Tracking Demographic Differences Among U.S. Artists and Arts Managers  

By Sunil Iyengar

The NEA has issued three new research briefs that can help cultural funders and administrators to monitor and promote equitable access to arts labor opportunities.

The briefs examine demographic characteristics of artists and arts managers at a national level. Also reported are state-level artist numbers by race and ethnicity. Grounded in the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS), the briefs approach a priority topic on the NEA’s five-year research agenda:

What is the state of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the arts? What progress has been made in achieving these outcomes for arts administration, employment, learning, and participation? What are some promising practices and/or replicable strategies in these domains, and what are appropriate markers of success?

Descriptive statistics alone will not answer these questions. For one thing, national datasets about artists and arts workers are limited in the types of information that may be collected and reported. For another, the NEA will rely increasingly on two award programs—Research Grants in the Arts and NEA Research Labs—to support qualitative and quantitative study designs that can address the priority topics on its research agenda.

Yet the three research briefs make a series of observations that can inform public awareness of how women and non-whites, relative to other groups, show up in arts professions. Women, for example, compose only 28 percent of architects—the highest-paying artist job.

By contrast, women account for 77 percent of dancers or choreographers, who, earning a median annual salary of $36,365, are among the lowest-paid artists. Not only that—women artists who worked full-year and full-time earned $0.80 for every dollar made by men artists. By the same standard, women photographers earned as low as $0.70.

The wage gap between men and women artists is thus greater than it is between white and non-white or Hispanic artists. For every dollar earned by white artists, non-whites or Hispanics earn $0.94. However, among producers and directors—generally higher-paying artist occupations—non-whites or Hispanics earned $0.84.

Apart from pay differences, an equity question is raised by the finding that in comparison with the U.S. workforce as a whole, artists are less likely to be non-white or Hispanic. Where these groups do appear at relatively high rates are: dancers/choreographers and announcers, with non-whites or Hispanics occupying 44 percent and 36 of these artist jobs, respectively.

One of the research briefs extends this demographic analysis to arts managers. According to the ACS data, the only arts‐related industries in which non‐white groups occupied management spots at a rate surpassing their share of all U.S. management positions were: sound recording (African Americans or Blacks); florist shops (Hispanics)—the leading employer of floral designers; and web publishing and web broadcasting (Asian).

In contrast to these disparities by race and ethnicity, gender is more evenly split for arts managers. Although women accounted for little over 40 percent of all managers in the U.S. workforce, they represented nearly 50 percent of managers in each of the following arts industries: museums; performing arts companies; publishers, and design firms. Women were, however, significantly underrepresented as managers in such industries as performing arts presenting and artist agencies, sound recording, web publishing and web broadcasting, and bookstores. In the case of musical instrument and supply stores, women were a mere 24 percent of all managers.

(Incidentally, the findings on arts managers may be compared with results from a 2021 research brief, on the demographic characteristics of business-owners in the arts. Go here for that analysis.)

Another new research brief considers how artists are distributed by state. As one would expect, New York and California have the largest numbers of artists overall. The percentage of artists in each state’s workforce is also greater than for any other state—though D.C. ranks slightly higher on those terms. But Colorado, Vermont, Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington all have high concentrations of artists as well.

  • For visual artists, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Alaska, and Hawaii—states remarkable for their scenic attractions— are especially welcoming.
  • As a share of the labor force, actors abound in Louisiana and Georgia, among other states. Arizona, Oklahoma, Nevada, Maine, and Maryland are some of the states where dancers and choreographers cluster. Rhode Island and Minnesota—to name just two states—are proportionately big on designers.
  • The presence of announcers (e.g., deejays, emcees, local news anchors and public service announcers) is surprisingly high in states such as North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, and Alaska, as a share of the overall workforce.
  • Writers show up at high rates in Utah, Rhode Island, Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine, and elsewhere.

Courtesy of “special tabulations” that the U.S. Census Bureau provided to the NEA, the brief also discusses the racial/ethnic composition of artists at the state level. As with their share of U.S. artists in general, New York and California have high overall percentages of artists who are non-white or Hispanic. But the key is to look at these categories on a per capita basis.

  • As it happens, Kansas hosts Blacks writers at a higher rate (+87 percent greater) than the percentage of Black writers among U.S. workers. Similarly, while low in number, Hispanic writers cluster in Kansas at a 49 percent greater rate than in the nation’s Hispanic workforce in general.
  • Racial/ethnic diversity is also observable in Georgia—at least for actors—when looking at federal data on artists. Hispanic, Black, and Asian actors, as well as actors of “other” races (a category that includes Native American and Alaska Native workers) are concentrated in this state. (This tendency, along with the relatively high share of actors in Georgia’s workforce, may be attributable to the outsized contributions of the motion picture and video industry to the state’s economy. See previous reports from the NEA and the Bureau of Economic Analysis on the arts’ value added to GDP, by state.)
  • Visual artists from Asian or Native American and “other” racial backgrounds (besides Black and African American) are apparently more numerous in Maine and New Mexico, as a share of each state’s workforce when broken down by race, than elsewhere in the nation. (Also, though low in sheer numbers, Asian visual artists cluster in Missouri at a 20 percent higher rate than in the nation’s Asian workforce.)
  • While Tennessee, home of Music City, U.S.A. (Nashville), can boast the largest share of musicians in any state’s workforce—and therefore high shares of musicians from various racial/ethnic backgrounds—Asian musicians are not particularly well-represented there.
  • Despite the small number of Black architects in states such as Massachusetts and New Jersey, they are still more concentrated in those states than among Black workers nationally.
  • Despite the large Hispanic workforce in Texas (5.2 million), the share of Hispanic artists in the Lone Star State is 20 percent less than in the Hispanic workforce nationwide. Instead, in Florida, where Hispanic workers are also plentiful (2.8 million), Hispanic artists are more concentrated than in nation’s Hispanic labor force. This is especially true of Hispanic architects, visual artists, and photographers.

With all three briefs, an important caveat is that the data source (the 2015-2019 ACS Public Microdata Use Sample) predates COVID-19. Although the NEA has been able to track and report artist unemployment patterns in the wake of the pandemic, we must wait for greater clarity on how demographic and state-level estimates might have been affected. For now, these briefs—and the accompanying tables and graphics—reveal ample opportunities for arts administrators to weigh discrepancies within national and regional arts ecosystems, and to investigate root causes.

Sunil Iyengar directs the Office of Research & Analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts.