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Crossover: How Artists Build Careers across Commercial, Nonprofit and Community Work

December 1, 20101 December 2010

Situation of artists

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Based on a survey and interviews with artists in Los Angeles and San Francisco, this report examines artists’ work patterns in three separate but related spheres: the commercial sector, the non-profit sector, and the community sector. After providing brief definitions of the three sectors, the report argues that many misconceptions have built up about artists’ work in these areas, including “stereotypes about artistic conventions, innovativeness, quality of work, freedom of expression, and audience appeal”.

The authors recognize that, in the art world, there are complex supply chain relationships, many informal networks and “changing degrees of separation between artist and audience”. The researchers asked artists about their work experiences in each sector in order to “produce insights that would help the art worlds’ many participants work better together”.

Among the key findings:

  • 69% of Los Angeles and San Francisco artists spend at least some artwork time in the community sector, while 81% spend some time in the commercial sector and 83% do so in the non-profit sector.
  • 39% of artists in the two cities spend most of their arts time in the commercial sector. Artists make a higher percentage of their arts incomes from commercial work than the proportion of their time spent in the sector.
  • “Artists move among sectors far more fluidly than we had thought, and if money were not an issue, most would cross over even more than they presently do.” More specifically, if money were not an issue, “artists specializing in the commercial and community sectors would devote more time to not-for-profit artwork” and “many artists would choose to spend more time in the community sector”.
  • “All sectors offer valuable artistic experiences to artists beyond purely financial returns”. In other words, “each sector provides distinctive channels and support for artistic development.”

What sort of artistic development is achieved by working in each sector? The report indicates that:

  • The commercial sector was highly ranked by artists in terms of “offering greater understanding of artistic and professional conventions, broader visibility, networking that enhances artwork opportunities, and higher rates of return”.
  • The non-profit sector was highly ranked “for increasing aesthetic satisfaction, exploring new media, collaborating with artists across media, and satisfying emotional needs”.
  • “The community sector ranks highest as a place to enrich community life, affirm cultural identity, and pursue political and social justice goals.”

The authors argue that artists’ “uniquely high self-employment rates and long, often slow, and challenging career paths require a singular set of institutional supports and policies”. The report outlines ways to minimize barriers to artists’ crossovers, including suggestions for artists, educational and training organizations, arts service organizations, commercial employers, non-profit and community organizations, the media, funders, government agencies, and advocacy groups.

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