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Towards a Geography of Culture: Culture Occupations Across the Canadian Urban-Rural Divide

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By Michael Schimpf and Paul Sereda

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Executive summary

Over the past several years, increasing attention has been paid to the expanding role that culture plays in the urban economy. Recent work emphasizes the role of the culture sector for encouraging economic growth, urban renewal and improving a city’s quality of life. However, there is little written in past literature concerning whether the size of a city affects the extent of the workforce engaged in the culture sector. Hence, the first purpose of this paper is to shed light on the relative importance of culture employment across a broad cross-section of Canadian communities, ranging from isolated rural parts of Canada to its largest cities. Specifically, we are interested in whether culture is only a big city phenomenon, or if there are smaller cities and rural areas that also support vibrant cultural life.

For this study, Canada was divided into 399 geographic areas, which we refer to as "geographies." They include Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs), Census Agglomerations (CAs) and the rural portions of Census Districts (CDs). CMAs have a population greater than 100,000 and are referred to as large cities while CAs have a population greater than 10,000 and are referred to as small cities. This study uses data from the 2001 Census. We defined 48 occupations as cultural in nature. These include writers, artists, designers, and a variety of culture-related technical and manufacturing occupations. We calculated the total number of culture workers across all 48 culture occupations for each CMA, CA and rural region. This allowed us to determine the proportion of each geography's workforce employed in culture occupations. We found that 32 geographies had higher shares of culture workers than the national average, and we refer to these as "culture clusters." The clusters range in size from big cities to small rural areas and are listed in the paper.

We also found that size matters; that is, the size of a geography, measured by its workforce, is generally significant for the proportion of workers employed in the culture sector. Large cities tend to have far larger shares of their workforces in culture occupations compared to rural areas and small cities. However, our study did identify 14 rural areas and 9 small cities with exceptionally large culture workforces.  We believe that rural regions and small cities with high culture employment ship their culture goods and services elsewhere in Canada or internationally, since their local markets would be too limited to support their culture industries.  Stratford, Ontario, for example, attracts audiences from nearby Toronto, Hamilton and Detroit to its theatre festival.

We also calculated an entropy-based metric that measures the diversity of culture occupations for each of the geographies, which we refer to as the "Diversity Index" (DI). The DI takes into account both the number of culture occupations represented in a geography and how culture employment is spread amongst them. A geography with all 48 occupations present and culture employment distributed evenly across them would score a DI of 48, the maximum possible. On the other hand, a geography with all culture employment concentrated in just one occupation would have a DI of just 1, indicating extreme specialization of the culture workforce. In our study, we found that Montreal was the most diverse geography, with a DI of 37.75.

We found that DI depends very strongly on workforce size. Large cities, not surprisingly, have the most diverse culture workforces. Small cities and rural areas are more specialized, even those with relatively large culture workforces.

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