Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Visual Artists: Counter-Urbanites in the Canadian Countryside?

Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Visual Artists: Counter-Urbanites in the Canadian Countryside?

Article excerpt


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. …

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