Artists make up a mere 1.4% of the labor force. California is an artist’s haven. One in ten artists in D.C. makes more than $125,000 a year. These statements come straight out of The Washington Post’s recent essay, “Five facts about professional artists”. Taken on face value, they paint a desperate, unforgiving portrait of the artist’s uphill plight: jobs are scarce, the pay is paltry, and women aren’t making out too well.
But should we trust the information? Based on the source, maybe not. The NEA’s findings come from a United States Census’s American Community Survey, which consists of data from 2006 – 2010. The data, while reliable, remains spotty: 2.9 million people were interviewed for the 2010 portion of the survey; out of those respondents, those who checked off the artist occupation part of the survey were included in the NEA’s findings.
Mostly, it’s the check-off-box that makes this survey unrepresentative of the art world as we know it—and we’re surprised The Washington Post took these stats so seriously.
Within the government survey, there’s 11 employment categories fitting the government’s specifications for artists: actors; announcers; architects; fine artists, art directors, and animators; dancers and choreographers; designers; other entertainers; musicians; photographers; producers and directors; and writers and authors.
For those of us involved in the arts, we can see there’s no line for many of those jobs filled by our friends: no curators, digital artists, dealers, art handlers, or educators, even, make the list. Clowns, do. They’re under the “other entertainers” category.
Due to these oversights, we’re taking these findings with a grain of salt. California might be an “artist haven”, a conclusion drawn from the data by The Washington Post, but common sense tells us that correlates with the number of movie studios out there. D.C. might pay its artists at such a high rate due to the number of architectural firms located within such a small geographical range.
What’s clear from this study, is that artists do have a ways to go. When we read that nearly one-in-four New York-based artists (clowns and all) make less than $25,000 a year, that’s reason enough to pay attention. If we’re to have fulfilling lives in the arts, and outside of the poverty range, we’d be well off to bring an awareness of that information to others, our employers, and politicians.