Cultural Employment in Europe

Published in: GIA Reader, Vol 14, No 1 (Winter 2003)

Andy Feist
Reviewed by John Kreidler, Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley

2000, 47 pages. Council of Europe Publishing, Cultural Policies Research and Development Unit, (33) 03 88 41 25 81

Cultural Employment in Europe is a summarization and analysis of research conducted since the 1980s. The report defines cultural workers as "artists and creators" working in cultural institutions, allied workers in these institutions (e.g. administrative staff), and "artists and creators" working in non-cultural institutions. In total, the report finds that cultural employment in the fifteen European Union nations amounts to 3.4 million, which is 2 percent of total employment.

In examining the gender equitability of opportunities within this work force, the report finds "an hierarchy of female participation." High female participation is evident in libraries, museums, archives, dance, and choreography. In comparison, women are slightly underrepresented in book and periodical publishing, film and TV production, visual arts professions, and live theatre. Women are least well represented in music and the architectural profession, where they account for about one-third of the workforce. Examining the possible causes of gender inequities, the report notes that significant disparities exist in the pre-professional training of cultural professions. In Germany, for example, 59 percent of visual art students are female, whereas only 17 percent of their instructors are female.

Beginning in the 1990s, the report cites evidence of a trend toward higher levels of advanced training prior to entry into the cultural workforce. Artists are spending more time in university-level arts training, and so are administrators. However, "...there is no clear evidence that this has improved job opportunities. Indeed, given that most artistic professions are overcrowded, concerns exist that access to training simply exacerbates existing problems within the labour market (e.g. underemployment and low pay.)” Cultural workers tend to be more flexible in their career patterns: self-employed, working in multiple part-time jobs, or working in short-term assignments of weeks or days. Full-time jobs tend to be limited to larger institutions.

Various national studies referenced in the report indicate that cultural employment has been growing at a high rate over the past decade (prior to 2000). However, the report questions whether these figures “...genuinely represent an increase in levels of work or is it possible, given the flexibility of employment, that they mask a situation of more workers chasing less work.” The conclusion is that much of the employment growth is genuine. Two causes are recent deregulation of European broadcasting and advances in audiovisual technologies. Deregulation has resulted in a threefold increase in program hours of broadcasting. Interactive computer games are also strong source of growth.

The overall pattern of employment growth is not apparent, however, in cultural industries that have not benefited from the productivity and mass distribution improvements afforded by technology. “Those employed in the traditional cultural institutions — orchestras, opera companies and theatres — face a challenging future without substantial increases in public funding and/or additional sources of income. Either jobs will continue to be lost in these sectors (e.g. the decline in cast sizes evidenced in the British theatre during the 1980s and 1990s), earnings constrained or employment patterns re-cast to permit greater flexibility.” Despite the pressures on traditional institutions, the report notes that public subsidies for culture in Europe remain relatively static. Increasingly, job growth in the cultural sector is occurring in newly formed small- and medium-size organizations that often operate from project-to-project and require a high degree of entrepreneurial skills.

The report suggests several points that deserve attention in European employment policy:

• Due to the ongoing problem of matching the supply of available jobs to the labor supply, professional training needs to focus on the levels of employment where opportunities actually exist, both overall and by specialist; on the type and content of training provided; and on the need by prospective students for accurate information.

• New ways need to be found to sustain, in part through governmen- tal subsidy, small, project-driven cultural organizations.

• Equal employment remains an issue, especially in traditional cultural institutions.

• Increasing regional disparities may develop in the distribution of cultural jobs: big cities may capture most of the growth.

• Large disparities in incomes will probably continue to characterize the cultural workforce. “A large part of employment in this sector will always be associated with high risks and high returns for a talented few.”

Many of the trends described in Cultural Employment in Europe are familiar to readers in the United States. What is unfamiliar is the relatively high level of research that Europeans have directed toward the subject of employment in the cultural sector, and the notion that public policies should be mobilized to maximize growth and redress problems. Whereas a sizeable proportion of research and policy in this country has been directed toward the health of cultural institutions, government regulation (including taxation and intellectual property), and public demand, very little attention has been given to the matter of human capital in the cultural sector.

John Kreidler, Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley