Compendium of data on artists’ work and employment in Australia

Data on the working lives of Australian artists has been combined into a comprehensive analytical report that looks at trends in the artist labour market going back to the ‘80s.

The analysis tells the remarkable story of a structural shift that occurred in the Australian arts sector in the first decade of the new millennium: an extraordinary increase in creative arts participation rates in the adult population coupled with a ‘crunch’ in professional artists’ employment.

The compendium, by the Australia Council and the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, contains an analysis of data from key collections to provide an empirical picture of the working lives of Australia’s artists and trends in key aspects of the artist labour market. The analysis focuses on 4 key areas:
1.  Artist numbers
2.  Artists’ earnings and incomes
3.  Other characteristics of artists’ employment
4.  Factors inhibiting or advancing artists’ careers

The report reinforces previous findings from Australia and overseas of the relatively low earnings and incomes of the majority of artists, relatively high rates of self-employment, freelancing and multiple job holding, and a relative lack of access to income support employment benefits. The analysis provides an indication of the magnitude of artists’ relative position across these indicators.

Data also show that since 1987 there has been strong growth in the number of professional artists in Australia. The growth in the number of artists has been higher than the growth in Australia’s adult population. Data on artists’ employment has, however, only replicated this strong growth up until 2001. Since then, the number of artists employed in an arts occupation as their main job appears to have declined strongly. There is some evidence that artists have switched their main job from arts occupations to arts-related and other occupations, perhaps in response to a noticeable decline in the relative incomes of artist occupations between 2001 and 2006.

Although data cannot identify any one factor in particular that has caused the decline in relative incomes between 2001 and 2006, one possible explanation is that there has been very strong growth in people creating arts more broadly, or ‘non-professionally’.

Between 2001 and 2007, the number of people undertaking paid and unpaid work in creative arts activities nearly doubled from 1.2 million to 2.4 million people per annum. This was an increase in the participation rate in creative arts from 8 percent to 15 percent of the adult population. Over the same period the number of people who received some payment for their work increased by 44 percent, or around 151,000 people. In light of the relatively small size of the professional artist sector, this is a substantial increase in arts production, and provides a likely, though largely unverifiable, explanation for much of the relative decline in artists’ incomes over the period as more artists compete for paid employment and more arts products compete for audiences and consumers, both of which may cause a decline in the return on artists’ labour.

Read the full report:
Data on Artists’ Employment and Professional practice in Australia October 2009 Research on artists’ work, incomes, tax and social security>

This is part of a wider project described here>

The report was presented to the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications and the Arts February 2010 meeting>

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4 thoughts on “Compendium of data on artists’ work and employment in Australia

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