Starving Artists Still Starving: Market Research on Australian Professional Artists

Art Press Release from Australia. Published by Rebecca Gabrielle Cannon on Tuesday 17 August 2010.

Artist Careers, two research projects released today by the Australia Council for the Arts, paints a comprehensive picture of the working lives of Australia’s 44,000 professional artists.

The two projects, respectively by Professor David Throsby from Macquarie University and Professor Stuart Cunningham from the Queensland University of Technology, both show that artists continue to struggle financially, earning a median income of just $35,900 a year – which includes arts and non arts related income.

Sixteen percent of artists earn less than $10,000 and only five percent earn more than $100,000. Artists’ incomes have kept pace with inflation, but this rise is not as great as for the general workforce.

Just over half of the artists who live with a partner say their spouse’s income is important in supporting their artistic practice. Artists also incur many hidden costs, including research and development.

While the social and cultural value of the arts has long been acknowledged, the research reveals that arts workers are well embedded in our economy, with one third of artists putting their artistic skills to use in cultural industries and many more working in the wider sector.

“Australian artists are not sitting around expecting to be paid; instead they’re putting their creativity and education to good use by working in industries outside their own, and making a significant contribution to the economy,” says Australia Council CEO, Kathy Keele. “They may be musicians working as teachers, writers working as editors, visual artists who design websites or actors who run corporate training.”

“We can see clearly how creative talents nurtured through artistic practice are being used to build cultural industries and enhance communities and business, but the trade off is that artists have less time and opportunity to practice their art.”

Just over a quarter of Australian artists experienced a period of unemployment between 2004 and 2009, down from a third of artists between 1996 and 2001.

While artists living in capital cities earn around 30 percent more than those in regional cities, over the past eight years this income gap is closing – but only due to increased earnings by regional artists from non arts activity.

Forty seven per cent of Australia’s writers were living in the regions in 2009, a leap from 26 percent in 2002. Similarly, the percentage of visual artists based in the regions has increased by 15%.

Looking forward, 60 percent of all artists believe new technologies could improve their income – by bringing them new audiences, sales of their work or new means of artistic expression. This underlines recent Australia Council arts participation research, More than bums on seats, which shows that many people are using the internet to investigate and engage with the arts.

“We know through More than bums on seats that there is a huge demand for arts experiences by the Australian public,” says Kathy Keele. “If we value the experience, we need to value our artists and continue developing initiatives that give them the time and energy to create great art. This is a priority for the Australia Council and Artist Careers provides a landmark guide to how we can build greater incomes and greater career sustainability for Australian artists.”

A summary plus the two full reports are available from: www.australiacouncil.gov.au/artistcareers

BACKGROUND

Artist Careers is the combination of two research projects released by the research department of the Australia Council for the Arts. Together, they provide a comprehensive picture of the working life of Australian artists.

Artist Careers comprises of:

Do you really expect to get paid? An economic study of professional artists in Australia

This study was commissioned by the Australia Council but conducted and written independently by Professor David Throsby and Anita Zednik from Macquarie University. This survey is the fifth in a series carried out over the past 30 years (under the title of Don’t give up your day job) at Macquarie University, with funding from the Australia Council.

The original 1983 survey was part of the Individual Artists’ Inquiry, initiated by the Australia Council. More comprehensive surveys were carried out in 1987, 1993 and 2002. The present survey updates and expands on earlier studies.

What’s your other job? A census analysis of arts employment in Australia

This research analyses data from the past three Australian Population Censuses (1996, 2001 and 2006) in relation to artists’ employment and income. It was undertaken by the Centre for Creative Industries and Innovation at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) under the leadership of Professor Stuart Cunningham.

These two studies take different approaches to gathering information about Australian artists’ employment and income.

The census study asks, ‘What was the main job?” undertaken in the week prior to the Australian Population Census

The artist survey involved approximately 1,000 professional artists whose arts practice may, or may not be, their main source of income.

The data gathered by these two studies complement each other, but are not directly comparable.

A summary plus the two full reports are available from: www.australiacouncil.gov.au/artistcareers