Graphic Credit: From Artists in the Workforce (Research Report #48), courtesy of the National Endowment for the Arts
I find one of the most enjoyable aspects of visiting art galleries, exhibitions, and art & craft fairs is the opportunity to speak with people involved in the arts, including artists, dealers, gallery owners, collectors, customers and fellow art enthusiasts. Such discussions have provided detailed insights into the nature of the art world, such as the increase in the number of artists and MFA-degree holders; the difficulty many artists find in making a full-time living from their art; the continued interest in figuration and realism among the public; and the growing demographic diversity of the artist population. It’s gratifying when an academic study reinforces the lessons of my informal survey taking. Read on for a detailed Profile of the American Artist. ~TAB
The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) recently released Artists in the Workforce: 1990-2005, the first nationwide look at American artists’ demographic and employment patterns in the 21st century. Artists in the Workforce analyzes working artist trends, gathering new statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau to provide a comprehensive overview of this workforce segment, its maturation over the past 30 years, along with detailed information on specific artist occupations.
Numbering almost two million, artists are one of the largest classes of workers in the nation, only slightly smaller than the U.S. military’s active-duty and reserve personnel (2.2 million). Artists now represent 1.4 percent of the U.S. labor force and earn an aggregate income of approximately $70 billion annually. The report profiles 11 artist occupations, including actors; announcers; architects; art directors, fine artists (including painters, sculptors, illustrators and multi-media artists) and animators; dancers and choreographers; designers; entertainers and performers; musicians; photographers; producers and directors; writers and authors.
–Between 1970 and 1990, the number of artists more than doubled, from 737,000 to 1.7 million – a much larger percentage gain than for the labor force as a whole. Between 1990 and 2005, the growth of artists slowed to a 16 percent rate, about the same as for the overall labor force.
–Women remain underrepresented in several artist occupations. Men outnumber women in architecture, announcing, music, production, and photography. Women outnumber men in the fields of dance, design, and writing.
–Like the larger labor force, the artist population is becoming more diverse. The proportion of Hispanic, Asian, and American Indian artists grew from about nine percent of artists in 1990 to almost 15 percent by 2005.
–Opportunities for artistic employment are greater in metropolitan areas. More than one-fifth of all U.S. artists live in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Washington, and Boston. Half of all artists live in 30 metropolitan areas.
–Unique regional concentrations emerge. New Mexico has the highest share of fine artists, Vermont has the highest proportion of writers, and Tennessee, the highest proportion of musicians.
Employment and income
–Artists are entrepreneurial – 3.5 times more likely to be self-employed.
–Artists are underemployed – one-third of artists work for only part of the year.
–Artists generally earn less than workers with similar education levels. The median income from all sources in 2005 was $34,800 for artists, higher than the $30,100 median for the total labor force, and lower than the $43,200 for all professionals.
–Artists are more educated. Artists are twice as likely to have a college degree as other U.S. workers.
–The share of degree-holding artists rose between 1990 and 2005.
–Among artist occupations with the highest educational attainment levels are architects, writers, and producers.