All about Alberta’s creative economy.

About Alberta’s Creative Economy

Supporting the creative economy is a global priority, as reflected in the United Nations’s (UN) declaration of 2021 as the International Year of the Creative Economy for Sustainable Development.
The UN defines the creative economy as “the sum of all the parts of the creative industries, including trade, labour and production,” sectors which are “…among the most dynamic sectors in the world economy providing new opportunities for developing countries to leapfrog into emerging high-growth areas of the world economy.”[i]

Globally, the creative economy employs 29.5 million people worldwide – all the while stimulating innovation and diversification, supporting entrepreneurship, contributing to cultural diversity and enhancing the services sector[ii]. Canada is leading the global trend towards a broader creative economy. On a national scale, the creative economy in Canada accounted for $53.1 billion in GDP, representing 2.7% of Canada’s overall GDP[iii] and creating more than 66, 500 direct jobs (with countless spin-off employment opportunities)[iv]. In Alberta, our creative economy is vibrant and vital to every corner of our province. Alberta’s creative sectors contribute more than $3.1 billion in labour income per year for the province [v], and culture in Alberta contributes $5.3 billion each year to our provincial economy[vi].  Alberta’s creative economy has demonstrated significant growth potential to 2030 and beyond and is recognized as being both uniquely resistant to automation and a key creator of employment opportunities in the future. Perhaps more importantly, the creative economy in Alberta plays a critical role in talent retention and in attracting young and skilled knowledge industry professionals to jobs at a low risk of automation[vii], a key challenge facing our city in the future.[viii] [ix]

The term “creative economy” describes a spectrum of occupations and professions that are dedicated to the generation and delivery of knowledge and information. The creative economy in Alberta is made up of a vibrant ecosystem of broadcasting, electronic or digital media and film, visual arts and crafts, museums, literature and print media, fashion and performing arts organizations – all of which come together to shape the cultural, creative and experiential life of our Province. The UK’s National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) defines the creative economy as “those industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property” [[x]]. Using their four-cluster model as an analytical lens, we can understand Alberta’s creative economy as inclusive of four interconnected quadrants:

  • The creative industries quadrant: Design, architecture, photography, advertising, and fashion. Alberta is home to 14% of all Canadian advertising agencies, 10% of all Canadian design enterprises, 8% of all Canadian marketing and marketing research firms and 12% of all Canadian photographers[xi].
  • The cultural industries quadrant: Film and video, broadcasting, gaming, music, publishing, and interactive media. Alberta has served as the filming home of more Oscar, Emmy and Golden Globe award winning film productions than any other Canadian province[xii], and the provincial film industry employs more than 3000 Albertans annually[xiii]. Alberta is home to more than 50 video gaming companies (making us the fourth largest gaming sector in the country[xiv]), and our music industry generates more than 20,000 jobs per year for Alberta’s cultural industry participants, accounting for 16.9% of the total GDP generated by the cultural industries as a whole in 2017[xv].
  • The transversal industries quadrant: Cultural tourism, creative education, and computer system design. Alberta’s digital industries draw creative talent and investment support from around the world: IDC forecasts that more than $18 billion dollars will be spent on the forms of digital transformation (DX) of business practices, products and organizations that our transversal industries quadrant makes possible across our province in the next year alone[xvi]. Our PSE institutions train 12000 students studying creative economy related fields annually, and we are home to one of only four dedicated universities of art and design in the country[xvii].
  • The cultural quadrant: Visual arts, performing arts, heritage organizations, museums, and libraries. Culture in Alberta contributes $5.3 billion dollars to our annual economy[xviii], and is strongly supported by the 76.3% of Albertans who attend arts events and activities each year. 50.8% of Albertans visited a museum, historic site, interpretive centre or archive in 2018, and 84.5% of Albertans fell that the arts and cultural activities are important to contributing to the quality of their life in the province[xix].

Within these sectors there are many ways to describe the roles of individual participants, or creatives. Some embrace the term “entrepreneur”, while others reject the framing of their creative or cultural work as entrepreneurial in nature. By using the creative trident approach proposed by Cunningham and Higgs[xx] we can describe participants in the creative economy in one of three categories:

  • Specialist individuals: those working in creative occupations that are employed in any of the creative economy quadrants.
  • Supporter individuals: those employed in the creative economy who are not working in creative occupations but who perform essential sales, management, secretarial, accounting, and administrative functions.
  • Embedded individuals: those employed in creative occupations who are working outside of the creative economy quadrants.

Participants in the four quadrants of the creative economy are connected in what the Canadian Framework for Culture Statistics (CFCS) calls the “creative chain”: a series of roles and activities played by creative individuals that are essential to the creation, development, manufacturing and dissemination of artistic activities and intellectual or cultural concepts[xxi]. The creative chain in Alberta is made of the 53, 739 Albertans who work in the creative and cultural economy[xxii] and who contribute over $3 billion annually in Alberta Labour Income[xxiii], and who are joined by more than 3000 creative industry professionals graduating from Alberta’s post-secondary institutions every year.

The creative economy leads the way in creating the future of our province. There remain, however, systemic challenges to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the creative economy. Though the cultural sector in Canada is, on the surface, more inclusive of women than other Canadian economic drivers (with close to gender parity in areas such as music, performance, writing and acting)[xxiv], gender and EDI inequalities remain in the creative, and transversal industries sectors. The creative economy in Alberta is also home to the highest percentage of precarious, solopreneur or freelance workers of all provincial sectors: in Calgary alone these types of creative employment account for 41% of all creative economy participation (across NESTA quadrants), and the transition between traditional employment models and freelance or solopreneur shaped work is happening most at the intersection of knowledge-intensive industries and creative economy sectors[xxv]. Participants in the creative economy – be they creators, creative industry supporters, entrepreneurs or leaders of social change – experience high levels of precarity and risk in their career trajectory. The siloed nature of the creative industries, the lack of formalized support for new enterprises in the creative economy, the scarcity of grant or investment funding for projects in the cultural quadrant and the precarity of work across all four areas of the larger creative economy space are significant and real challenges for participants in this community: in particular BIPOC, women[xxvi] and equity seeking creatives.

[i] United Nations Conference on Trade and Development


[iii] Canada’s Creative Canada Policy Framework guides the federal support of our national creative economy . It can be found at

[iv] Department of Canadian Heritage, 2017 Canada’s Creative Export Strategy

[v] The Conference Board of Canada; Statistics Canada’s Provincial and Territorial Culture Indicators (2016), Business Register (December 2016), Provincial Input-Output Multipliers

[vi] Statistics Canada: Culture and sport gross domestic product (GDP) per capita and as a share of the total economy; 2017

[vii] 86% of creative jobs have little to no risk of being replaced (British Council, 2016).

[viii] British Council. (2016). New and changing dynamics: How the global creative economy is changing. [PDF]

[ix] Fletcher, R. (2020, February 5). Why Calgary is losing its young adults. CBC. Retrieved from:

[x] Bakhshi, H., Freeman, A., & Higgs, P. L. (2012). A dynamic mapping of the UK’s creative industries.

[xi] Statistics Canada, 2020





[xvi] More information about the forms of digital transformations that are enabled by the transversal quadrant of the creative economy can be found at

[xvii] For more information about the Alberta University for the Arts, visit To learn more about the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, visit

[xviii] Statistics Canada: Culture and sport gross domestic product (GDP) per capita and as a share of the total economy; 2017

[xix] Alberta Culture and Tourism Survey of Albertans; 2018.

[xx] Stuart Cunningham and Peter Higgs, “Measuring Creative Employment: Implications for Innovation Policy,” Innovation, 11, no. 2, 2009, https://doi. org/10.5172/impp.11.2.190.


[xxii] Statistics Canada: Culture and sport jobs as a share of the total economy; 2017



[xxv] In Canada, these sectors are defined as Advertising, Public Relations and Related Services (NAIC 5418), Specialized Design Services (NAIC 5414), and Other Professional, Scientific and Technical Services (NAIC 5419) including Marketing Research and Public Opinion Polling (54191), Photographic Services (54192) and Translation and other interpretation services (54193).

[xxvi] According to The Status of Women in the Canadian Arts and Cultural Industries report, four cultural industry or cultural quadrant categories are severely gender imbalanced: 86% of dancers are female, and 61% of artisans and craftspersons are female, while only 33% of producers/directors/choreographers and 35% of conductors/composers and arrangers are female. Research%20Reports%20EN-FR/Arts%20Funding%20and%20Support/OAC-Women-the-Arts-Report_Final_EN_Oct5.pdf

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