BFAMFAPhD: New York City Artists are Predominantly White

by Henry Kaye on July 2, 2014 Newswire


Statements, a series of plaques by Caroline Woodlard for BFAMFAPhD

What does the typical New York City artist look like? And how does this relate to an artist’s chances of making a livable wage?

BFAMFAPhD, a politically-minded collective of artists, designers, programmers, and analysts have assembled a diverse series of infographics and visuals to answer these questions (among others tied to race, education, and art) for an installation currently on view at the Museum of Arts and Design Biennial. Their answers show a deep imbalance.

Here are some of BFAMFAPhD’s unsettling statistics, which come from the United States Census Bureau:

  • New York City’s population is 33% White, but 74% of artists are White.  This means that white people are more than twice as represented in the artistic community  as they are in the general population of New York City.
  • New York City’s population is 29% Hispanic, but only 8% of people in the city with arts degrees are Hispanic.
  • New York City’s population is 13% Asian, but only 10% of people in the city with arts degrees are Asian.
  • New York City’s population is 23% Black, but only 6% of people in the city with arts degrees are Black.
  • 7.7% of practicing White artists are below the poverty line.
  • 13.3% of practicing Black artists are below the poverty line.
  • 11.4% of practicing hispanic artists are below the poverty line.


Of course, as in any small sample statistical study, there could be issues with the data. Much of the census report draws off the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Census Bureau, which has a limited sample size of 1% of the general American population. So, as with any statistical data, we should be weary to some degree. And overall, there are some issues in defining an “artist” in any survey—it’s an obviously loose term. Under the United States Census Bureau’s definition, an eighty-year-old retired woman who never got a college or graduate degree but practiced art her entire life, does not fit the definition of an artist.

Still, the numbers are consistent enough to point out a serious imbalance in the arts: Ideally, the diversity of artists should reflect that of New York City. For now, these numbers suggest young artists are mostly white, educated, and better off financially than other artists. However, “better off” isn’t quite the same as “well-off.” BFAMFAPhD also brings up that only 15 percent of artists in New York City are making a living off their work—but their median income hovers around $25,000. All other artists, the whopping 85 percent of them, have non-arts-related day jobs.

So no matter what box you check on your census, chances are if you’re trying to make it as an artist in NYC, you’re not raking in the dough.

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