Facts, for a change

March 23, 2010  |  By
Filed under: Field Notes

Okay I’ve been threatening to bring some numbers to bear on the perennial claims made by folks about artistic realities in the Bay Area without any research to back up their assertions. I’ve gotten a copy of “The Artists and the Economic Recession Survey: A Report Comparing Main Survey Artists [i.e., national] and Artists Who Live or Work in the Bay Area.” While not an exact match with what we’ve been discussing here, it does offer some interesting insights. The following research has been done by the Princeton Survey Research Associates International for Helicon Collaborative and Leveraging Investments in Creativity. The latter group seems to exist to help artists; their web site is here.

First, this survey is unusually inclusive. That is, 5,389 artists responded, all last summer. Another 1,583 were contacted through the end of November. So this data is very fresh. Particular attention was paid to keeping the sample balanced by age, race/ethnicity, education, discipline, percent of income made from art practice, and visual artists and performing artists. Surveys were available in Spanish. The only possible drawback is that all participants had to have access to e-mail.

Some of the first things covered are differences between the Bay Area art scene and the national art scene. Locally, 56% of artists are women, compared to 46% nationally. 9% of local artists are 65 or older, compared with 6% nationally. In the Bay Area, 71% of the artists have a BA degree or higher, as against 62% nationally. In the Bay Area, 69% of the artists are white, compared to 75% nationally. (Fewer are African American; six percent are Asian, 14% Latina/o, versus 2% and 5% outside the region). In the Bay Area 10 percent are foreign-born citizens, and 6% are non-citizens, versus 5% and 3% elsewhere. Of particular interest to me was that 56% of Bay Area artists have lived in the same county for ten or more years, and 67% of them went to art school in the same county in which they still reside (nationally: 49% and 58%). 70% of the Bay Area artists said they were either visual artists or media artists; 69% nationally (though different: we have fewer visual artists—46/50—and more media artists 24/19). (We also have way more dancers and choreographers and way fewer actors).

Okay. So. The numbers in this research say that Bay Area artists report the same total (art and other sources) income as artists nationally: 60% make under $40,000 a year (2008 tax year). 25% make between $40,000 and $80,000. 10% make over $80,000. What percentage of this income is from art making? The answer is polarized: basically very little of it or most of it. That is: 48% of Bay Area artists make less than 20% of their income from art (43% nationally). 29% of Bay Area artists make 61 to 100% of their income from art; nationally the number is 35%.

Seven in ten have another job besides being an artist nationally and locally; 40 percent have one job and 25 percent have two. Two-thirds of those jobs are in the arts; nationally the figure is lower, 59%. More than half of those jobs locally are in a non-profit, compared to 42% elsewhere. Half are in the academy and 40% in commercial art both locally and nationally. If artists work outside the arts, over 60% of their income comes from these non-arts jobs.

It seems like the situation is pretty much the same here as everywhere else. However, it’s possible that what we see is a homogenization. It would be nice to see New York separated out in the same way that the Bay Area has been separated out. It seems like artists do make slightly less from their art work here than elsewhere, but on the other hand almost a third of self-identifying artists make the majority of their income from their art. Also of note: most artists who subsidize their income with jobs either teach or work in commercial art jobs. There’s more data in the survey but mostly about the impact of the recession….

10 Comments

  1. Chris Rusak Says:

    Super interesting.

    While I think that the economies of artists have much room for improvement, I have to say that some of these figures surprise me, and my expectations were that they were a lot smaller than actuality. It is disappointing that we are six points lower than the national average in terms of artists deriving most of their income from art, but not surprising since rents are at a premium here. I imagine NYC is even lower?

  2. Renny Pritikin Says:

    Not sure I get your last point Chris. Rent is on the expense side, while I only had data on the income side….

  3. Joseph del Pesco Says:

    Thanks for this Renny, it’s incredibly helpful to have some of this data put into context. Is it true that these kinds of studies are typically commissioned by funding bodies to help them target funding or respond to specific needs? Based on this data what would you say needs to be addressed in the Bay Area?

  4. Renny Pritikin Says:

    Yes, this was funded by foundations to try to respond to artists’ needs that have arisen from the recession. For example, they found that Bay Area artists were something like 10% more likely than artists in other areas to have lost their non-arts jobs as a result of the recession. I haven’t really given thought yet to the “therefore” part of this, but it does seem that if 60% of artists are making under $40,000, maybe we need a jobs program to get them over that hump into the next (40 to 80k) group. CETA might live again…

  5. Vance Maverick Says:

    I was thinking along the same lines as Chris, so maybe I can explain. Why would Bay Area artists get less of their income from art, even though art is about as lucrative here as elsewhere? Because living here is more expensive, so they need to supplement their art income with more from other sources.

  6. Renny Pritikin Says:

    Still way too speculative for me…

  7. Chris Rusak Says:

    I guess I saw it more from an independent artist perspective, one without any side- or non-art- work. You would, then, only be able to report income if you actually cleared your own expenses. It sounds like this survey was a “take-home” income type; if you’re an on-your-own artist with a yearly profit and loss statement, it’s unlikely the survey accounted for struggling artists who were in the red; the on-your-own artists who did turn a profit, in reporting for the survey, who likely have reported their year-end profit as their “take-home” income, having already deducted rent expenses. It would seem like working artists are reporting net incomes, and not gross.

    I also see Vance’s point, and how that could affect the survey results, also.

  8. Renny Pritikin Says:

    I don’t want to get off on a technical sidetrack, but the survey results are reporting gross income from all sources.

  9. Steven Barich Says:

    These are very interesting numbers. Thanks Renny, for bringing this to the table. In order to make the “big picture” more complete, it would be great to know as well the percentages of artists to regional opportunities, artists to local art academies, artists to monthly gallery exhibitions, etc. If one took the economic report and the viable opportunities report, for both SF and New York (and maybe LA), stacked them side by side…that would present some challenging facts to assuage all the questions and claims.

    It seems that in looking at these numbers, one should think about the environment of wealth that is the Bay Area, and how that stacks against these regional/national numbers. Supposedly, the Bay Area is home to 5 of the top 15 wealthiest cities in America: San Francisco, Sunnyvale, Berkeley, Fremont and San Jose. See: http://www.fa-mag.com/fa-news/3409-california-dominates-americas-wealthiest-cities.html. Sure, the determination of wealth is relative to a number of different specs, but if true, then shouldn’t greater regional wealth translate into higher regional averages for artist’s income than national? Well, first, people need to become invested in the arts…and arts education is very meager in the Bay Area, IMHO.

    Overall, the art market isn’t as good as it *should* be here in the Bay Area, based on total income numbers for artists. Then again, one could have fun in implying Bay Area artists are smarter/better/determined at surviving with less…for those that stay…

  10. Chris Rusak Says:

    It’s all the inexpensive lentils we’re living on from Rainbow with our 20% off coupons that keep us going, Steven. Definitely the determined lentils.

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