issue.

For an analysis of a longer timeframe and a wider range of institutions, see my “Gender Counts: A Statistical Look at Gender Equity in Canadian Art Institutions” in MAWA Newsletter, Fall 2014:

Steven Rhude says:

In Nova Scotia, it’s not just about gender, or white/non white. It’s about “internal affiliation”. A longer time frame would have possibly revealed a more comprehensive conclusion at the AGNS, as one considers declining visitation data in relation to the emphasis on unaffordable blockbusters and and a NSCAD monopoly on exhibition floor space.

Peter Owusu- Ansah says:

Where is disability and deaf artists. Why are being so ignored?

David Howells says:

It would be nice if the media were open to facilitating a dialogue on this issue; one which included the participation of professional artists.

Zan Barrage says:

Does anyone have a breakdown by sex and gender of the ARTIST population in Canada? I think that is a fundamental statistic if we are going to make any sense of the data in this or the linked articles. In the absence of gender breakdown of the Artist population, how can we conclude anything from this data?
As an example, we may observe that no women worriers died in the peloponnesian war. If we don’t have the basic population data that there were no women worriers on neither side, we may come to drastic and misguided conclusions!

Zan Barrage says:

After getting the population breakdown, we need to get data of applicants to galleries and acceptance and rejection numbers. Only then can we say that there is sex/ethnicity discrimination, and only if the statistics are significant. This article is just an interesting observation nothing more. It proves nothing scientifically. It throws some numbers but they are frankly lacking any substance.

Jan Allen says:

Thank you, Canadian Art for shining a light on the stubborn persistence of skewed gender and race in the celebration of artists: the galleries reflect society and its resources, the distribution of influence. Governments, individuals and communities need to step up to making change.

Christopher says:

Very few first generation immigrants become artists. They are too concerned with trying to make a living for their families and having a better future for them. Most artists from other countries coming to Canada have a hard time adapting because their styles reflect their home country and not the one they are currently living in (parts of North America prefer certain colours and styles). I have met so many female artists that have taken long breaks in their careers to have kids or/and take care of elderly parents. All of this is relevant when it comes to an artist achieving success with money or recognition. Usually an artist evolves over time and that takes money, from sales or a day job. The amount of sales with a gallery will help the artist get recognized and reach another level in the gallery system. This usually takes time (even poor health will set back an artists career). This and how the public reacts to the work. As for the major institutions they are also looking for the most important piece of the puzzle. A unique strong voice that stands out and hopefully echoes our culture. Emily Carr achieved status by living like a man. No husband or kids, she gave to her art selfishly. The life of being an artist is the most important thing. Are you willing to make that type of sacrifice and struggle over a long period of time? Most people give up. Trying to get the government and the institutions to veer away from focusing on the quality of art to have a balanced view of gender or race is not the answer. Being an artist is not an unionized government job. It is a risk. Go to any art school today and you will see a majority of young Asian women (I have given lectures at numerous schools). Does this mean in 40 years the art scene will be dominated by Canadian Asian Women? Probably not, because most of them will decide to have a family and a normal life. Since 90% of art school graduates are not in the art field after 10 years what is the demographics of the 10%? (today and in the past?)

Yukon Arts Centre says:

I would love to supply statistics for the Yukon so you have some representation from the Territories! I very much enjoyed the article and definitely feel this is an issue we should be addressing in our programming.

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