Art Works Blog

Taking Note: Artist Employment Projections

Washington, DC

"LA Open House" courtesy of flickr user SNRE (University of Michigan School of Natural Resources)



This summer, the National Endowment for the Arts is piloting its 2012 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA). The SPPA underwent major surgery this year, in the wake of a November 2010 meeting with arts organizations, study methodologists, and social science researchers. At the meeting, participants proposed strategic changes to the questionnaire. Indeed, the goal of the meeting was to find ways to make the survey more relevant to the U.S. public in the 21st century, while retaining the ability to monitor long-term trends going back to 1982, the first year of the survey.

A recurring theme of the meeting was that arts participation should be considered not solely as attendance at arts events. As artists and arts managers know from experience, many Americans---particularly young adults---increasingly prefer opportunities to engage with art through personal performance or creation, often through electronic media.

But several at the meeting pointed to to yet another form of arts participation, one entirely different from either attendance or personal art-making. Call it curation. Although most were undecided on the best term for it---?select,? ?arrange,? ?present,? and ?collect? all were broached as possibilities---speakers agreed that the experience of archiving and sharing artworks with others is a distinctive type of participation, especially with the advent of digital technologies.

I thought of this yesterday, when re-reading the NEA?s newly released Research Note #103, Artist Employment Projections Through 2018. This publication relies on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics? Occupational Outlook Handbook: 2010-2011 Edition for an analysis of projected career trends for ten artist job categories and four groups of arts and cultural workers.

The analysis finds that curators, museum technicians, and conservators show some of the highest projected growth rates for all arts and cultural jobs examined. By 2018, the number of these workers is slated to grow by 23-26 percent, or about 5,500 new jobs in total. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) observes that the growth rate for this relatively small group of workers is ?much faster than average.? Librarians, meanwhile, show a growth rate on par with that of the U.S workforce (about 8 percent). But in contrast, competition for those jobs is expected to be ?favorable.?

And what about artist jobs? Landscape architects likely will ?grow much faster than average,? according to BLS. They could grow by 20 percent in 2018, to 32,000 strong. Interior designers, for their part, show ?faster than average? growth, for a projected total of 13,900 jobs in 2018, up 19 percent. For both jobs, BLS cites the healthcare industry as a big driver of future employment; aging baby boomers may require more nursing homes, retirement facilities, and pleasing aesthetics generally.

As for curators and conservators, the BLS attributes projected job growth to continued public interest in art, science, and history. From the viewpoint of one who observed a day of heated discussions about Americans? arts participation habits, I?m inclined to agree. Following the November 2010 meeting, changes were made to the NEA survey. Although the 2012 SPPA will not include the word ?curating,? it will attempt to identify people who purchase, collect, and share artwork; who edit, mix, or remix audio, video, or film performances; or who do scrapbooking, with or without digital technology. And, who knows: maybe some of these self-identified curators will contribute to U.S. job growth in the next decade.


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