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Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Economics of Art

Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen write anthems about the travails of the working man; we line up for the revival of “Death of a Salesman.” John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson hold festivals and fundraisers when farmers suffer. Taxpayers bail out the auto industry and Wall Street and the banks. There’s a sense that manufacturing, or the agrarian economy, is what this country is really about. But culture was, for a while, what America did best: We produce and export creativity around the world. So why aren’t we lamenting the plight of its practitioners? Bureau of Labor Statistics confirm that creative industries have been some of the hardest hit during the Bush years and the Great Recession.

When reading an article on Salon by SCOTT TIMBERG I was struck particularly by the above paragraph.  I know it's easy to look at artists (in their many forms) and pooh-pooh the notion that they are importantly contributing to society.  But let's explore a list of some that represent art in society.  Yes, there are painters and sculptors, but also musicians, writers (of all types). Producers, photographers, camera men, people in a variety of film and stage productions working in lighting, set design are all artists as wells as architects, actors, entertainers of all kinds. Publishers, dancers and choreographers. I could go on and on but you start to see that without these people life as we know it would get rather dull. No pictures, no movies, no theater or television. No music to listen to in drive time. Soon it would simply be be eat sleep and work... repeat.  No libraries to visit. No books of any kind  to read. Seriously folks, I'm getting pretty depressed just thinking about a world without these people.

So how bad is it for artists?  How many are we talking about? For the answer to this I turn to the Artists In The Workforce Study -  the first look at 21st century labor trends among working artists.

Some interesting facts:


  • Artists represent almost 2 million people. One of the largest segments of the workforce... only slightly less then active duty military that are at 2.2 million and comprise about 1.4 % of the total workforce.
  • Artists earn an aggregate income of about $70 billion annually. 
  • Between 1970 and 1990 the number of artists nearly doubled.
  • Between 1990 and 2005 the number slowed to a growth of about 16% which was comparable with the rest of the workforce.

  • Some gender figures as they relate to the artist workforce - Men outnumber women in architecture, announcing, music, production and photography while women outnumber men in the fields of dance, design and writing. Yes, women outnumber men in writing. 
  • Artists are entrepreneurial. 3.5 times more likely to be self employed.
  • Artists tend to be underemployed and only work part of the year.
  • Artists tend to earn less then workers with similar levels of education. In 2005 the median income from all sources was $34,800 only slightly more then the $30,100 median income for the total labor force but less then the $43,200 median for all professionals. 
  • Artists are twice as likely to have a college degree then the rest of the work force. 
Perhaps if more people were aware of some of these factors there would be less of the "oh he/she is just a writer" mentality at work when people think about artists.
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