CA 389 - Professional Practices in the Contemporary Arts

This guide is intended to help you with research for your CA 389 course, primarily the Community "Forest" Map, but also can be used to research creative industry people and organizations in preparation for job searches.  I hope it's helpful. I welcome your thoughts about what's too much information, too little or if you have ideas for additions.

If you do not find what you need, please Ask a Librarian or contact Sylvia Roberts, Liaison Librarian for Contemporary Arts.

Select your arts or cultural organization  

Canadian cultural organizations can be tricky to research, depending on factors like how long they've been in existence, the nature and scope of the organization, available funding and governance structure. Arts organizations can be of limited duration (e.g. production companies for a specific film or one-off creative projects). Creative work can also be organized one person (e.g. an artist) or a partnership of a few without becoming a more formal legal organization. Knowing  some basics about these organizational structures can help you understand how to find information about them.

Many arts professionals operate as sole proprietors or in limited partnerships under their personal or business name.  Establishing a legal entity (a corporation, a society, an association or a festival) limits the personal liability of people involved in the organization (e.g. for debts incurred) and helps the organization continue operation even if personnel change.

If your organization is established as a for-profit corporation or a not-for-profit society, there are legal requirements that determine how funding is used, how decisions are made and whether they need to submit reports to government agencies or other interested parties. These reports can help you identify key aspects of organizations' operations such as activities, strategies and finances.

Make sure your choice of organization enables you to find enough information so that you can effectively respond to the assignment requirements.

TEST the viability of your choice by searching for the organization in the sources listed below. If you do not find information about your first choice, consider whether it might be easier to select a different organization for your assignment. 

What kind of organization is it?

You may start by knowing only the name of your organization. Knowing more about the nature of the organization will help you determine where to look for in-depth information.

Each nugget of information will help you build a picture of the organization AND can also help you search effectively using these as as search terms or ways to limit your search results.  Library research can be like detective work. Gathering leads as you go and tracking your research methods can help you become a more effective researcher.

Ask yourself: Is your organization motivated by seeking profit? Is it a non-profit organization? Does it qualify for charitable donations?  Where is it located? Who are some of the key people involved in the organization?  What are their roles?

Start by looking at the organization's web site for a link labelled "About" or "Mandate". For-profit organizations may label these links "Company information", "Investor relations" or something similar.

Non-profit organizations are usually incorporated under legislation which dictates their structure and reporting requirements, for example, in BC, the Societies Act (SBC 2015). 

For-profit organizations can be either public or private companies.  Public companies invite investment by selling shares in the company via stock exchanges. Private companies are owned by one or more individuals (or other companies).

There are far more private companies than public companies: about 98% of all companies are private. Search the company's web site to see if you can find if it's traded on a stock exchange or links to annual and financial reports for the company. If it's a private company, you may be able to find information in news or business sources.

NOTE:  While there are for-profit creative organizations in Canada, most are non-profits. This research guide will focus on resources for non-profit arts organizations.
If you're interested in research sources for a for-profit corporation, check out this CMNS 230 research guide.

Annual and financial reports

Annual reports provide a snapshot of the organization's activities for the previous year, including the mandate, major initiatives, future plans, finances, etc. You can compare reports published over several years to evaluate trends in finances and activities. 

Both not-for-profit organizations and public, for-profit corporations are legally required to produce annual reports. Individuals and partnership (as well as private corporations) are not legally required to publish annual reports, though they may share some of the same information on their web site or in social media.

Not-for-profit organizations generally publish annual reports that describe activities, financial status (e.g. grants, donations, revenue from operations, expenses), names of the board of directors and other key personnel, collaborations with other organizations and plans for the future. You might find these on the organization's web site, e.g. the most recent annual report for the Polygon Gallery

Annual reports are shared with members of non-profit organizations in electronic form prior to the annual general meeting for the organization. You can sometimes locate reports by searching online for the organization's name and "annual general meeting".

Alternatively, you might access a copy at the business office of the organization or by making a request to see what's been filed with the provincial registry where they are established.   The registry is not searchable online by citizens and requests may not produce the information in a timely way.

If a not-for-profit organization is Canadian and has charitable status (meaning you can get a tax deduction for donations to them), you may be able to find useful operational and financial information in the Revenue Canada List of Charities. Search for your organization by name to find these reports which are filed annually.

 NOTE:  The formal legal name of an organization may differ from how you know them. For example, the legal registered name of the Grunt Gallery is UNIT 306: SOCIETY FOR THE DEMOCRATIZATION OF THE ARTS.

If you're not having success searching using one name, look at their web site to see if there are alternative names listed.  You can also search Canada Helps to find the registered names of organizations with charitable status.

Background information and overviews

Organization's web sites often contain information about their purpose, their origins and history, as well as current activities. Look for links labeled About Us, Reports, Press, News, Media Releases, etc. Often you can find archives of press information on corporate web site so you can trace activities back through time.

You may be able to find older information for your organization by entering the URL for the site in the Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive. The results will show you a calendar of links, each of which will show you how a web page looked on a particular date.

Your organization's history and role in the Canadian creative industries may be discussed in detail in books or articles in the SFU Library collection. These sources may focus on your organization or make mention of it within the context of more general topics, such as a specific cultural or creative sector (e.g. dance, film, theatre) or issues facing all organizations working in that field (e.g. technological, policy or economic factors). 

To find these mentions, search the Library catalogue for the name(s) of your organization (including short forms or other variations, e.g. "the Cultch" for the Vancouver East Cultural Centre) or names of  people with a significant role in the organization or specific projects (e.g. exhibitions, performances, education programs). 

Once you find matching sources, you can find the specific references to your organization by using the search function (for digital formats) or the table of contents and back-of-the-book index for print books.

See below for more detail on specific types of news or cultural/creative sector publications that may be especially useful.

News sources

Newspapers and news magazines contain articles directed at a general audience. Because these are focused on current events, rather than an in-depth treatment of a topic, news articles are best used to learn about activities at a specific time rather than provide an overview of the organization. Local news sources can be an excellent place to find professionally written reviews for an organization's outward facing activities (e.g. exhibitions or performances) and interviews with key people involved in the organization.

Consider where your organization is situated to establish where there may be coverage of it.  For example, if looking for discussion of productions at SFU, I check The Peak and SFU News.  If I'm looking for an arts organization based in Vancouver, I might search local news publications that cover the arts, like the Vancouver Sun or the Georgia Straight.  If the organization has a touring production, it might be worth searching newspapers located in the various cities where they've made appearances. 

News databases let you search the full text of articles published in a variety of news sources, sometimes including transcripts of news media programs. Try the databases listed below for news stories about your organization, relevant people and creative works.

NOTE:  Many news media organizations have web sites and social media feeds that feature stories from their publications. These are convenient to use but the content may not include all of the stories in the published source. The web site search engines do not usually enable the powerful search features and full coverage found in full text news databases listed below.

Canadian sources

  • Canadian Newsstream major Canadian daily newspapers and Western Canadian weeklies, including local papers for communities throughout BC.
  • CBCA Complete Canadian newspapers, news magazines, trade publications, scholarly journals, with links to full text.

International coverage

  • Factiva global coverage of newspapers, newswires, industry publications, websites, and company reports
  • NexisUni international news coverage, strongly American with good coverage of Canadian sources & topics
  • PressReader current issues (most recent 1-3 months) of newspapers from around the world, including Canadian news such as the Georgia Straight
NOTE: SFU Library has collections of news sources, including older issues of individual newspapers in digital and physical formats such as microfilm. The physical formats are available at the Bennett Library in Burnaby.  

The Vancouver Public Library (VPL)  provides access to the full text of many newspaper sources if you have a library card (available to Vancouver residents) or visit one of their branches.  The Central branch of VPL contains historical copies of newspapers and is only 10 minutes walk from the SCA Goldcorp site. 

Industry publications

Industry publications (also called trade journals, trade magazines or professional magazines), are like news magazines directed at readers with an interest in a specific trade or industry. 

Professional publications include articles that discuss developments related to the creative sector, as well as about specific organizations and their work.  You may find interviews with key people from your organization, reviews of creative productions, discussion of developments affecting all in the industry (e.g. new granting programs, government policy changes affecting organization operations, environmental issues such as adapting to COVID).   Surveying these over time will contribute to your understanding of the sector in which you hope to work. 

As well as articles discussing issues of interest to this specialized audience, trade magazines contain advertising, announcements and job ads targeted for this audience. Trade journals may be published by professional associations or by commercial publishers. In both cases, subscriptions may be required to access the content. SFU Library subscribes to many arts publications.

These are selected examples of current magazines aimed at workers in the creative industries, with links to their web site and notes on scope. On the web site, look for an "About" link to learn about the intended audience and scope of a publication. You can often find details about their social media feeds, including icons that link to the specific accounts.

To find previous issues of these publications, look for a link to archives on the web site or search the SFU Library A-Z journal list by publication title.  This will find the full text to magazine articles if we have a subscription to the publication or it's contained in a database.

Arts sector specific indexes

Sometimes the easiest way to find relevant articles is to use a sector specific database (see the list below). You can limit your search results to trade or industry publications. You may also find academic articles that focus on research related to specific organizations or aspects of the industry.

If available the database record links to the full text of the article but sometimes these publications are only available in print. Increasingly, print publications are disappearing in favor of online versions or social media feeds.

Start with the datbases below to find articles in your cultural/creative sector:

Industry associations

Industry associations (also known as trade associations) serve as advocates, educators and negotiators on behalf of their members, who are usually organizations or professionals working in a specific arts sector. Web sites for these associations can provide information about issues and opportunities for the sector in which your organization operates. Some associations will also produce their own news publications.  Labour unions in the arts can also serve this function.

Examples of Canadian industry associations in the arts include:

Sometimes umbrella arts organizations provide support to creative workers through professional education, job postings and calls for artists' submissions (e.g. for public art or grant competitions) and promoting the formation of professional communities, for example:

The Associations Canada directory can help identify industry or professional associations relating to your media industry.  The Toronto Metropolitan University Library features a long list of associations in the Canadian creative and cultural industries. 

Although these examples are Canadian sources, you may find it helpful to consider whether it's worth checking similar organizations in the United States, the UK, or elsewhere in the world. While the geographic location of an organization can affect the policy/legal/economic framework for their operations, the global reach of the arts

TIP:  You can often find relevant industry organizations by searching the web for "association" in combination with search terms that represent your professional focus (e.g. dramaturgy, composers, ballet) and a geographical area (e.g. Canada, international, Vancouver).  If you don't find what you want, try changing one of these elements to go broader.

Staying current

It's a useful, practical strategy to follow publications or join associations that relate to your professional practice so you can stay current with changes and opportunities in your field. 

Many of these organizations/publications post on social media.  Look for a link from relevant web sites or search on the specific platform to find the feed. Remember that their feed might not be an an exact match for the name of the organization.

YouTube and Vimeo can be good sources for organizational outputs, providing reviews, tours, as well as programming (interviews, talks).  Social media and news/press sections of organization's web sites can feature information about recent works.  Availability of video content often relates to the size of the organization as considerable resources are needed to maintain web sites and develop programming or publicity materials.

Ask your instructors, your professional colleagues and others in your sector about which publications they follow, or associations they've joined, to stay current with developments in the industry.

Government sources of support (grant programs)

If you are looking for funds to support organizational or individual creative projects, you may use the following sources to identify grant-making programs.  The nature of the grants vary, e.g. supporting ongoing costs of organizations (staffing, space) or specific project funding, support for artist development or travel, creative residencies, promoting the creation of specific types of art or by specific types of people (e.g. Indigenous, people of colour, women, new professionals).

Below are some useful places to start looking for grant programs:

Often these funding programs are recurring so, if you're not successful the first time, you can plan to re-apply. 

Many of these organizations list organizations/individuals who've made successful applications.  This may help you identify arts organizations with successful fundraising programs as well as identifying which grants may be suitable for similar initiatives.