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Making Art Work: An Economic Study of Professional Artists in Australia

January 23, 201923 January 2019

Situation of artists

Australia Council for the Arts


David Throsby and Katya Petetskaya

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Based on a random telephone survey of 826 artists drawn from a list of nearly 36,000 artists collected from 65 professional associations and arts organizations, this report highlights the situation of “serious, practising professional artists” in Australia (i.e., artists who are committed to their artistic work as a major aspect of their career, are working in their arts occupation, and are considered to meet the professional standards of their arts occupation). While the report does not identify the margin of error of the random sample, the sample size of 826 would typically provide results (for a total population of 36,000) within 3.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The survey targeted eight groups of artists: “writers; visual artists; craft practitioners; actors and directors; dancers and choreographers; musicians and singers; composers, songwriters and arrangers; community cultural development artists”. Excluded were “Indigenous artists working in remote and very remote areas of Australia”, filmmakers, as well as interior, fashion, industrial, or architectural designers.

Based on the survey results, the report estimates that there were about 48,000 practicing professional artists in Australia in 2017, which is about 9% higher than the estimate from a similar survey in 2010 (44,100) and 50% higher than an estimate from 1998 (32,000).

The survey found that the median total income for professional artists was $42,200 in 2014-15 and that the average income was $48,400. This average income level is below those found in similar surveys related to 2007-08 ($50,500) and 2000-01 ($48,600). (These figures, in Australian dollars, were adjusted for inflation.)

While “the population of professional artists in Australia is divided approximately equally between men and women”, women had average total incomes in 2014-15 that were 32% lower than men ($41,600 vs. $55,100). For creative incomes, women earned 44% less than men ($15,400 vs. $22,100).

The survey found that artists, on average, have a work week of 45 hours. Respondents’ principal artistic occupation took up about one-half of their time but generated only 39% of their income. In contrast, non-arts work accounted for 19% of artists’ time and one-third of their income. About 60% of Australian artists “make less than $10 thousand per year on average from creative work”.

In Australia, as in many other countries, the national census does not capture all artists in their artistic occupation. The survey found that 45% of artists were captured in a non-arts occupation in the 2016 Australian census.

The survey investigated some important career issues for professional artists. Australian artists believe that the most important factors inhibiting their careers are a “lack of financial return from creative practice” and a “lack of time to do creative work due to other pressures and responsibilities”. The most important factors advancing artists’ careers were perceived to be “hard work / persistence” and “passion / self-motivation / self-belief”.

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