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Artists Report Back

A National Study on the Lives of Art Graduates and Working Artists

February 25, 201525 February 2015

Situation of artists / Arts education

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Using data from two large-scale American surveys, this report examines the situation of the estimated 1.2 million working artists and 2 million arts graduates over 25 years of age.

In the report, working artists include “people whose primary earnings come from working as writers, authors, artists, actors, photographers, musicians, singers, producers, directors, performers, choreographers, dancers, and entertainers”. Bachelor’s degree programs in the arts include “music, drama and theater arts, film, video and photographic arts, art history and criticism, studio arts, and visual and performing arts”. The report intentionally excluded design and architecture from instructional programs and working artists. It also appears that writing-related programs are not included among the instructional programs.

One of the key findings of the report is that only 200,000 Americans are both arts graduates and working artists (representing 10% of all arts graduates and 16% of all working artists). In other words, “the majority of arts graduates work in non-arts fields”. This is especially true for women, who account for “60% of arts graduates but only 46% of all working artists”.

Where do arts graduates work? The report finds that 23% are classified as “other professionals” (including managers, accountants, and chief executives), 17% as sales or office workers, another 17% as educators, and 7% as workers in “miscellaneous creative fields” (such as architects, designers, and television announcers). Fourteen percent of arts school graduates are not in the labour force.

The report found that 40% “of working artists do not have a bachelor’s degree in any field”. The most common fields of studies include fine arts (16% of working artists), communications (9%), social sciences (also 9%), and liberal arts and humanities (8%).

On the education side, the report notes that “7 of the top 10 most expensive institutions of higher education in the United States (after financial aid is taken into consideration) are art schools”. Given this situation, loan default rates among arts graduates are quite high, and the report implies that student debt levels must also be high.

Based on their findings, the report makes recommendations to improve art schools, the visibility of artists, as well as labour force development in the arts. Specifically, the report recommends that cultural institutions “honor artists and culture workers who do not have experiences of formal, higher education”. In addition, the report indicates that “art graduates and working artists could benefit from worker and producer cooperatives, affordable arts institutions, and resource sharing networks”.

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