Artists In the Workforce

May 28, 2010

Of all the popular stereotypes of the modern artist, when is the last time that you saw artists portrayed as significant contributers to the nation's economy?  In 2008, the NEA released Artists in the Workforce: 1990-2005.  It is the first nationwide look at 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 and its maturation over the past 30 years, along with detailed information on specific artist occupations.

In an era of stimulus programs and arts funding getting slashed, it's important to understand how we actually fit into the larger economy.  Some of it's findings won't come as a huge surpise, such as the fact that artists are but did youconcentrated in urban areas, or that artists generally earn less than similarly educated works in other fields.  But did you know that the western and southern states have seen the largest growth in artists?  Or that artists are 3.5 times more likely to be self employed?  Or that women remain underrepresented in several artist occupations?

From the Executive Summary introduction:
The time has come to insist on an obvious but overlooked fact—artists are workers. They make things and perform services, just like other workers, and these goods and services have value—not merely in lofty spiritual terms but also in dollars and cents. Without denying the higher purposes of the artistic vocation, this report shows that artists play an important role in America’s cultural vitality and economic prosperity.

There are now almost two million Americans who describe their primary occupation as artist. Representing 1.4 percent of the U.S. labor force, artists constitute a sizeable class of workers—only slightly smaller than the total number of active-duty and reserve personnel in the U.S. military (2.2 million). Artists represent a larger group than the legal profession (lawyers, judges, and paralegals), medical doctors (physicians, surgeons, and dentists), or agricultural workers (farmers, ranchers, foresters, and fishers).

The size of the artistic community gives the group enormous aggregate income— approximately $70 billion annually. In terms of sheer numbers, artists represent a powerful labor force whose economic contributions go largely unrecognized by both the general public and the government.
Click here to view the brief Executive Summary, or here to view the 148 page report in it's entirety. 

Thanks to Teresa Eyring for the tip! Have other tips about the economics of being an artist that we should know about?  Email them to

Tags: NEA, Artists In the Workforce, economy

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