Creativity Connects: Trends and Conditions Affecting U.S. Artists

Sep 1, 2016

As the demographics of our country shift, the population of artists is growing and diversifying, as are norms about who is considered an artist by the arts sector and the general public. Artists are working in different ways—in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary contexts, as artists in non-arts settings, and as entrepreneurs in business and society. Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census national data sets on artists have become more refined in the past decade, but arguably do not capture information on the full range of artists working today. Artists that may be omitted from these data sets include those who may not seek income from their work and those who use their artistry as part of another occupation. As the nature of artistic practice evolves, many of the existing systems that train and support artists are not keeping pace. Artists are always influenced by larger socio-economic trends and respond to them in how they make their work and construct their lives. This research found four main trends influencing artists today:

  1. Technology is profoundly altering the context and economics of artists' work. New technological tools and social media have influenced the landscape for creation, distribution, and financing of creative work. There are benefits for many artists, including lowered costs of creating and the ability to find collaborators and new markets. There are also significant new challenges, such as an increasingly crowded marketplace, copyright issues, and disruptions to traditional revenue models.
  2. Artists share challenging economic conditions with other segments of the workforce. Making a living as an artist has never been easy, but broader economic trends such as rising costs of living, greater income inequality, high levels of debt, and insufficient protections for "gig economy" workers are putting increasing pressure on artists' livelihoods. Artists also face unique challenges in accessing and aggregating capital to propel their businesses and build sustainable lives.
  3. Structural inequities in the artists' ecosystem mirror those in society more broadly. Race-, gender- and ability-based disparities that are pervasive in our society are equally prevalent in both the nonprofit and commercial arts sectors. Despite the increasing cultural and ethnic diversity of the country and the broadening array of cultural traditions being practiced at expert levels, the arts ecosystem continues to privilege a relatively narrow band of aesthetic approaches.
  4. Training and funding systems are not keeping pace with artists' evolving needs and opportunities. Artist training and funding systems have not caught up to the hybrid and varied ways that artists are working today. Artist-training programs are not adequately teaching artists the non-arts skills they need to support their work (business practices, entrepreneurship, and marketing) nor how to effectively apply their creative skills in a range of contexts. Funding systems also lag in responding to the changing ways that artists are working today.
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