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Essential Services for Aging Artists

February 25, 200925 February 2009

Situation of older artists

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This project, undertaken by 10 students at Carnegie Mellon University, aims to provide a better understanding of the issues and needs of older visual artists.

The students conducted an online survey (with about 1,000 respondents, largely from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Pittsburgh) and focus groups with 22 artists in New York, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh.

The report highlights the results in eight categories of services for aging artists: retirement, estate planning, housing, archiving, health care, insurance, business skills and legal services.

The report finds that most of the survey respondents do not plan on retiring. Despite the fact that many respondents showed an interest in preserving their works after their death, few survey respondents have started to plan their estate. Less than half have had their work included in an archive. In fact, there seemed to be some “confusion about what an archive is and how to access one”.

The report finds that the visual artists surveyed have relatively low household incomes. In addition, “the vast majority of respondents generated less than $10,000 through the production of art”. The report notes that “just over half of the survey respondents have taken financial steps to prepare for retirement.” Given their low incomes, it is not surprising that many artists have only limited levels of savings, investments or real-estate holdings.

Regarding housing, the report finds that artists are more likely to be renters than owners and that there is a lack of affordable space in safe neighbourhoods.

Regarding health care, the survey finds that about the same proportion of artists as the overall American population have health insurance. However, most artists have gone without health insurance at some point during their lives. Furthermore, about one third of respondents “have had a health crisis they could not pay for. Of those, more than a third are in debt as a result of this health crisis.”

Most respondents have no insurance outside of health care and automobile insurance. Many “had never heard of fine art insurance”. In addition, few respondents have received training in financial, business or marketing skills, except for resume and artist statement writing. The vast majority of respondents felt a need for assistance in these business-related areas.

Regarding legal services, tenant/landlord disputes were most common, while some issues were noted regarding copyright, trademarks, patents, censorship and other legal areas.

The report argues, somewhat counterintuitively, that “the need for services among artists does not markedly increase as artists age”. Because of this finding, many of the report’s recommendations apply to artists of any age group.

The most significant recommendation is for artists to become educated and aware of the different services available to them. The report argues that networking could provide many benefits for artists: artists are urged “to take advantage of opportunities to connect with other artists and with their community at large”.

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