Where have all the artists gone?

Cultural employment in Australia, by occupation, 2001-2006. (Source: ABS 6273.0 Employment in Culture, Hans Hoegh-Guldberg). You can click on the image to get a bigger jpg.

Yesterday we looked at a detailed breakdown of cultural funding in Australia.

Today, I’m reprinting part of a recent Art Monthly Australia article by Peter Anderson about the surprising (alarming?) decline in artistic employment shown by the latest census figures. Anderson went through and crunched some of the ABS data on cultural employment. He also refers to Music Council of Australia research by the cultural economist Hans Hoegh-Guldberg. As Anderson writes in his Art Monthly Australia piece, in many sectors the figures are not pretty:

While the ABS Employment in Culture report only provides raw numbers for each arts occupation, Hoegh-Guldberg’s analysis converts the numbers into percentages, which clearly show the substantial nature of the issue. He notes that between 2001 and 2006 there was a 12.5% decline in music professionals, a 20% decline in actors, dancers and related professionals, an almost 6% decline in authors, and an 18% decline in visual arts and crafts professionals. Within the more tightly defined occupations in the visual arts and crafts, the declines are a little uneven, with painters falling by 13%, sculptors by 9% and potters and ceramic artists by a very significant 55%. There were also declines in the more general visual arts and craft occupations categories, such as Visual Arts and Craft Professional nec (not elsewhere classified). In fact, this latter category – which includes new media artist, ephemeral artist, multimedia artist and textile artist – fell to below the numbers of a decade earlier, after peaking in 2001. Potters and ceramic artists, on the other hand, have been in decline for a decade, falling from 2,155 in 1996 to just 652 in 2006 – a whopping 70% reduction.

Anderson concedes that the figures are in many cases difficult to interpret, because of census methodology:

The issue here is that the census data only relates to the main job held in the week prior to census date. As a result, those artists who listed another occupation as their main job would not be counted in the figures discussed above. In other words, because the census only collects data on the main job, it fails to count all artists. Thus, it is possible that while the number of ‘main job’ artists has fallen, overall artist numbers may not have declined – at least that’s the argument. This is certainly what was suggested by the ABS media release for the Work in Selected Culture and Leisure Activities report.

In fact, the census data basically contradicts the ABS’ data in its Work in Selected Culture and Leisure Activities series:

Just as the census undercounts the artist population because of the way it defines occupation by ‘main job’, Work in Selected Culture and Leisure Activities appears to significantly overestimate artist numbers. In fact, what this latter report counts is not artists, but whether the survey respondent had engaged in particular cultural activities at any time during the year preceding the survey, such as painting, drawing or making an artwork with a computer. While the survey aims to exclude activities that are undertaken as a hobby, there’s a good deal of confusion about the ‘work’ nature of the activity.

Anderson concludes with a very important point, and one which tallies with other evidence across the arts in Australia (like David Throsby’s Don’t Give Up Your Day Job) about the nature of cultural work:

Perhaps what the Census figures indicate is that the challenge of maintaining an art career without the need to resort to other employment is a problem increasingly confronting more than just emerging artists, a sign that the issue of artist’s incomes has reached a crisis point. The decline in numbers in key visual arts and crafts occupations is particularly troubling, given that it comes on the heals of the significant additional funding injected into the sector following the Myer Inquiry.

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One thought on “Where have all the artists gone?

  1. As a part of this trend I would like to point out that thanks to some digital mediums true visual artists have jumped ship in category to illustration / design. A part of this is to do with what I view as traditionalist bias in counting figures like this. Sure, I’m not much more then a corporate mercenary but I spend 80% of my working day creating visual art … yet I figure in the illustration and design category if you ask your typical High School art teacher, government official or gallery owner.

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