This survey is the sixth in a series carried out over more than 30 years at Macquarie University, with funding from the Australia Council. The surveys have thrown light on the ways in which professional arts practice has been changing over time. The development of the internet and digital technologies have transformed not only the ways in which artists can participate in the international art world and the global economy, but also the very processes of artistic creation. At the same time, employment conditions for artists have been changing radically, with increasing insecurity in contractual arrangements, and the replacement of steady employment with the emerging concept of the portfolio career, characterised by a variety of work arrangements. Nevertheless, there is also a sense in which nothing changes. The fundamental processes of creativity, the pursuit of an artistic vision and the passionate commitment to art that characterises art professionals—these things remain at the heart of what it is to be a practising artist. For many artists the real challenge is to keep hold of these core values in such a rapidly changing environment.
The survey is concerned with serious, practising professional artists. The seriousness is judged in terms of a self-assessed commitment to artistic work as a major aspect of the artist’s working life, even if creative work is not the main source of income. The practising aspect means that we confine our attention to artists currently working or seeking to work in their chosen occupation. The term professional is intended to indicate a degree of training, experience or talent and a manner of working that qualify artists to have their work judged against the professional standards of the relevant occupation.
The survey covers both full-time and part-time artists; employed and self-employed artists; and artists regardless of whether all, some or none of their income comes from art practice. It identifies artists according to their principal artistic occupation (PAO), grouped into eight occupational classifications: writers; visual artists; craft practitioners; actors and directors; dancers and choreographers; musicians and singers; composers, songwriters and arrangers; community cultural development artists (formerly known as community artists or community cultural development workers). The survey does not cover film-makers or interior, fashion, industrial or architectural designers. In previous surveys, as in the present one, a number of Indigenous artists working in urban and regional locations are picked up in the sampling procedures. But it has always been a matter of concern that the surveys have not been able to include Indigenous artists working in remote and very remote areas of Australia. Fortunately this longstanding shortcoming in coverage of Australian artists is now being overcome; a national survey of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists in remote communities is underway at present on a region-by-region basis, undertaken by the Macquarie University research team.
The artist population
Estimates of the population of artists in Australia depend on the definitions adopted. If attention is focused on practising professional artists according to our own definition, the size of the population is estimated at just under 50 thousand.
Looking at trends in numbers over recent years, we note that during the 1990s the artist population grew substantially but thereafter remained reasonably steady. In the most recent period, total numbers have increased, rising by about 10 percent in total over the past seven years. Over this time we estimate that the numbers of actors, writers, dancers and musicians have continued to grow, while the numbers of craft practitioners and community cultural development artists appear to have declined.
On average, artists are older than the labour force as a whole; among artistic occupations, writers are the oldest and dancers are the youngest. The population of artists is divided approximately equally between men and women, unlike the labour force, which has a higher proportion of males. Most artists (75 percent) were born in Australia, and there is a lower proportion of persons from a non- English speaking background among artists (10 percent) than among the wider workforce (18 percent).
In broad terms the family circumstances of artists parallel those of the labour force as a whole, although the largest group—artists living with a partner and with no dependent children—is proportionately greater in size than for the labour force (42 percent compared to 34 percent). Almost three-quarters of Australian artists reside in a capital city, reflecting the fact that major metropolitan centres are where arts infrastructure tends to be concentrated.
Education and training
Overall, artists are more highly educated than the workforce at large; just over three- quarters of them hold a university degree, compared to only 22 percent in the wider labour force. Beyond their general education, many artists have undergone specific training in their artform or in a related artform—about three-quarters have had formal training and 56 percent have had private training of some sort. Almost two-thirds identify self-teaching and/or learning on the job as avenues for their arts training. Among the various training experiences that artists have undergone, just under 40 percent see formal training as the most important type, and 23 percent refer to learning on the job as their most important pathway.
Obtaining a basic qualification to become an artist takes six years on average, and is often not the end of training; many artists continue to engage in advancing their education and training throughout their career. Most artists acknowledge that they improve their skills through self-education and learning on the job. Some seek new skills in another artform to extend their creative range. Others may enrol in refresher courses or workshops to maintain or enhance their skills. Overall, lifelong learning may perhaps be a stronger reality in the arts than in many other professions.
In the overall population of practising professional artists in Australia, around 60 percent can be identified as “established”, with the remaining either “starting out” or “becoming established”. Almost all established artists can identify a single moment at which they felt they had gained established status; the moment most often nominated was “my first big professional engagement; my poem/ novel/play/script/composition published/ performed/ produced; my first solo show/ exhibition”, identified by one-third of artists.
Factors that might work to advance an artist’s career, can be classified as intrinsic—those factors that are personal to the artist, or extrinsic—factors that arise from external circumstances. For example, intrinsic factors include an artist’s talent, motivation or self- belief, whereas extrinsic factors include support from family and friends, recognition by others, financial assistance or a lucky break that just happens at the right time. Respondents to the survey identified the personal qualities of persistence and passion in approximately equal measure as the most important intrinsic factors advancing their careers, whilst support and encouragement from others was the most important extrinsic factor.
In regard to negative influences, the great majority of artists point to economic factors such as lack of financial return from creative practice, lack of work opportunities, and lack of time to do creative work due to other responsibilities, as the most important factors holding back their professional development. It is notable that, in contrast to the factors advancing an artist’s career, all of these inhibiting factors are extrinsic.
The multi-talented artist
Artists show considerable versatility in the range of work they have been engaged in within their own artform during their careers. Moreover many artists do not confine their creative work to a single artform, but cross over into other areas of artistic practice. For example, our data show that many actors have had experience in writing or singing, and many community artists have been involved in acting, directing or writing. There is some evidence, in comparison with previous survey data, that the extent of cross-artform engagement has been increasing over time, especially among performing artists.
Although the contribution of Australian artists to our cultural life is widely recognised, the enormous breadth and depth of output of Australia’s professional artists is not always fully appreciated. Our data demonstrate the range of achievements of artists—much of this work meets the highest professional standards appropriate to their respective artforms. About 60 percent of artists have had a professional engagement interstate. In addition, just over 40 percent have had their work seen overseas, helping to advance international recognition of the Australian arts.
Patterns of working time
In analysing artists’ allocation of their working time, we make the now standard distinction between three types of work: creative work, arts-related work (primarily teaching), and non-arts work. From our data it appears that artists consistently spend about 55–60 percent of their working time on creative work, about a quarter of their working time on arts-related activities, and the remaining 20 percent on non-arts work.
On average we find that artists are currently working a 45-hour week, about half of which is devoted to creative work in their PAO. Overall, artists spend on average 28 hours on creative work of various sorts, nine hours on paid arts-related work and eight hours on paid non-arts work.
About one-quarter of a professional artist’s time on average is spent on arts-related work, which uses the artist’s creative skills and artistic knowledge either directly or indirectly. The overwhelmingly most common form of arts-related work is teaching, mostly in the artist’s own artform but occasionally crossing into another artform; on average 70 percent of artists across all artforms who are engaged in arts-related work do so through teaching.
Not all artists are able to work in the arts full-time. In fact our data show that only 56 percent of artists spend all their working time at arts work (creative plus arts-related), and many fewer (23 percent) spend 100 percent of their time solely at creative work. The data show that two-thirds of artists would like to spend more time at their creative practice, and one-third is happy with the way things are.
Among those who would like to spend more time at their creative practice, the problems preventing them from doing so are overwhelmingly related to their economic circumstances. These include the lack of available work (which is especially true for performing artists), inadequate financial return for work sold (affects visual artists, craft practitioners, and community artists), and insufficient markets (as may be a problem for writers, visual artists, craftspeople, and composers).
Income and expenditure
In the financial year 2014–15, Australian practising professional artists earned average gross incomes of $48,400, comprising $18,800 in creative income, $13, 900 in arts-related income, and $15,700 in non-arts income. The distribution of incomes is heavily skewed towards the lower end; our data indicate that about 60 percent of artists make less than $10 thousand per year on average from creative work, and even when all earned income sources are accounted for, there are still around 20 percent of artists who make less than $10 thousand in total. At the other end of the income scale, only 13 percent of all artists made more than $50 thousand from their creative work in 2014–15. From our data it is clear that artists’ income from creative work in their chosen profession is far below that earned by similarly qualified practitioners in other professions. Even when other arts-related earnings and non-arts income are added in, the gross incomes of artists are substantially less than managerial and professional earnings. Indeed their total incomes on average are lower than those of all occupational groups, including non- professional and blue-collar occupations.
We also find that although artists on average in 2014–15 spent almost 60 percent of their working time at their creative activities, they earned only 39 percent of their total income from this source. By contrast the 19 percent of their time that they devoted to non-arts work earned them one-third of their total income.
About half of the artists who live with a spouse or partner regard that person’s income as “important” or “extremely important” in sustaining their creative work. We note that 59 percent of female artists who have a partner regard the partner’s income as important, extremely important, or essential in supporting their creative work, compared to 39 percent for male artists.
Estimating the costs attributable to artists’ creative work is difficult, particularly because of problems in allocating some cost items to specific activities. Bearing these difficulties in mind, we estimate that on average artists incurred just over $10 thousand in 2014–15 in expenses related to their artistic practice.
We can identify some trends in artists’ incomes over recent years by reference to the results of earlier surveys. We find that between 2000–01 and 2007–08, the incomes of artists remained relatively stable in real terms. However it appears that over the period 2007–08 to 2014–15, creative incomes have declined by almost 20 percent in real terms, despite the fact the proportion of time artists devote to creative work has remained roughly the same. Nevertheless other components of income have either increased or not declined as much, meaning that artists’ total earned incomes have declined by only about four percent, or less than one percent annually, over this period. Overall, however, we conclude that professional artists in Australia have not shared in the real earnings growth that most occupations have enjoyed in recent years.
Employment and financial security
About four in five artists (81 percent) work as freelance or self-employed workers in their principal artistic occupation; this represents an increase of more than 12 percent since the survey, and is a continuation of a long-term trend. The majority work as unincorporated individuals, with an ABN, and receive their income as contracts for fixed amounts. In arts- related and non-arts work, the proportions working as freelancers are smaller (40 and 26 percent respectively).
Just under half of all artists are members of a superannuation scheme with an employer. Others have some other means of providing for their future financial security such as personal savings or investments, or support from a partner or family. The numbers without any arrangements have fallen dramatically since the previous survey, from 14 percent then to five percent now. Nevertheless it is worrying that four out of ten artists across the board do not consider their arrangements to be adequate.
In regard to unemployment, one-quarter of artists experienced some unemployment in the last five years, but this proportion has been declining—from 34 percent for the period between 1996 and 2001 and 28 percent for the period between 2004 and 2009. Fewer than half the artists who experienced unemployment between 2010 and 2015 applied for benefits Out of those who did, almost all were successful. But only about one-third of these artists were able to continue their arts practice as an approved activity. At least a quarter of all artists who applied for unemployment benefits encountered problems in accessing these benefits specifically because of their occupation.
Professional practice issues
Overall, 30 percent of all artists use an agent, gallery or dealer to promote their work, with the highest proportion among actors. Regardless of whether artists are using an agent, manager or gallery dealer, almost three- quarters of them state that they are themselves the most active promoter of their work.
About half of artists believe their business management skills to be good or excellent, but more than one-third of artists describe their skills only as adequate, and a further 11 percent regard their business skills as inadequate. About one-quarter of all freelance artists indicated that they were very likely to seek to improve their skills in the year ahead, and a further 38 percent said this was likely. More than four out of five artists (82 percent) believe that they hold copyright over their creative work, a proportion that has increased since 2009 (when it was 76 percent). More than half (53 percent) of Australian artists are a member of one or more copyright collecting societies. This proportion is a significant increase over the last seven years. The proportion of all artists receiving a payment from a collecting society in 2016 (33 percent) was more than double the proportion in 2009. About one-quarter of Australian artists believe that their copyright has been infringed in some way. Almost two in five artists whose copyright has been infringed have taken action, and about 60 percent of these actions have been successful. Around one-fifth of Australian artists believe that their moral rights have been infringed at one time or another, (approximately the same percentages as in 2009 and 2001). Visual artists, actors and community artists appear to be the groups most affected by moral rights infringements.
There are a number of sources of financial assistance to artists including Commonwealth, State/Territory and local government programs, private foundations, arts organisations and so on. Such financial assistance frequently buys artists freedom from financial concerns in order to spend more time on their art; indeed this is the most common impact of financial assistance as recognised by artists themselves.
The changing context of artistic practice
Around half of all artists have utilised their artistic skills in some other industry outside the arts, and more than 80 percent of these artists have generated some income from such activities. In most cases this sort of outside work involves applying artistic skills in education and research outside the arts, including teaching. But otherwise, the industries in which artists undertake these activities follow closely the opportunities that are appropriate to the skills involved. Technology plays a particular role in supporting and extending professional art practice. The most often used technologies are word processing software, and image and sound recording and playing devices. In addition, the great majority of artists use the internet in administering and supporting their creative practice, particularly via the use of email, blogs, and social media. Almost all artists also access the world-wide web for research related to their creative work and at least nine in ten use it to learn and train themselves in their creative practice. Sales and promotion also figure prominently in internet use; between 70 and 80 percent of artists promote their work through the internet.
Eight out of ten artists think it likely or very likely that future technological changes will open up new creative and income-earning opportunities for artists, but only just over 40 percent believe there will be more opportunities for them personally.
There are few significant differences between the genders in terms of average age, family circumstances, NESB status, educational levels, and factors seen as advancing or inhibiting their careers. However, although the proportions of female and male artists who have had children under their care at some point in their career are more or less the same, substantially more women than men feel that this restricted their work as an artist “significantly” (38 percent versus 18 percent).
The main area where differences between male and female artists exist is in regard to income. On all measures except one women fare worse than men—the exception is earnings from arts-related work where women spend a greater proportion of their time than men. Of particular concern is the substantially lower incomes earned by women for their creative work in their PAO, given that female artists on average spend about the same amount of hours working in their creative work as male artists. There seems no plausible reason to suppose that women are less productive in their creative work than men. It is clear that, however interpreted, the earnings gap for women artists is particularly acute.
Despite this, there is at least some positive news for female artists—the gender pay gap appears to be narrowing. In 2001 the average total income of male artists was 57 percent higher than that of women; the corresponding percentage difference had come down to 38 percent in 2008, and had reached 32 percent in 2015. The difference in creative incomes has also narrowed from 88 percent in 2008 to 44 percent in 2015.
Only a minority of artists across all artforms (21 percent) indicated that living and working outside a capital city had no effect on their work. Of those who did see some impact of location on their work, a larger proportion judged this impact to be negative rather than positive; this is a different result from that found in previous Artists Surveys, where the numbers seeing a positive effect have mostly been greater than those judging the effect to be negative.
On most measures there are few differences between artists according to their location. However, we can observe that on the whole artists living outside capital cities appear to earn significantly less than their urban counterparts.
Artists from non-English speaking backgrounds
About 10 percent of artists in Australia are from a non-English speaking background (NESB). The majority of artists (54 percent) who learned a language other than English as their first language see a more positive than negative effect on their art practice stemming from their NESB status, with about one- quarter (27 percent) indicating no effect, and the remainder (19 percent) saying they felt it has had a negative effect.
In common with artists as a whole, NESB artists see economic and work-related factors (lack of financial return, lack of time) as the most important factors inhibiting their professional development. However, it is significant that 18 percent (or twice as many NESB artists compared to artists from an English-speaking background) see the lack of access to funding or other financial support as the most important inhibiting factor at the present moment.
In regard to applying for financial assistance, the same proportion (more than half) of artists from English and non-English speaking backgrounds applied for a grant, fellowship, residence, prize or funding between 2010 and 2015. However, the success rate for NESB artists was lower than for artists from an English-speaking background (60 percent versus 68 percent).
Artists with disabilities
Overall about nine percent of all artists have some form of physical or mental disability that may affect their artistic practice. Around one in five artists with a disability say that it affects their artistic practice all the time, and a further 15 percent say it affects them most of the time. Most commonly, artists with a disability say that it affects them only sometimes (55 percent). About one in ten indicate that their disability does not affect their creative work. Artists with a disability earn significantly less than their colleagues with no disability. The negative differential in mean incomes is greatest for creative incomes—artists with disability earn an income from their creative work that is less than half that for other artists. The disparity is lessened to some extent with the addition of non-arts incomes but even so, artists with disability still fare considerably worse, with gross incomes that are not much more than half (58 percent) of the incomes of artists who do not have a disability to deal with.
About one-third of artists with a disability had some experience of unemployment between 2010 and 2015 compared to just under one- quarter of artists without a disability. Likewise the periods of time spent unemployed, and the longest consecutive periods of unemployment, were considerably longer. Almost one in five artists with a disability indicate that having a disability has been the most important factor inhibiting their professional development, both throughout their career and at the present time.
The concept of subjective wellbeing has come into prominence in recent years in social and economic policy-making. This phenomenon can be measured in terms of individuals’ assessment of how satisfied they are with their lives. Artists in the survey indicated that on average they are generally satisfied with their lives, at a level similar to that of most Australians. It should be noted that some part—perhaps a major part—of our assessment of artists’ life satisfaction can be explained by the generally high quality of life in this country as experienced by all Australians. Also, the question in our survey refers to the artist’s life in general, not specifically to their life as an artist. There appears to be little variation across artforms in levels of life satisfaction. Although there may be some grounds for concluding that dancers are the most satisfied and community artists the least, the extent of variation around the mean is relatively minor. It appears that older artists are more satisfied than younger ones with their lives, a tendency especially noticeable among musicians, dancers and writers.
Age rates are not greatly influenced by age for applicants for grants from the Australia Council or from State/Territory or local government funding sources.
Some artistic occupations may require practitioners to move their place of residence from time to time. Across all artists we find that 55 percent have not changed their place of residence in the last five years, a similar proportion to the Australian population as a whole. However, there are significant differences between the artforms. Looking at the most mobile groupings—those who have re- located four or more times—we can see that it is performing artists who are the most strongly represented in this group.
In regard to incomes, the data show that artists relocating two or more times in the last five years are earning creative incomes that are around 25 percent less than those who have stayed put, and outcome no doubt due to the disruptions to the artist’s creative practice caused by the frequent need to move. Similarly total incomes of the most frequent movers are more than $10 thousand or about 20 percent less than the aggregate incomes of those who haven’t changed their place of residence.
Some longer-term trends
As noted earlier, the artistic workforce is growing older. The ageing of the population is particularly noticeable amongst visual artists, dancers, musicians and community artists. These trends are suggestive of the changing demographics in the artistic workforce—in particular its maturation, with increasing numbers of artists entering artistic professions later in their lives and of established artists continuing to practice for longer periods in their later years. These trends have been generating a larger body of senior practitioners in the artistic community over time.
Assembling data from previous Artists
Surveys going back to 1980, enables us to conclude that there does appear to be a gradual ageing of the population of artists in Australia over time. Over the approximately 30-year period covered by the data, it appears that the proportion of younger artists in the population has fallen, whilst the proportion over 55 has grown significantly—more than doubling over this period. The latter effect is particularly noticeable amongst visual artists, craft practitioners, musicians, composers and community artists. Trends in the proportions of the younger cohort of artists are less easy to discern, although there appears to have been a steady decline in the proportion of young people practising in community cultural development and the visual arts.
In the present survey, the most important factors identified by artists in the different age groups as inhibiting their professional development at the present time were economic factors. In particular younger artists are held back by lack of work opportunities, reflecting the perennial difficulties faced by new entrants in breaking into the arts profession. Mid-career artists suffer particularly from a lack of return to creative practice and a lack of time for creative work due to other pressures, including the need to sustain their incomes by taking on other employment, making it difficult for them to maintain their presence in the field.
There are clear patterns in the financial circumstances of artists according to their age. It is the mid-career period that is the most productive—creative incomes in this period are highest, and higher than for older artists, notwithstanding the fact that older artists spend a slightly larger proportion of their time at their creative work. As artists grow older, their inclination to apply for financial assistance declines, and their likelihood of success also appears to decline. On the whole success rates are not greatly influenced by age for applicants for grants from the Australia Council or from State/Territory or local government funding sources
Patterns of artists’ time allocation have remained remarkably stable. Since the early 1990s the average proportion of total working time spent on creative work hovered at just over 50 percent but has now increased to just under 60 percent. Whilst the average proportion of time spent working outside the arts altogether has remained around 20 percent. Likewise the weekly hours worked has seen only small fluctuations around a mean of about 43 hours.
In the case of incomes, little has changed
in real terms; artists’ creative incomes have increased sufficiently in nominal terms to keep pace more or less with inflation, but no more. Meanwhile, artists’ relative position in comparison with other professionals has deteriorated, since those other groups have enjoyed a rising trend in their real incomes for most of the period covered.