June 5, 2009
Did You Know?
How the Economy Is Shaping Artists’ Lives, Livelihoods and Creative Choices
The Seattle-based Artist Trust recently released the results of a survey of Washington artists’ experiences during the economic downturn. Nearly 700 artists responded to the Artists and the Economy Survey, which invited them to discuss how the recession is affecting their income, creative work and well-being. Although visual artists made up more than two-thirds of the survey respondents, media, performing and literary artists also participated.
More than half (53%) of all artists reported declines in their art- related income. Many (47%) reported reduced sales or booking opportunities. A similar number (44%) lamented decreased demand for their work. Common adaptations to these declines included:
- Increasing use of Internet marketing strategies, including Web site enhancements, on-line sales venues and social networking tactics.
- Avoiding shows with costly application or entrance fees, as well as those requiring extensive travel.
- Increasing the number and types of applications for funding.
- Increasing networking.
- Lowering the prices for artwork or reducing fees for performing or teaching. (Artists had mixed observations about this strategy. Some found it to be essential, while others were skeptical that cutting prices would increase sales or sustain the value of their work.)
Artistic choices also are being affected by the downturn. Many artists report using less expensive materials; reducing the scale of artworks or projects; exploring new events or formats; emphasizing more functional art forms; and becoming more willing to teach.
The survey findings discussed how the economy is affecting not only artists’ businesses, but other dimensions of their lives. Among respondents, 52% indicated that morale was a significant personal challenge. Securing supplies (38%), managing debt (37%) and maintaining housing (17%) were other frequently cited problems. In addition, artists’ time and careers are being affected, with 34% of respondents indicating that they are devoting less time to making art during the recession. While many artists expressed concerns about stress and depression, others see the economic crisis as an opportunity to cultivate a “fearless” attitude and to focus on deepening their creative practices apart from the pressures and expectations of the marketplace.
When asked what types of help would be most useful to them, artists indicated that small grants and business counseling would be highly appreciated, as would mechanisms for providing low-cost materials, facilitating networking, and increasing the affordability of work space and health care. Many artists also highlighted the importance of personal and professional communities as essential for sharing resources and sustaining creative energy.
For additional details about artists’ experiences and perspectives, see the Artists and the Economy Survey summary (Artist Trust, Seattle, WA, Spring 2009).