There are about 2.3 million people in the U.S. who have primary jobs as artists. About seven percent of them are able to earn all of their income from their art with the median income around $39,280.
At the same time, the art world is changing and while the changes offer opportunity for artists, they can also come with significant challenges.
Creativity Connects: Trends and Conditions Affecting U.S. Artists, a new report from The National Endowment for the Arts offers information on what it takes for artists to be successful today.
The answer is a lot — and much of the responsibility for success has shifted to the artist.
“One of the things we have longed worked on here at the state is trying to shift conversation about artists in a micro level and look at the macro, the role artists play in our society,” said Karen Paty, executive director of the Georgia Council for the Arts.
The report, she said, takes a broader view and will hopefully help funders and the public rethink the role of art and artists in our society.
Artists in Georgia say they want to be seen and acknowledged for what they provide and they want to share their skills and assets when it comes to policy level issues.
“There are those meaty heavy things we struggle with as a society that if and when artists are brought to the table to rethink avenues to solutions and rethink the problem itself, that we have more opportunity,” Paty said.
More than 15 members of the Atlanta arts community participated in a roundtable discussion to aid the report by offering insights into how artists live and work today. Participants included Chris Appleton of WonderRoot, Jessica Holland of C4 Atlanta, artist Fahamu Pecou, Anthony Rodriguez of Aurora Theatre and Lauri Stallings of glo.
The group spoke about issues ranging from cultural equity, working in the “gig economy” and the impact of technology on their work.
For many artists technology has had an impact on both the content and economics of their work. It provides an avenue to display, promote and sell their work. Crowdfunding, for example, has given many artists access to financial capital that may once have been out of reach.
Some artists also report using technology to alter the context of their work. Access to inexpensive creation tools means artists can create high-quality work without significant investment. An example is the critically acclaimed 2015 movie Tangerine — a transgender love story with a $100,000 budget that was shot on an iPhone, cast using Vine, score with music from SoundCloud and edited on an $8 app.
However, increased use of technology also brings some challenges. Artists are increasingly responsible for managing the business aspects of their art even though they may not have had the training to do so. Compensation also varies widely for work that is independently produced at a time when society as a whole continues to experience economic concerns surrounding housing, health care and debt.
Women and other minorities continue to remain underrepresented in the arts and the current structure of support and recognition in the arts are not effectively changing the landscape. Finally, the fellowships, grants and awards that often support artistic endeavors have not kept pace with the way artists are currently creating art.
Findings from the report revealed the need for coordinated action in the art world in five important areas:
- Measuring the contributions of artists to society
- Addressing the income security of artists along with others in the workforce
- Help artists overcome debt and build assets
- Update training for artists
- Upgrade the systems that support artists