Why Be Concerned with Artists?

Maria-Rosario Jackson

The Urban Institute's study of the support structure for U.S. artists, Investing in Creativity: A Study of the Support Structure for U.S. Artists, was undertaken to expand thinking about who artists are, what they do, and what mechanisms are needed to support their work. (See page 41 for a preview of the report.) The report began with the following section about the study's motivation and why society should be concerned.

Although artists are often stereotyped as removed from everyday life and societal processes, artists are fundamental to our cultural heritage and their work is often a crucial part of community life. Artists work in diverse settings ranging from studios and cultural institutions to schools, parks, and various kinds of community center and social change organizations. They work in all sectors – nonprofit, commercial, public, and informal sectors. Artists create paintings, films, plays, poems, and other works that reflect the diversity, aspirations, hopes, fears, and contradictions of our society. The work of artists inspires, celebrates, mourns, commemorates, and causes us to question aspects of contemporary life and the human condition.

Many artists are teachers, helping people of all stages of life to develop their creative and critical thinking skills. Many contribute in other ways, both directly and indirectly by acting as catalysts for civic engagement, as well as key players in creating culturally and economically vital places. The numerous areas where artists contribute to community life include civic leadership and youth development, community building, neighborhood revitalization, and economic development. Artists also contribute to the creation and transmittal of group identities.

In these and other roles, artists are a growing part of the U.S. workforce. But they are typically underpaid in relation to their education, skills, and societal contributions. Moreover, given the multiple roles they play in society, they are often under-recognized and under-valued by funders and policymakers both inside and outside the cultural sector, as well as by the media and the public at large.

The full text of this statement, with references, is available in the report.