NEA Arts Magazine

Artists at Work

Not long after its inception in the mid-1970s, the National Endowment for the Arts’ research office began to capture and report statistics on the artist labor force. The consequences were far-reaching: thanks to those early efforts, the agency has been able to track evolving patterns of employment and demographic characteristics for 11 distinct artist occupations in the U.S. The most recent fruits of that research have included a profile of artist workers in the new century, a comparison of women and men artists, and analyses of artist unemployment in a time of recession.

Such research would not be possible without the large federal data sets accessible through the U.S. Census Bureau, but in each case the NEA has conducted or commissioned original research to identify trends in how artists resemble or distinguish themselves from other types of workers. In recent years, the American Community Survey has promised a wealth of timely, emerging data about artists. NEA researchers fully expect to mine this resource as they extend the narrative about artists into the coming decade.