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Above Ground: Information on Artists III

Special Focus New York City Aging Artists

February 25, 200925 February 2009

Situation of older artists

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This study examines the situation and needs of aging visual artists in New York City, based on interviews with 213 artists between 62 and 97 years of age. The report contends that “artists, who have learned how to adapt their whole lives, have a great deal to offer as a model for society, especially as the workforce changes to accommodate multiple careers, and as baby boomers enter the retirement generation”.

The study reiterates previous research into key factors in “successful aging”, including “positive personal growth, creativity, self-efficacy, autonomy, independence, effective coping strategies, sense of purpose, self-acceptance and self-worth”.

The report finds that most aging visual artists feel that they will never retire from their art.

The artists interviewed have high life satisfaction, high self-esteem and substantial personal networks (an average of 29 people per artist interviewed). Interestingly, many artists communicate more frequently with other artists than with partners, family and children.

The report’s findings regarding individual incomes are inconclusive in terms of whether “aging visual artists are doing better or worse than the general aging population”. The report does find that only 6% of aging artists’ incomes comes from their art. Despite this fact, many aging artists “are very invested in their careers”.

The report also indicates that “60% of artists have a retirement plan other than social security”, which is slightly less than the rate among all American residents 55 or older (70%).

Many interviewees have felt discriminated against, mostly due to age or gender, but also due to artistic discipline, ethnicity or race.

The report indicates that 93% of aging artists have health insurance.

A majority of interviewees (61%) indicated that they “have made no preparations for their artwork after their death”. A substantial percentage of aging visual artists (21%) “have no documentation at all for their work”.

Among the report’s recommendations are calls to:

  • combat the “lack of awareness of potential aid, lack of accessibility and outreach, inflexible regulations and the decentralization of services”;
  • create supports for informal social care and artists’ networks;
  • investigate more flexible retirement models;
  • re-define both “work” and “old age”; and
  • include “aging artists’ lessons of a lifelong commitment to problem-finding and managing a professional career” in the professional training of younger artists.
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