Artists and the Economic Recession: Brief Highlights on the Findings

Published in: GIA Reader, Vol 21, No 1 (Spring 2010)

Judilee Reed

The recession has impacted all professions, and artists are no exception. As of 2001, there were more than 2.5 million working artists in the United States, representing a critical part of the entrepreneurial, independent workforce. In the summer of 2009, Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC), in partnership with Helicon Collaborative and Princeton Survey Research International, developed the Artists and the Economic Recession Survey to provide high-quality and timely information to funders and artist service organizations. The survey sought to understand artists’ financial circumstances more than a year into the recession, their strategies for adaptation, and their needs and concerns at this time. This research is part of LINC’s efforts to improve conditions for artists nationwide. (www.LINCnet.net).

LINC partnered with 35 arts service organizations across the U.S. who invited their members to take the electronic survey in either English or Spanish. The response was phenomenal: 5,380 artists nationwide completed the survey between July 20 and August 17, 2009. The sample was weighted, so the demographic characteristics of the sample closely approximate the demographic characteristics of the national population of artists. Responses are sufficient to allow comparisons by age, race/ethnicity, educational attainment, arts discipline, percent of income from art work and other important characteristics.

A full report on the survey including the second round of results gathered between August 17 and November 19, 2009 will be available in early spring 2010. Please contact me at judilee@lincnet.net to request the current summary of findings or the full report.

Highlights
A brief report is unable to capture the richness of the data contained in the survey (for example, differences in experience by discipline or demographic characteristics) but it intends to highlight some of the most important findings such as:

  • Two-thirds of artists hold at least one job in addition to making art.
  • Artists incomes are relatively low (two-thirds made less than $40,000 in 2008), and half (51%) reported a decrease in their art-related income from 2008 to 2009.
  • Forty percent of artists do not have adequate health insurance and more than 50% are worried about losing what they do have.
  • Despite the challenges, artists are optimistic about the future — 89% think artists have a special role in helping strengthen communities in these times, and 75% believe this is an inspiring time to be an artist.
  • Some opportunities have emerged as a result of the recession — 40% report they have been able to spend more time on their artwork, and one-third have seized the opportunity to experiment and collaborate more.
  • While direct financial support would be most helpful to artists, technical assistance, networking opportunities, and supplies are also high on the list.

Recession’s Impact on Resources
The most commonly experienced negative change is a decrease in sales of work (48%) or a need to lower fees/rates charged for work. (44%), both of which suggest the arts are experiencing the contraction in consumer spending as much as many other industries. Grant-making has been affected in a number of ways, with more than a third of artists reporting a decrease in the monetary amount of grants (37%), the number of awards granted (36%), and the number of grant opportunities available (35%). Those organizations and venues that often serve to link artists up with audiences have also been affected by the recession, and this is having an impact on artists in turn. More than a third of artists report that compared with last year they have fewer bookings scheduled (38%) and fewer opportunities to exhibit/perform/present their work (35%). About three in 10 say there are fewer services available by nonprofits (31%) and fewer teaching (30%) and artist residency (27%) opportunities.

RESOURCES ARTISTS WOULD FIND MOST HELPFUL


Artists’ Concerns about Effects of the Recession
Many of artists’ top worries are those that are concerning the rest of the population as well, such as health care, debt, income and retirement plans. Artists’ chief worry is loss of income (77%) followed fewer sales (70% worried or very worried), difficulty finding funding for future projects (67%), rising amounts of debt (61%), fewer exhibition / presentation opportunities, fewer grants (59%) and low morale for themselves and others they know (59%). Other major concerns are loss of health insurance and derailed retirement plans. Although 61% of surveyed artists report they have adequate health insurance, 50% indicated concern about losing it.

Those artists who have already experienced financial fallout from the recession are more likely to be worried in general than those who have not. Artists who earn most of their income from art are more likely to be worried than those who earn almost none of their income from art, which may indicate perceptions of the volatility of the art market relative to other industries in which artists work.

Profile of Survey Respondents
Artists in the Artists and the Economic Recession Survey represent a wide range of disciplines and are at varying stages in their artistic careers. They are a diverse group in terms of age, race / ethnicity, levels of formal education, income and geographical location. Fully half of the artists identified their primary art form as visual art, and 49% of artists spend substantial time on at least two different art forms. The majority of respondents (69%) have been practicing their art form for more than 10 years.

Conclusion
In some ways, the recession only exacerbates the ongoing conditions for artists. We always have to improvise and put our livings together creatively. But this time is different – we’re struggling as a nation with some fundamental issues and values and change is in the air. Such times feed the imaginations of artists, and enhance their contributions to people and communities. (Artist)

Artists are significant contributors to our communities, providing insight, spirit and imagination as well as economic value. In addition, artists’ work experiences may foreshadow what is coming for millions more who increasingly put their work lives together in entrepreneurial and improvised ways. Stay tuned for the full report.

Judilee Reed is the executive director of Leveraging Investments in Creativity.