Financial Diaries of the Gig Economy

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Over six months, UKAI Projects and DUCA Impact Lab studied the day-to-day financial activity of 12 creators in the Greater Toronto Area. A series of blog posts and videos elaborated on the implications of this research and began pointing to trends and opportunities for both those offering services in the arts and culture community and those seeking to understand the kinds of financial services required in a rapidly evolving labour market.

The research study consisted of 12 creators aged 24 to 46. Seven of the participants identified as male with five identifying as female. Eight of the twelve identified as non-white with three of the eight identifying as part of the African diaspora. Participation was drawn from across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) and represented a range of employment situations, creative disciplines, and educational levels. Two of the twelve participants failed to complete the full study period. Three of the twelve are parents of school age children.


2019 – 2020



in partnership with:

DUCA Impact Lab

collaborators and artists-in-residence:

Eloisa Guerrero

Tyreek Phillips

Neil Watson

Jerrold McGrath

Keith Taylor

Luisa Ji

Raad Seraj

Heran Genene

Bryan Depuy

Wesley Cabarios

Alexandra Lord

methods and techniques:

The study involved comprehensive tracking of cash flow on a transaction by transaction basis from October 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020 followed by interviews and an external scan.



showing 1 - 2 of 2 responses to this question

Introducing Our Collaboration Series

I have long-term goals. It's just going to be hard to reach them. And when you ask me what artists need, I think they need to find some sort of stability in this city and I don't know how they're going to find it.
Study Participant Interview

Few studies have attempted to understand in depth the adaptations being made by individuals experiencing precarity and the financial services that might allay the pressures of an increasingly atomized labour market. To better understand the lived experiences of freelancers and other precarious workers, DUCA Impact Lab and UKAI Projects conducted a 6-month study of twelve freelancers working in the creative and cultural sector.

… read more at the DUCA Impact Lab Ideas page

Income and Precarity

I do see large variations throughout the year. I could go from making $700 to making $2100. Managing this has been unsustainable for my mental health. However, my basic needs and most of my wants are often low expense anyway.
- Study Participant Interview

Precarious work has become a feature of life in modern economies. According to the 2016 Census, 10 per cent of Toronto’s work force was working in the ‘gig economy’ and that number has risen since. Gig economy workers are defined by Statistics Canada as “unincorporated self-employed workers who enter into various contracts with firms or individuals to complete a specific task or to work for a specific period of time.” It includes freelancers and on-demand workers hired by ‘sharing’ services such as Uber.

… find out more at Financial Diaries of the Gig Economy – Income and Precarity

Thinking Like a Business: Mindsets in the Gig Economy

I mean, everything just kind of mixes together. Sometimes I’m paying people and sometimes they’re paying me. It’s not a straightforward thing to figure out if a trip or an expense or whatever is for my art, or for my business, or for my relaxation. It’s all just life.
- Study Participant Interview

A resistance to carefully distinguishing revenues and expenses for creative work contributes to volatility and precarity for those caught between gig work and a more sustainable creative practice. Firstly, it creates a pattern of ‘investing’ in the creative practice without being able to see if those investments are moving the individual forward. Debt is accumulated without evidence that the ability to address that debt is any closer. Secondly, it reflects a deep mistrust of systems that wish to see this tracking, particularly among artists that experience racism and marginalization. Thirdly, it puts those with access to safety nets at a considerable advantage, as they can weather lengthier periods of low or volatile income while establishing the revenue potential of their work. Finally, it pushes rates down, as creators have no sense of what price points are required to sustain themselves and they become willing to take below-market rates for the opportunity to earn something from their art.

… read more at Thinking Like a Business: Mindsets for the Creative Economy

Making Space: The Costs of Doing Business

I switch from part time to full time over there and back and forth, depending on my schedule. And they laid me off and when I first applied to CERB my EI wasn't ready yet. They didn't even send me my Record of Employment. So, I was just really like where do I stand? Where do I apply for CERB? Do I apply for EI? My rent is coming up. I'm not eating right now. I don't have any money right now, so I don't know what to do. So, it was a weird time and it took so long for someone to finally get in contact with me.
- Study Participant Interview

Adaptations to precarity and high costs of living cause shifts in both transportation and eating habits that have both lifestyle and financial implications. The gig economy and creative work offer little regularity in scheduling and few free and open spaces to meet and collaborate. Access to transportation becomes essential, and many of the study participants are living in areas poorly served by mass transit. Moreover, the lack of free spaces or offices to conduct business incur additional costs and limit the ability to do business and collaborate without incurring fees. The centre of creative work remains in downtown Toronto, and for emerging creatives, relocating too far from the city centre removes all possibilities for a sustainable professional practice. Once established, that shift might be made, but when income is hardest to generate, staying close to the city and frequenting commercial spaces to conduct business are too often required.

… read more at Making Space: The Costs of Doing Business

Long Orbits: Housing and the Gig Economy

Everything's so expensive. I live in in this one bedroom, this place costs me $2000 a month and then on top of that, I have to pay for my car insurance. This city's crazy sometimes.
- Study Participant Interview

Creators will often support each other’s projects, but these exchanges occur within friend groups or like-minded networks of practice. More formal methods of exchanging expertise or assets are less-well explored. Might there be an opportunity for ownership and equity to play a larger role in collaboration and coordination in the cultural sector? The study shows that finances are generally tracked loosely. Mutual aid tied to revenue would need to see greater attention to formal elements of project development and commercialization.

… read more at Long Orbits: Housing and the Gig Economy

Where to Go from Here? Precarity in the Gig Economy

The implications of these patterns are profound. Most profess a cautious to antagonistic relationship with financial institutions. Many believe that these institutions do not have their best interests at heart and avoid disclosing information whenever possible so that their own habits won’t be used against them.
- Summary Documentation

Our study was deep and narrow. There is much more to be learned about the practical implications of working in the gig economy. More and more young people are obligated to take part in non-traditional labour arrangements and our institutions have been slow to acknowledge and reflect the changing nature of work. Gig work exacerbates existing inequalities. To realize the full creative and financial potential of Toronto’s cultural entrepreneurs will require innovative approaches to supporting those that are too often turned away by traditional lenders.

… read more at Where to Go from Here? Precarity in the Gig Economy

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