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Visual artists: counter-urbanites in the Canadian countryside?


Although arts are largely an urban phenomenon, recent study demonstrates the existence of numerous rural centres in Canada specialising in the production of some form of art (Bunting and Mitchell 2001). However, very little is known about artists who choose to reside in rural locales. We do not yet know, for example, whether those living in the Canadian countryside are part of the counter-urbanisation movement that has periodically embraced North America since the mid-twentieth century. This paper seeks to extend our knowledge of the spatial distribution of rural artists who work in the visual arts and, in doing so, to advance our understanding of the metropolitan-to-non-metropolitan population dynamic.

The research is guided by two objectives. The first objective is to determine whether artists living in, or adjacent to, two rural arts centres (Elora and Parry Sound, Ontario, see Figure 1) have relocated from larger urban settings. If so, we can conclude that in this sense their migration behaviour is part of the movement commonly referred to as counter-urbanisation (Mitchell 2004). The second objective is to identify what types of migration are occurring, as revealed in an analysis of migrant motivations and place of work. We set the context for this study by briefly reviewing literature related to two areas of scholarship: that dealing with the counter-urbanisation movement and that focusing on the spatial distribution of artists and the importance of 'place' to those engaged in the visual arts.


The Context

The counter-urbanisation movement

Beginning in the early 1970s, many communities occupying the lower echelons of the settlement hierarchy experienced an unexpected wave of growth (Beale 1974, 1976; Champion 1981; Hugo 1986). Although rates of increase were to subside somewhat by the end of the decade (Engels and Healy 1979), evidence again surfaced in the late 1980s and mid-1990s of population revival in selected non-metropolitan regions (Champion and Townsend 1990; Johnson and Beale 1994). This phenomenon prompted a flurry of research activity. It was generally concluded that growth was occurring because of the decision of urban residents to seek out 'rural' settings, a search that has occurred in the context of increased mobility, promoted by mass automobile and home ownership and widespread highway expansion.

This movement, which is frequently referred to as counter-urbanisation (Mitchell 2004; Halliday and Coombs 1995; Boyle and Halfacre 1998; Swaffield and Fairweather 1998; Champion 2000), has generated considerable debate about the motivations that prompt residents to leave urban areas. According to Champion (1998, p. 22):
   A key theme in this debate is the extent to which
   those moving into rural areas are motivated by a
   desire for 'rurality' in terms of rural living environment
   and lifestyle--in essence making a 'new start'
   that represents a 'clean break' from their past--as
   opposed to choosing (or even being forced) to move
   because of a geographical redistribution of elements
   that have always been important to their quality of
   life such as jobs, housing, services and safety.

Moves driven by economic need or environmental attraction are well documented in the literature. (1) Dozens of studies in North America (e.g., Davis 1993; Thomson and Mitchell 1998) and Europe (e.g., Harper 1987; Bolton and Chalkley 1990; Cloke and Goodwin 1992; Jedrej and Nuttall 1996; Champion 1998) have attempted to uncover the motivations behind the decision to take up rural residence. (2) If one must draw a generalisation from this research, it is that perceived rural amenities--both tangible (attractive, natural and built landscapes) and intangible (peaceful, quiet, safe of friendly places)--have played an increasingly important role in the migration decision of urban out-migrants. More recent literature in a postmodern vein identifies these attributes as contributing to the social construction of an ideal of rural living (Cloke and Goodwin 1992). The result of this construction has been the growth of select rural communities that are perceived to embody these tangible and intangible rural attributes.

The decision to seek out a rural living environment, for either economic or environmental motives, has an indisputable impact on the journey to work. Evidence has been collected that urban out-migrants often seek to maintain employment in the urban marketplace and thus undergo a near-daily commute to their workplace. The word 'ex-urbanisation', derived from Spectorsky (1955), has been adopted amongst geographers in North America, where commuting to a metropolitan workplace is a common occurrence. (3) Other evidence suggests that the desire to both live and work in a rural setting also has fostered the out-migration of urban residents. (4) This type of counter-urbanisation has been found to occur in both metropolitan-adjacent (Meyer 1981) and nonadjacent locations (Forsythe 1980; Bowles and Beale 1981; Jones et al. 1984, 1986; Buller and Hoggart 1994; Hoggart et al. 1995), across many parts of the developed world.

Urban out-migration, therefore, is not a homogenous movement but reflects variations in employment behaviour and in motivations driving migration. This recognition prompted Mitchell (2004) to identify three types of counter-urbanisation. The first type is the well-documented 'ex-urbanisation' movement, motivated by a longing to replace the disamenities of city living, with the perceived benefits of living in a 'rural' environment, while maintaining a metropolitan-based workplace. A second type, which Mitchell has termed 'anti-urbanisation', is undertaken by former urbanites who similarly prefer a rural residence for its environmental attractions but who also relinquish all employment ties to their former place of residence. We can refer to this as a 'ruralisation' movement, thus avoiding any implication that anti-urban sentiments are exclusive to this category of counter-urbanisation. Included in this 'ruralite' cohort are also individuals in or near retirement age who more out of the workforce on a full- or part-time basis. The final type is 'displaced urbanisation', involving moves dictated solely by economic necessity. While some displaced urbanites continue to commute back to the core, others secure employment in the destination area. Their move to a rural location is a result of financial need, not a specific desire to reside in a rural-like setting. Unlike those in the previous categories, displaced urbanites would not hesitate to return to a larger place, if more favourable economic opportunities were to emerge.

The spatial distribution of artists

Throughout history, individuals who pursue artistic careers have been distinguished as possessing the opportunity of combining place of residence with place of work. There is also the metaphoric association of artists with poverty, which has constrained their locational choice to p]aces where accommodation is most affordable. To some extent, both factors of choice and constraint have resulted in the concentration of artists in very large metropolitan centres, where there are communities or 'ghettos' of artists and where readily accessible markets enhance the viability of their craft. (5) It is undeniable, however, that both metropolitan-adjacent and non-adjacent rural places a]so entice some individuals engaged in artistic professions. While it is not within the purview of this paper to consider the historic role of place in the arts, a brief survey provides evidence that non-metropolitan landscapes have held great appeal for many Canadian artists.

The attraction of artists to rural places is most obviously witnessed in visual arts. We can identify a few renowned artists, such as contemporary Atlantic Canadians Alex Colville and Christopher Pratt, who have embodied their professional careers in distinctive rural landscapes. At least one member of the Group of Seven, A. Y. Jackson, retired to the Gatineau in the latter years of his career; from there, he also continued to foray into the wilderness, making a sketching trip to Baffin Island at age 83 years. More recently, one might point to Jacques Hurtubise, the Montreal-based painter, who since 1980 has exercised his preference for living and working outside an urban environment by setting up shop in a remote part of Cape Breton Island and travelling periodically back to Montreal.

While some visual artists are drawn to the natural and often unspoiled landscapes of distant areas, evidence suggests that an increasing number of artists are being drawn to places within the city's countryside (Heilbrun 1987; Villani 1996; Bunting and Mitchell 2001; Piccioni 2001). This research indicates that artists seek out rural locations adjacent to a metropolis for myriad reasons. While some are forced outwards by economic necessity, others are in pursuit of attractive or more tranquil settings in proximity to an urban marketplace. For some, the desire to relocate to such an area is also influenced by the presence of tourism as a source of localised rural consumer demand.

In North America, for example, the relocation of significant numbers of urban artists to the countryside was first found to be taking place in the vicinity of New York City. Here, Spectorsky (1955) revealed that artists were among the first harbingers to seek out exurban locations beyond the noise and congestion of New York City but still within reach of its artistic venues.
   Artists were dedicated folk; they came to work, not
   to play. They were looking for three things: something
   inexpensive, something quiet and remote, but
   something not too far from New York City's galleries
   and museums (Spectorsky 1955, p. 19).

A similar out-migration also was found to be occurring in California where Vance (1972) observed that the area lying adjacent to San Francisco had emerged as a 'beatnik' literary community, whose residents sought refuge from mainstream society. In a Canadian context, Punter (1974, p. 12) also reported that artists and writers were seeking quiet countryside locations, adjacent to Toronto, where 'freedom from convention' was possible.

Artistic presence in rural North America also has been attributed to a shift in the source of demand, brought about by the permanent and temporary migrations of a culturally astute population (Ploch 1980; Lessinger 1991). Ploch, for example, points to the situation in Maine where newcomers' desire for cultural amenities resulted in the establishment of several performing arts centres. Rural artistic enterprise also has been fostered by the desire among full-time urban residents to experience a temporary reprieve from urban life, in what has been called 'periodic exurbia' (Vance 1972; Patel 1980). In Canada, the appearance of pottery studios, craft shops (Bunce 1982; Dahms 1984, 1986; Coppack 1988) and summer theatres (Dahms 1984; Mitchell 1992, 1993) within day-tripping distance of major urban centres has provided artists with a non-metropolitan marketplace in which to display their craft. Comparable trends also have emerged in the United States (Fitchen 1991; Gober et al. 1993; Knop and Jobes 1997), revealing a growing cultural presence within the non-metropolitan milieu.

While the arts are often only a minor presence in many rural communities, recent evidence has emerged that in some places, artists congregate in sufficient numbers to become a major part of the community's economic base. Villani (1996), for example, has identified more than 100 'art towns' across North America where the benefits of countryside living have given rise to a small town arts explosion. Bunting and Mitchell (2001) also confirm that artists concentrate beyond Canada's metropolitan boundaries. Their research revealed that 371 small centres (with populations of 10,000 or less) have an above-average number of persons engaged in artistic professions. While various factors were proposed to account for this artistic presence, they conclude that 'without in-depth field investigation, it is impossible to fully understand the relative importance of economic need versus landscape [i.e. environmental] appeal' (Bunting and Mitchell 2001, p. 282). The research outlined below moves towards an enhancement of this understanding.

Study Sites and Method

Our study focuses on two settlements of southern Ontario, Elora and Parry Sound, both identified by Bunting and Mitchell (2001) as having above-average levels of artistic activity (Figure 1). Parry Sound is located in central Ontario, approximately a 2-hour drive north of Toronto, Canada's largest metropolitan area with an established reputation as the leading arts centre in English-speaking Canada. Given its distance to the nearest census metropolitan area, we identify Parry Sound as a metropolitan-non-adjacent community. The town is supported by a population of 6,124, while the district of which it is a part is home to more than 60,000 residents (Statistics Canada 2002).

Parry Sound is found within the Canadian Shield, surrounded by the waters of Georgian Bay. It is located in an area that boasts some spectacular landscape. For many decades, its beauty and unspoiled scenery have lured both tourist and artist, including members of the Group of Seven and well-known Canadian artist, Doris McCarthy (Parry Sound Chamber of Commerce 2000). Recently, writer Katherine Govier (1996) set a literary work in this locale where, as she describes it, there are:
   miles of ancient rock twisted in lava layers, laid out in
   swirls, rolled into boulders, opened in crevices where
   the trees forced their roots down into the water, using
   their own dead needles for soil. Every shape known to
   humans was first imagined here, in some a creative
   tantrum of the earth's molten state ... They call it no-man's
   land. and it is that, just like the space between
   opposing armies. You ... find the comfort you need
   here, in the knowing of it (p. 368).

   Here was ... forest, the pines, a few strands of cedar
   trees, blueberry and juniper bushes, a drying carpet
   of emerald moss...shaded uneven rocky terrain ...
   the open side ... utterly different: the pink rock had
   been scoured by waves to marble smoothness. Above
   the waterline it was stippled with lime and orange
   lichen. The light was stronger here, too, whiter,
   pouring in from the west (p. 119).

Our second study site is Elora, located in the heart of south central Ontario. This village is situated approximately 1.5 hours from the census metropolitan area of Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo and a 1-hour drive west of Greater Toronto. In geographic terms, Elora's proximity to the Greater Toronto Area places it in the category of a metropolitan-adjacent rural community. The village is home to approximately 4,500 residents, with an additional 20,000 found scattered throughout the township of which it is a part (Statistics Canada 2002).

Elora is located at the junction of the Grand and Irvine Rivers, nestled around glacial rock formations. It is an historic village, renown for its architectural and cultural amenities. In recent years, some of Elora's heritage structures have become venues for the creation and/or sale of artistic products. When combined with its scenic attributes, the village of Elora has evolved into an important day-tripping destination (Mitchell and Coghill 2000).

Elora and Parry Sound are home to more artists than one would expect, given their population size (Bunting and Mitchell 2001). The goal of this paper was to offer a tentative explanation for the presence of visual artists in these southern Ontario communities. To meet this general goal, a two-phased methodology was put in place.

First, in 2001, a structured telephone survey was conducted with visual artists living and working in the vicinity of both communities. The telephone survey provided basic information--where respondents had previously resided, why they moved, why they chose their current location, where they practised their craft and what contacts were maintained with the urban marketplace. (6) Participants were initially identified from a listing provided on the Studio Tour brochures (24 were listed in both the Parry Sound and Elora areas) in consultation with the studio tour's curator in each place. (7) Additional names of possible participants were obtained from the artists themselves using a 'snowball' method. We did not presume on the question as to who qualified as a bona fide artist but let respondents self identify. In total, 40 and 30 prospective respondents were approached in Parry Sound and Elora, respectively, with 35 and 25, respectively, agreeing to participate in this phase of the study. (8)

Data collected in the telephone survey were supplemented by a second phase of the research in fall 2001 that looked for detailed whys and wherefores and attempted to probe the artists' lifeworlds and localised sense of place. Richer, qualitative insight was gleaned from personal interviews, lasting in some cases several hours, held in the homes of six artists in Parry Sound. In-depth dialogues also were conducted with seven Elora-area artists. In both cases, the same loosely structured set of questions guided the conversations, which were taped and subsequently transcribed.

In the discussion of findings that follows, we have merged the more objective findings with detailed explanations gained in face-to-face encounters. We present the survey findings in tabular form but do not carry out statistical analysis or check for statistical significance as no hypotheses are being tested. We, however, do lay claim to a theoretical significance for our work based on congruity between findings presented here and those associated with previous research summarised above.


Origins of visual artists

Table 1 confirms that counter-urbanisation is largely responsible for the presence of artists in both geographic locations because the vast majority of survey participants indicated moving to the region from a larger metropolitan centre. Elora-area artists are drawn almost equally from the neighbouring cities of Toronto, Guelph and Kitchener, with only one artist relocating from each of the more distant communities of Ottawa, Montreal and St Johns. In contrast, Toronto is the dominant source region for counter-urbanites living in Parry Sound, with the remaining migrants moving from either other Ontario census metropolitan areas (Hamilton, Kingston or London) or, in the case of one respondent, Rome, Italy. Thus, the presence of artists in these two districts can be attributed, to a large extent, to the relocation of urban residents down the settlement hierarchy.

Types of counter-urbanisation

Knowing that most of the rural artists we surveyed are counter-urbanites, we ask whether they might easily be categorised as falling into exurbanisation, ruralisation or displaced-urbanisation movements. As described above, these counter-urbanisation variants are distinguished by the employment ties of participants to the source community and to the motivations responsible for relocation. Each of these characteristics is considered independently and then integrated to determine which counter-urbanisation movements are operating at each location.

Employment in situ. Table 2 illustrates that the population of artists living in the two study sites is somewhat different with respect to their employment activity. In the Elora area, we find that all surveyed artists are employed (i.e., earning income), with the majority (83 percent, or 20 individuals) devoted solely to their artistic career. This contrasts somewhat with the situation in Parry Sound where fewer than one-half of the artists surveyed are engaged fully in their artistic career, with approximately one-fifth (six individuals) also having another job in the local area. In addition, we find that nearly one-third of the sample (nine individuals) moved to the district upon retirement. In these cases, survey participants pursue art as a full-time activity and enjoy, but do not depend on, sales of their craft for financial support. This is further illustrated in Table 3, where it is shown that artistic activity provides less than 10 percent of total household income for most retirees surveyed in Parry Sound. This stands in contrast with Elora, where more than two-thirds of the sample depend on the sale of their craft for more than 75 percent of their household income.

Variations also exist among employment activities of artists' partners, for those in the sample who lived with a spouse. The Elora survey revealed that all partners contribute income to the household. Approximately one-fifth claim the status of artist, with the remaining holding positions either locally (42 percent) or beyond the township (25 percent) in neighbouring Kitchener, Waterloo or Guelph. In contrast, the Parry Sound survey revealed that more than one-half of the partners are unemployed, because of either retirement (nine) or choice (six). Similar to Elora, more than one-quarter work in the local area (nine). However, only one individual is employed outside the district (in the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area).

Our analysis of employment activity suggests that artists living in Elora and vicinity have chosen a living environment in closer proximity to an urban setting, and for some, this setting continues to provide a source of household income. For most, however, employment has been sought out, of created, in the countryside. While many artists have found financial success in their artistic career, others generate less income from their artistic enterprise and rely on another adult member of the household for financial support.

In Parry Sound, visual artists have chosen to reside in an environment that is somewhat distant from metropolitan influence. The vast majority of households (all but one) have relinquished employment ties to their former place of urban residence. While the production of art is the sole source of personal income for many, for others, artistic pursuits are combined with employment or retirement in the local community. In comparison with artists in the Elora area, income from the sale of artistic products contributes a relatively small amount to the Parry Sound household. Additional differences are revealed when we consider other important geographic ties between the place where art is produced and the place where it is sold or consumed.

Work-related ties to the metropolitan core. Visual artists are involved in all aspects of the production process, from the visual or tactile gathering of raw materials, through to the sale of the finished product. For many rural artists, in particular for those who paint or draw, the raw material is the natural landscape, a landscape that is often far removed from the urban marketplace. Some artists overcome this spatial separation by tapping into the local tourism market, an activity that sometimes necessitates a change in artistic focus. In the words of one Parry Sound artist:
   I paint landscapes up here because I show every
   week in Parry Sound down at the Docks. I show my
   work because I want to sell. If you want to live from
   the art that you produce, you obviously want to have
   a market. You need a market so you have to be in
   areas where you need to sell your art ... it is important
   that you find a niche for your art, ... even if I like
   to paint abstract, if I want to sell here in Parry Sound
   to tourists that come here, I basically have to paint
   some local scenery, some local landscapes or seascapes,
   otherwise you don't sell it. I mean that is
   the niche here for selling art ...

Changing one's artistic focus to satisfy the customer is not always viewed in favourable terms. One artist in Parry Sound, who refuses to bow to the whims of the consumer, offers this opinion:
   I see it happening ... to be absolutely honest I see a
   lot of commercial artists moving up here. I do not see
   a lot of true artists. Artists who really are soul artists.
   There are not very many up here. There seems to be a
   lot of artists who are moving up here and trying to
   bring city ways with them. They are trying to market
   their work up here. They are making prints of their
   work. They are selling themselves. So I don't see a lot
   of soul artists up here. I sure wish there were a few
   more people like me who just want to paint and
   express ourselves and survive. There are very few
   pure artists that more up to this area ... An artist is
   motivated by the expression, by expressing themselves
   from the soul not for making money. He
   works from the soul, he works from his imagination
   and soul and from his mind, rather than for what to
   sell ...

For those who disdain tourists' taste, or desire to further enhance their financial assets, it becomes necessary to seek out venues and commercial outlets in larger metropolitan cores. This appears to be the case for most visual artists in both Parry Sound and Elora, who have retained contact with purveyors of art work in a variety of urban settings (Table 4). As one former Toronto area resident now living in Elora confirms, 'I do sell mostly in Toronto and you do have to get there mostly by driving once a week or so. Not daily, I would not want to commute daily, [although] some people do'. Similar comments are offered by artists in Parry Sound, as illustrated in the following quotation:
   It is difficult to work here because it's a small population.
   There are tourists here, but they are here for
   twelve weeks, and they do not come to buy art, they
   come to get wet in the water, and go boating and
   fishing and get out of the city and smell some clean
   air for a couple of weeks. They buy stuff, there's no
   doubt about it.

Overall, therefore, there are some differences between the two rural communities that we have studied. More artists in Parry Sound only sell locally, while more artists in Elora are tied directly to the Toronto marketplace. This finding is not surprising, given differences in the distances separating each community from the metropolis. Motivations to migrate. As described above, the migration of urban residents to non-metropolitan settings is a result of both economic and environmental factors. In this section, we consider both the relative importance of motives for migration and the specific types of forces giving rise to relocation.

We find that only about one-third of all survey participants indicated that economic factors were responsible for the decision to relocate (37 percent, or nine individuals in Elora, and 34 percent, or ten individuals in Parry Sound; Table 5). Economic concerns fall into two categories, differentiated according to their relationship with the artistic production process. First is the securing of non-artistic employment--a process that determines the rural locale but is unrelated to survey participants' artistic activity. This motivation is particularly prevalent in Parry Sound, where approximately one-fifth of all participants reported moving for reasons associated with either their own or a partner's employment. In the words of several survey respondents: 'I graduated from Teacher's College in 1985 and Parry Sound offered me a job'; 'I married a school teacher who took a job in Parry Sound'; 'My husband picked Parry Sound for a teaching job at the time and we are still here'.

Second, are those factors related specifically to artistic enterprise. Here we include the search for more affordable studio space and the desire to open an artistic business. These motivations are of somewhat greater significance in Elora, as reflected in the comment of one visual artist.
   The biggest concern for me is that it is cheaper, the
   property is cheaper in the country. I used to live in
   the city, in a neighborhood in Toronto and I wanted
   more space for my work and I could not afford to buy
   a bigger house in Toronto.... I wanted more space
   and it was actually a little bit of a fluke that I ended
   up here ... the property is cheaper out here, not that I
   can sell my work easily out here. I sell my work easily
   in the city because that is where all the younger
   buyers are ... I have a lot of friends who are artists
   living in the city, most of whom rent because they
   can't afford to buy a house. I was lucky because we
   bought a house in the city, a tiny house eighteen
   years ago, but we could not afford to buy one now.
   and I had this tiny studio and that was it because you
   could not afford anything else. So that was one of the
   major criteria why we moved.

In contrast to economic factors, environmental concerns, broadly defined, featured large in reasons expressed for moving to the countryside. In Parry Sound, all respondents included some aspect of the environment (either tangible or intangible) in their list of motivations, with more than three-quarters of Elora participants making similar claims. Two types of incentives emerged from the survey: those reflecting participant's general desire to change residence and those referring to the specific characteristics of the chosen destination area.

A variety of general migration reasons were cited by survey respondents (Table 6). In the Elora area, the desire to live in a smaller community (33 percent, eight individuals) followed by the need to escape perceived problems of city living (17 percent, four individuals) were the key forces driving relocation to the countryside. In the words of one artist:
   It's the noise of people in the city, the traffic, the
   neighbours, I had a neighbour with his lawnmower
   right outside my window and all summer I would
   have to put up with this lawnmower, screaming
   kids dropping pop cans in the front yard--that sort
   of thing and cars racing up and down the street. That
   is what I moved to get away from.

The longing to escape the noise and pollution of the city was cited by an even larger percentage of Parry Sound residents. As one resident expresses:
   I live in this very isolated spot. It's like the end of the
   earth ... I will go practically a whole week without
   talking to anybody, I am up there in my house and I
   love that. I get lots of work done, I found in the city
   there were just too many distractions, and I think
   that for me the attraction of an isolated setting in
   the country is that I can really focus on my work.
   Where it was much harder to do that in the city. For
   me, it is really important to get focused on my work
   and I can only do that when I am on my own. In the
   wintertime, when it is such a hassle to just even go
   out, I just stoke up the wood store and get some food
   in and I just work.

The importance of raising a family in a rural setting was noted by an almost equal percentage of artists in both study sites (Table 6). As one resident of Parry Sound observed: 'I did not want to raise my kids in the city--my two kids are asthmatic so I wanted to get out of the city and into the countryside to raise my family'. The wish to live in a quieter or more natural setting also emerged, although these motivations were reported by a somewhat smaller percentage of respondents in both regions.

General migration motivations were accompanied by others, which were related specifically to the characteristics of the destination. Attributes related to ties to the area (what Roseman and Williams [1980] call 'location specific capital') were of particular importance to visual artists living in Parry Sound. Here, nearly one-third were drawn to the area because of the availability of family property (farm, acreage or cottage), while others (14 percent, four individuals) attributed their choice of destination to their knowledge and love of the area or to the presence of family or friends. As one resident commented:
   In the 1970s I became familiar with the area. I came
   fishing, sailing and boating here. I had friends that
   lived here and I looked into moving here in 1980. I
   bought a home and I have been here ever since.

Although Elora residents offered similar comments, they appeared less frequently in the survey responses. In contrast, however, a greater percentage of artists referred specifically to the attributes of the Elora area, which, many believed, would enhance their artistic activity. For example, more than one-quarter (seven individuals) of the sample commented that the presence of other artists was a factor prompting their choice of destination. This was attributed to the need to be in close contact with 'like minds', which ultimately causes 'artists to gravitate towards other artists'. In contrast, only a few artists in Parry Sound, two individuals (7 percent), noted proximity to other creative types as being an important motivational factor.

More than one-third of artists surveyed in Parry Sound (but somewhat fewer in Elora) pointed out that they were drawn to the area because of its spectacular natural landscape. This motivation was illustrated more fully when respondents were asked to identify why the physical environment was important to them. As can be seen in Table 7, two dominant attributes emerged.

First, it is clear for many, particularly in Parry Sound, that the landscape provides the raw material (i.e., subject matter) for the creative process. This is further revealed in the comments of one landscape artist, who moved from Toronto more than 13 years ago to paint the varied scenery of the Georgian Bay area:
   I do quite a bit of kayaking in the summer and we go
   in to visit these areas and it is just a very unique
   landscape with the various rock formations, the
   color in the rock, the variety of trees ... the coniferous
   trees and the birches and the willows and everything
   that we have around here--it's really varied
   and very interesting landscapes to enjoy to paint ...

The influence of the physical landscape is less pronounced in Elora. This discrepancy is not surprising when one considers the variations in types of art that are produced in these two locales. Table 8 shows that the vast majority of Parry Sound artists paint, draw or take photographs. In contrast, Elora artists are involved in a much greater range of artistic activity that are not necessarily dependent on the natural landscape for inspiration.

Landscapes are more than a raw material for most artists in both settings. In each case, more than half of survey respondents indicated, in one form or another, that the natural landscape engenders raw spiritual energy that in turn inspires creativity. This and related intangible attributes were overwhelmingly stressed in detailed discussions held with selected individuals in each location, many of whom do not use the natural environment as the subject of their creative work. The comments of an abstract artist illustrate this point:
   ... it is the strength that it gives me. It's only that, it is
   the strength that it gives me because landscape is not
   what I do. The Group of Seven was so influenced by
   the northern landscape, and a lot of artists that you
   just meet still are modern landscape artists really,
   because they work with constant nature themes and
   I guess I don't. My themes are more spiritual. I find
   that the natural elements are very spiritual ... I spend
   a lot of time communicating with the nature spirits
   and I can't see them but I can feel them.

This spiritual connection is also illustrated in the sentiments of a stone carver:
   ... I work from my center rather than my external
   influence. I think if anything, it gives my work
   peace because I have enough isolation to be inspired.
   For example, when I carve stone I carve outside and I
   don't impose myself on the stone, I let the stone tell
   me what is inside and 1 have enough freedom and
   airflow and support from nature that I can get that
   message from the stone.

Further commentary is provided by a sculptor who explains that:
   the landscape does affect my work. People are interested
   in getting stimulation and inspiration from the
   landscape in various forms, not necessarily because
   they are landscape artists, but because there is definitely
   a feeling of energy here; energy in that rawness.
   Rawness and uncultured feeling to the land; I
   find it to be enlightening. To me it is a feeling of

It is very evident from these quotations that the natural environment plays a vital role in the lives of some artists, through its provision of raw material but, perhaps even more importantly for some, through the raw energy it generates. For these artists, described by one interviewee as 'soul' artists, connecting with the natural environment is a crucial ingredient in the creative process. Indeed, it is highly likely that the renowned Canadian artists described earlier in this paper also were motivated by such a need. It is this connection that sets these individuals apart from others who are motivated by the pragmatic economic and environmental reasons cited by some artists in this study and by the general counter-urbanite population at large.

Counter-urbanisation movements. The employment patterns and migration motivations we have described suggest that diverse types of counter-urbanisation may be operating at both locations. Given the geographic location of each study site, however, we would expect to find exurbanisation to be more dominant in the Elora area, with ruralisation more prevalent in the remoter district of Parry Sound. Our results confirm this to be the case--somewhat. But, in both places, ruralisation predominates because, for most artists' surveyed, their craft moves with them, place of residence and place of work are one and the same.

Respondents are classified as exurbanite if (a) at least one adult household member has retained employment in the larger community of origin and (b) if environmental attraction was the sole reason prompting the migration decision. Results show that exurbanisation appears to be a more dominant trend in the Elora area, than in Parry Sound (Table 9). In the former, one-quarter of all survey respondents indicated moving to the area for environmental reasons ('a beautiful landscape', 'interesting place', 'quiet' and 'away from the stress of the city'), while retaining employment ties to their former place of residence. In contrast, only one individual surveyed in the Parry Sound area reported a continuation of employment in the census metropolitan area. In this case, the professional Toronto-area-based graphic artist indicated that the move northward was taken to provide a 'change of lifestyle'--away from the 'stress and pressure' of living in Toronto.

Displaced urbanites are those whose moves are undertaken out of economic necessity and whose place of employment may be found in either the community of origin or destination. These counter-urbanites are present in both geographic settings but are more common in Elora. Here, one-fifth of all visual artists (five in total) moved to the community for economic reasons. Of these, four (of five) stated that the move was undertaken because of the availability of cheap studio space. In each case, these artists make no reference to the environmental amenities of the area but are concerned solely with reducing costs. The remaining displaced urbanite moved because of a temporary non-artistic job opening, which was a 'huge adjustment from the city'. In Parry Sound, only two of the surveyed artists indicated that their move was driven by economic need. In one case, relocation came about because of a spousal job transfer from Toronto, creating a sense of frustration for the artist. In the other case, the move from the Toronto area arose from the need for affordable studio space, a need that we can readily associate with popular stereotypes of impoverished artists. In the words of the latter artist:
   I got together with another artist and we were going
   to have a studio in Toronto, but when we started
   looking around at what we could get in Toronto, the
   cost of having that plus a home, plus traveling was
   just too high. So we looked at converting a cottage
   we already had ... We wanted to live in Toronto but
   we could not afford to. We couldn't have the lifestyle
   that we wanted in Toronto.

An important finding of the research described here is that, whether, adjacent or non-adjacent to a metropolitan area, our survey results reveal that ruralisation of visual artists dominates in both communities. In each of our study sites, we find that more than one-half of the surveyed artists moved residence, relinquished employment ties and relocated for reasons associated in some way with the desire to live in a rural environment.

One Parry Sound resident comments:
   We moved to Lindsey for a year and I absolutely hated
   it. I couldn't tell you what it was. We'd go around
   looking for a place to buy, and it wasn't right, it just
   didn't feel right, and it is beautiful country. I go down
   through there now without the emotional impact
   and I think this is beautiful. Why didn't I like it? But
   it wasn't rocky, it didn't have the same kind of trees,
   it didn't have the same kind of water. There is
   something elemental about it here, and I guess that
   is the only word I can say, it doesn't get realer than
   this ... rocks and trees and water and bush ...

The presence of ruralisation, displaced urbanisation and exurbanisation within southern Ontario is not surprising and confirms what has been found in other parts of North America (see Mitchell 2004 for a review of this literature). We have confirmed that both economic motivations and environmental attraction have spurred urbanite relocation to the countryside. However, what is novel about our findings is our discovery that for some artists, the desire to reside in a rural space does not appear to be influenced solely by such well-understood reasons. What appears to be of added significance is the specificity of place in both a tangible/material and intangible/inspirational sense. Borrowing the term coined by one of our survey respondents, we call these individuals 'soul' artists, given their intimate connection to the natural landscape. In geographic terms (Harvey 1989), we may say that they display a strong attachment to place. Such an attachment indeed suggests that the environment has taken on the role of 'lifeworld' (Buttimer 1976), for some artists who seek out its tangible and intangible attributes.

A question that arises at this juncture is, does this attachment manifest itself in all of the counter-urbanite groups that we have identified in our study? If we refer back to Table 7, we see that 16 artists in Parry Sound and 12 in Elora find inspiration in landscape. As revealed in Table 10, all 'soul' artists in Parry Sound fall into the ruralite category. In contrast, both the exurbanite and ruralite sub-categories in Elora contain several of these artistic types. Thus, we tentatively conclude, based on this very preliminary analysis, that artists do not need to travel great distances beyond the metropolis to find inspiration, or a 'lifeworld' in natural landscapes, but can also achieve an attachment to place in areas found in proximity to a metropolitan core.

Summary and Implications

In this paper, we have demonstrated that the location of artists in the rural ecumene is part of the counter-urbanisation movement that has occurred in North America since the early 1970s. We have shown that counter-urbanising artists are not a homogenous group but differ according to their employment activity and reasons for moving to the countryside. These differences suggest that three diverse types of counter-urbanisation are underway in both rural communities studied, one in a near-metropolitan location and the other at a mid-distance from Canada's largest metropolitan area.

These findings have particular implications for our understanding of counter-urbanisation, the role of 'place' in migration and the future of settlement form. First, our results reveal that the relocation of artists to rural Ontario reflects, in part, the continuation of previously documented counter-urbanisation trends. The presence of exurbanites, particularly in Elora, is evidence of the continual process of metropolitan overspill that has been documented around many Canadian urban centres. The occupation of the Elora countryside by a small group of displaced urbanites also is not a new phenomenon. It reflects the ongoing search for cheaper accommodation, most recently as seen in our results, by those who have been hardest hit by the crisis in affordable housing that has characterised Canada's largest and fast-growing cities since the 1980s. Similarly, the movement of urbanites to Parry Sound upon retirement cannot be called a new phenomenon. As Law and Warnes (1973, p. 377) observed decades ago, 'evidence from both North America and Northwest Europe is that rural areas, preferably in either waterside or hilly areas are the preferred setting for vacation and retirement homes'. What needs to be emphasised is that whether for reason of expressed preferences, or housing costs, or the age profile associated with the baby-boom bulge in our population (Foot and Stoffman 1996), these continuing trends can be expected to escalate in the near future.

What is newly recognised in the research presented here is the elevated importance of ruralisation trends within the overall picture of counter-urbanisation, as least with regard to visual artists. This trend too is one that we anticipate is on the increase, not simply in the case of artists, but if artists are indeed harbingers of new social movements, then as regards the population in general. The changing nature of work itself--flexi-hours, the home office and technological innovation in the form of telecommuting--all imply that there are probably increasing numbers of households among the general population who are relocating to the rural countryside. As a newer geographic phenomenon, increased trends of ruralised relocation of both work and residence can be expected to impact locales within a 'near-' but also even 'mid-' distance from major metropolitan areas, especially in those places that enjoy distinctive physical landscapes found to have strong appeal to the artists surveyed here.

Many geographers depict the last decades of the twentieth century as the period when issues of 'place' have come to predominate over those of simply 'space' (Harvey 1989). Our findings tentatively confirm that attachment to place is extremely important to a subgroup of visual artists living in both Elora and Parry Sound. It appears that the spiritual energy that emanates from the natural elements feeds the artistic soul, thereby stimulating the creative process. While we tentatively make this claim, there is obviously much more to be learnt about the juxtaposition of the artistic and the geographic imagination and about the ties that bind artists to rural and urban communities.

If attachment to place and other pragmatic motivations continue to lure artists and other counter-urbanites out of the urban core, then we anticipate that some parts of the 'rural' countryside will increasingly accommodate both productive, employment-related and home-related consumptive activity. However, many of the newly relocating rural residents, like most artists we have surveyed, will maintain periodic contact with the urban marketplace. This ongoing link between rural communities and the urban core will further serve to blur the bounds between 'rural' and 'urban' (Bryant et al. 2000). The result will be a continual evolution of settlement form. What role the visual artist will play in this process remains an exciting area for future exploration.
Table 1

Categorisation of artists

                                     Elora           Parry Sound
Category                        (n = 25) [n(%)]    (n = 35) [n(%)]

Non-mover                            1 (4)              3 (8)
Mover from another similarly         0 (0)              2 (56)
  sized community
Mover from a smaller to              0 (0)              1 (3)
  larger community
Mover from a larger                 24 (96)            29 (83)
  urban community

Table 2 Employment status

                                            Elora      Parry Sound
                                           (n = 24)     (n = 29)
Employment                                  [n(%)]       [n (%)]

Employment status of visual artists
  Moved upon retirement--art is a hobby     0 (0)         9 (31)
  No other employment                      20 (83)       13 (45)
  Locally employed                          2 (8)         6 (21)
  Not locally employed                      2 (8)         1 (3)
Employment status of artist's partner
  No partner                                3 (12)        4 (14)
  Moved upon retirement                     0 (0)         9 (31)
  Not employed                              0 (0)         6 (21)
  Local artist                              5 (21)        1 (3)
  Locally employed                         10 (42)        8 (28)
  Not locally employed                      6 (25)        1 (3)

Table 3

Artistic income as a percentage of household income

                   Elora          Parry Sound

Household        [Employed    Retired    Employed
income           (n = 24)]    (n = 9)    (n = 20)

More than 75%     10 (42)     0 (0)       2 (10)
50-74%             0 (0)      0 (0)       3 (15)
25-49%             2 (8)      0 (0)       0 (0)
10-24%             4 (17)     2 (22)      3 (15)
Less than 9%       6 (25)     6 (67)     11 (55)
No response        2 (8)      1 (11)      2 (10)

Table 4

Product distribution

                                            Elora     Parry Sound
Marketplace                                [n (%)]      [n (%)]

Some local                                 21 (87)      20 (69)
All local                                   1 (4)        7 (27)
No sales in local area                      2 (8)        2 (7)
Stratford                                   2            0
Toronto                                     8            5
Kitchener-Waterloo                          5            0
Brantford                                   1            0
Picton                                      1            0
Burlington                                  1            0
Campbellford                                0            1
Peterborough                                0            1
Belleville                                  0            1
Barrie                                      0            1
Sudbury                                     0            1
Kingston                                    1            0
Flesherton                                  1            0
Provincial park                             0            2
All across Ontario (shows or galleries)     2            8
Total in Ontario (excluding local area)    22 (92)      20 (69)
Art shows across Canada                     0 (0)        1 (3)
Western Canada                              2            0
New Brunswick                               1            0
Quebec                                      2            0
Newfoundland                                1            0
P.E.I.                                      1            0
Total Canada (outside Ontario)              7 (29)       1 (3)
International                               2 (8)        1 (3)
Commissioned                                1 (4)        1 (3)
Wholesale (all over)                        1 (4)        1 (3)

Table 5

Economic motivations (%)

                                      Elora (n = 24)     Parry Sound
Motivation                               [n (%)]       (n = 29) [n (%)]

Non-artistic factors
  Chose to accept job offer or            2 (8)             6 (22)
    start a business
  Required to accept job transfer         0 (0)             1 (3)
Artistic factors
  Inexpensive, available studio           4 (17)            1 (3)
  Desire to start own arts-               3 (12)            2 (7)
    related business
Percent noting economic motivations      37                34

NOTE: Percentages may exceed 100 due to multiple responses.

Table 6

Environmental motivations (%)

                                           (n = 24)     Parry Sound
Motivation                                  [n(%)]     (n 29) [n(%)]

Motivations prompting move
  To live in a smaller community             8 (33)         1 (3)
  To escape city disamenities                4 (17)         9 (31)
  To raise our family in the country         3 (12)         3 (10)
  To live in a quieter community             2 (8)          1 (3)
  To live in a more natural environment      2 (8)          2 (7)
Reasons for choosing destination
  Artistic presence is well-known            7 (29)         2 (7)
  Availability of family property            2 (8)          9 (31)
  Had family/friends in area                 2 (8)          4 (14)
Knew and loved the area                      2 (8)          4 (14)
  Availability of nice housing               2 (8)          1 (3)
  Beauty of physical environment             2 (8)         11 (38)
  Close to the city                          1 (4)          1 (3)
  Presence of recreational opportunities     0 (0)          1 (3)
Percent noting environmental reasons        79            100

NOTE: Percentages may exceed 100 due to multiple responses.

Table 7

Influence of physical environment on artistic activity

                                  Elora (n = 24)      Parry Sound
Environmental influences             [n (%)]        (n = 29) [n (%)]

Provides subject matter               5 (21)            17 (59)
Provides inspirational setting       12 (50)            16 (55)
No influence                          1 (4)              3 (10)
Do not know                           5 (21)             0 (0)

NOTE: Percentages may exceed 100 due to multiple responses.

Table 8

Types of art produced
                                     Elora (n = 24)      Parry Sound
Type of artwork                         [n (%)]        (n = 29) [n (%)]

Paintings                                2 (8)             14 (48)
Sculptures                               2 (8)              3 (10)
Photographs                              1 (4)              2 (7)
Pottery                                  4 (17)             0 (0)
Stoneware                                1 (4)              0 (0)
Glassware                                1 (4)              0 (0)
Ornamental iron/metal                    2 (8)              0 (0)
Fabric                                   2 (8)              0 (0)
Wood products                            1 (4)              0 (0)
Tiles                                    1 (4)              0 (0)
Prints                                   3 (12)             0 (0)
Paintings and prints                     1 (4)              1 (3)
Glass and metal products                 1 (4)              0 (0)
Batik and photographs                    1 (4)              0 (0)
Paintings and glass                      0 (0)              1 (3)
Paintings and drawings                   0 (0)              4 (14)
Paintings/drawings and sculptures        0 (0)              3 (10)
Photos and embroidery                    0 (0)              1 (3)
Drawings, prints and sculptures          0 (0)              1 (3)

Table 9

Categorisation of counter-urbanite artists

                                                Parry Sound (n = 29)
Category              Elora (n = 24) [n (%)]          [n (%)]

Exurbanite                    6 (25)                   1 (3)
Displaced-urbanite            5 (21)                   2 (7)
  Employed                   13 (54)                  17 (59)
  Retired                     0 (0)                    9 (31)

Table 10

Relationship between landscape inspiration and types of

                    Respondents believing that the landscape
                           is an inspirational source

category                      Elora     Parry Sound

Exurbanites                   5 (83)       0 (0)
Displaced                     0 (0)        0 (0)
Ruralites                     7 (54)      16 (61)

Total                        12 (50)      16 (55)


The authors thank Stephen Morris for his part in the data collection process and three anonymous reviewers who provided comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

(1) As early as 1952 (257), Gist observed that 'high rents, excessive land values, heavy property taxes and rather general unsatisfactory housing conditions in the cities have apparently forced many families to look for living quarters which would be less burdensome financially'.

(2) Other Canadian authors who focus on the pursuit of rural amenities include Hodge (1974), Russwurm (1978), Bunce and Troughton (1981), Bryant et al. (1982), Coppack (1985, 1988) and Park and Coppack (1994).

(3) The term 'exurbanite' was initially coined by Spectorsky (1955, p. 7) to describe a particular group of former New York City residents who sought retreat in the adjacent countryside. He described this group as being the 'symbol manipulators', 'movers and shakers for ideas and opinions', in search of what he called the 'limited dream'. Over time, much of this meaning has been lost, with most using the term to describe urban residents who maintain employment ties to the urban core, while seeking out rural residence in what commonly has been called 'exurbia'. Exurbanites are considered by a number of Canadian researchers including Beesley and Walker (1990), Davies and Yeates (1991) and Bruce et al. (1999).

(4) Although some, like Heenan (1991, p. 5), point to urban out-migrants as 'ambitious professionals' who maintain 'first class jobs' in the metropolitan core, others suggest that new rural residents are willing to take on 'somewhat less attractive' employment if it enables them to live in what they perceive to be a 'more desirable community' (Fuguitt 1971, p. 465). While this distinction is rather difficult to discern in the literature, findings suggest that many, but not all, amenity-seeking urbanites maintain their original employment ties to the city.

(5) The concentration of artists in North American urban areas has been documented by Simpson (1981), Bradshaw (1984), Di Maggio (1984), Willems-Braun (1988), Ley and Olds (1988), Heilbrun (1989, 1992), Whitt and Lammers (1991), Adams (1995), Zukin (1995), Ley (1996) and Piccioni (2001).

(6) The telephone surveys consisted to a large extent of close-ended questions, although a number were left open to elicit more subjective comment. On average, each survey took about 20 minutes, although in some cases, where respondents enthused over the topic, they ran somewhat longer. Each conversation was taped and subsequently transcribed.

(7) By restricting our sample to those either on the Studio Tours or artists who are acquainted with Studio Tour participants, we recognise that our sample may not be representative of all artists living in the designated areas. However, given the difficulty of identifying artists from the general population, it was felt that this method of identification was acceptable.

(8) Response rates were relatively high in both settings (83.3 percent in Parry Sound and 87.5 percent in Elora), probably because the survey focused on the interviewee's work and because respondents had been notified beforehand by the curator that the study was taking place.


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Department of Geography, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada N2L 3G1


Department of Geography, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada N2L 3G1


Department of Geography, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada N2L 3G1
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Author:Mitchell, Clare J.A.; Bunting, Trudi E.; Piccioni, Maria
Publication:The Canadian Geographer
Geographic Code:100NA
Date:Jun 22, 2004
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