They are usually their own boss, and they make more than the median worker. But the catch of making it in this industry is that you have to be talented. The arts, whose workers, according to a new research paper put out by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), have a median salary of $43,000, which is $4,000 higher than the figure for the rest of the American workforce. (The stats are from 2009.)
The study took a broad definition of artists, but limited it to professional ones. Among those included in the study were actors, animators, announcers, architects, dancers, designers, musicians, writers, fine artists such as painters and sculptors and "other entertainers." (Roughly 40 percent of all professional artists classified themselves as designers.)
In total, some 2 million Americas list a job in the arts as their form of employment. That number represents 1.4 percent of all American workers. The states with highest proportion of artists were New York, where artists make up 2.3 percent of the workforce, followed by California, where artists comprise 2 percent of the labor market. Oregon and Vermont also had relatively high rates of artists among its labor force.
The bullish news comes at a particularly trying time for the arts. While no era is easy for an artist, the Great Recession and the continuing financial crisis have presented a two-pronged attack on arts in America. The financial strain that has cut across all sectors has been supplemented by a political campaign focused on defunding the NEA. Commentator and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin summed up the view of the anti-arts bloc during an appearance on "Hannity" in March. As compiled by ArtInfo, the former Alaska governor said of funding for the arts, which amounts to .01 percent of the federal deficit:
"NPR, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, all those kind of frivolous things that government shouldn't be in the business of funding with tax dollars -- those should all be on the chopping block as we talk about the $14-trillion debt that we're going to hand to our kids and our grandkids."
And while those who have been able to stick it out in the arts are making a decent living, the challenges have recently squeezed out a new class of artists. That was the argument of a controversial essay posted on Salon.com from earlier this month, entitled, "The Creative Class Is A Lie."
In making the distinction between high-tech and "street level" artists, Scott Timberg writes that even if the former is flourishing like never before, then the latter is undergoing unprecedented hardship. He cites the statistic, provided by U.S. News & World Report, that some 260,000 jobs have been lost in traditional publishing since 2007.
Such artists have been forced to reconcile their creative impulses with more standard office jobs.
"I've seen a lot of people go into marketing -- or help companies who want to be 'cool,' " Joe Donnelly, who co-edits the Los Angeles literary magazine Slake, tells Slate." What artists do now is help brands build an identity. They end up styling or set decorating. That's where we're at now."
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