Australian arts jobs, news, industry commentary, career advice, reviews & data

What's On

Artists: Do you really expect to get paid?


What do Australian professional arts workers look like? 'Do you really expect to get paid?' holds up a mirror to the artist’s working life in Australia.
Artists: Do you really expect to get paid?
What do Australian professional artists look like? How are they progressing their careers and what sort of working conditions do they have? These questions were investigated in a study commissioned by the Australia Council in Do you really expect to get paid? An economic study of professional artists in Australia. It was independently conducted by Professor David Throsby from Macquarie University and co-authored by Anita Zednik. Do you really expect to get paid? complements What’s your other job? A census analysis of arts employment in Australia , which analyses data from the past three Australian Population Censuses undertaken by Peter Higgs of the Centre for Creative Industries and Innovation at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) under the leadership of Professor Stuart Cunningham. The most recent Australia Council research on Connecting arts audiences online is available at Here ArtsHub brings you the Executive Summary of Do you really expect to get paid?, holding up a mirror to the artist’s working life in Australia. DO YOU REALLY EXPECT TO GET PAID? An economic study of professional artists in Australia Executive Summary This survey is the fifth in a series carried out over the past 30 years at Macquarie University, with funding from the Australia Council. The original survey, in1983, was undertaken as part of the Individual Artists’ Inquiry, initiated by the Australia Council at the time. A larger and more comprehensive survey was carried out in 1987, another in 1993, and another in 2002. All of these studies have yielded reports widely used by policy makers, bureaucrats, arts organisations, artists themselves and the wider community. They have provided factual information about the economic circumstances of professional artistic practice across all major artforms apart from film. The present survey, undertaken in 2009,updates and expands the information collected in the earlier studies. Like its predecessors, this 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 highest professional standards of the relevant occupation. The artist population The size of the population of practising professional artists depends on the definitions adopted. Our estimates indicate that, if a liberal interpretation is taken of the occupational category ‘practising professional artist’, the total number in the population is likely to exceed 50,000, whereas a more stringent definition would place the figure below 40,000.A reasonably balanced definition yields an estimate of around 44,000. The data indicate that the strong growth in artist numbers between 1987 and 2001 appears to have levelled out over the succeeding eight years. This conclusion can be interpreted in the light of the somewhat surprising decline in numbers of ‘main job’ artists in the 2006 census compared with the 2001 census results. There is no immediate explanation for this decline, although there is evidence for a shift towards other work in artists’ time allocation, which could mean that fewer of them are being recorded as ‘main job’ artists in the census. This hypothesis is supported by other data from the census which show that the numbers declaring their ‘main job’ in related artistic occupations such as dance teacher, photographer graphic designer or book editor have risen since2001, suggesting perhaps some movement out of core creative practice into arts-related areas. Basic demographics The most striking difference between artists and the rest of the Australian labour force can be seen in a comparison of the age distributions of the two. Artists are older on average than other workers, for two main reasons. Firstly, workers in conventional jobs tend to retire in their 60s or even earlier, whereas artists often decide to continue their creative work beyond their retirement age. Secondly, the career path of an artist is much less defined than a career path for non-artistic occupations and becoming established often takes substantial time for training, practice and exposure. Hence artists tend to be older than other workers when their career finally takes off. The artist population in Australia is divided approximately equally between men and women, unlike the total labour force, where men constitute 55 percent. But within each artform, the proportions of men and women vary quite substantially. The proportion of women is substantially greater amongst craft practitioners, dancers, community cultural development workers, writers and visual artists. Men predominate amongst composers, musicians and actors. The majority of artists (78 percent) were born in Australia, a slightly higher proportion than for the labour force (73 percent). Artists who were born outside of Australia are predominantly from the UK and Ireland, continental Europe, New Zealand and Asia.The majority of Australian artists (69 percent) reside in a capital city, compared to 63 percent of the labour force. This is hardly surprising since arts infrastructure tends to be concentrated in capital cities. Training and education Artists are on average highly educated, with65 percent of them holding a tertiary qualification,compared to 25 percent educated to this level in the workforce at large. Writers and visual artists are the most highly educated; these occupations have the highest proportion of practitioners who have completed a postgraduate diploma or degree(45 percent and 42 percent respectively). About three-quarters of all artists have had formal training of some sort in their artform and almost half have undertaken private training. Formal training by coursework at a tertiary or specialist institution is by far the most important means of training for practising professional artists in Australia today. Learning on the job is important for a substantial group of artists, with 25 percent of writers, 30 percent of actors and 31 percent of community cultural development workers nominating this as their most important form of training. On average it takes an artist the equivalent of four years of formal training to gain the basic qualifications for their principal artistic occupation (PAO). Most artists have spent between three and five years at training for their basic qualification to be a PAO, with some slight variations between different artforms. Career progression Around two-thirds of artists are either established or established but working less intensively than before. When asked to identify the single moment at which they became established, many of these artists (42 percent) said that they became properly established when they had their first big professional engagement, solo show or publication. The moment of recognition by peers in the industry or by the public was also important, especially for writers,visual artists and composers, while significant numbers of performing artists felt they had arrived as a professional when they were able to spend the majority of their time at their creative work. Artists in the survey were asked to identify the factors advancing and inhibiting the progress of their professional work, both at the present time and throughout their careers. Respondents identified the personal qualities of persistence and passion inapproximately equal measure as the most important ‘intrinsic’ factors advancing their careers, whilst support from family and friends was the most important ‘extrinsic’ factor. Overwhelmingly it is the intrinsic factors that dominate – artists primarily look to their own inner resources as the main motivation of their artistic work, rather than relying on external factors. The most important factors holding back their professional development nominated by the great majority of artists are a lack of time to do creative work due to other responsibilities, lack of work opportunities and lack of financial return from creative practice. These are the same obstacles to career development as have been found in all previous surveys. 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 Many artists work or have worked in several different artistic areas both within their own artform and beyond.Within each PAO in the survey, we identified a number of specific types of work or occupations, and asked respondents to identify which ones they had ever engaged in during their careers, and which ones they were engaged in most these days, in terms of time. The responses illustrate the versatility of artists within their own artform areas. They also show that many artists do not confine their creative work to a single artform but cross over into other areas of artistic practice. The breadth and depth of the output of Australia’s professional artists is enormous, in terms of both past achievements and current activity, within their own artforms, and in many cases in other areas of the arts. It is noteworthy that almost 40 percent of Australian artists have had their work seen overseas – a testimony to the international engagement of the Australian arts. Craft practitioners and composers are the PAOs with the highest proportion of artists having both interstate and overseas engagement. Patterns of working time It is now standard practice to classify the working habits of practising professional artists into three types of jobs. Firstly, creative work is defined as the artist’s core creative practice, located primarily in his or her central PAO as already defined. Secondly, arts-related work, is defined to include teaching in the artist’s artform, arts administration, community arts development, writing about the arts, etc. Finally there is non-arts work, including paid work not related to any artistic field and unpaid work such as volunteering or studying outside the arts. The combination of the first two of these is referred to as total arts work. We find that in the financial year 2007/08, artists spent a little more than half of their working time on creative work in their artform or in another artform, they spent a quarter of their working time on arts-related activities and 20 percent on non-arts work. On average we find that artists work a 40-hour week, about half of which is devoted to creative work in their PAO. Overall, they spend on average 26 hours on creative work, seven hours on arts-related work and eight hours on non-arts work. A majority of artists (55 percent) are able to spend all of their working time at some sort of arts work (creative plus arts-related work), leaving 45 percent who work less than 100 percent of their time at all arts work. About two-thirds of these latter artists claim they would like to spend more time on arts work. What are the factors that prevent artists from spending more time on arts work? We find that insufficient income and lack of work opportunities dominate in both cases. In other words the factors preventing artists from undertaking more arts work are the same as those inhibiting overall career development that we noted above, i.e. the problems are overwhelmingly related to the economic circumstances in which artistic occupations are pursued. These include the lack of availability of work (performing artists), inadequate financial return even when work is available or sales of output can be made (visual artists, craft practitioners and community cultural development workers), and,to a lesser extent, insufficient markets (writers,visual artists, craft practitioners, composers). Income and expenditure In line with the above classification of artists’ work(creative, arts-related, non-arts) we distinguish between the following sources of earnings:income from primary creative activity, i.e.income from the artist’s PAO; income from other arts-related work such as teaching in the artform; total arts income, being the sum of the above two elements; non-arts income, i.e. earned income derived from some occupation not connected to the arts; and total income, being the sum of total arts and total non-arts income. Our results indicate that in the financial year 2007/08 the mean creative income of Australian professional artists was $18,900 (median of $7,000). To this can be added a mean arts-related income of $8,800 to yield an average total arts income of $27,700 (median $17,300). The mean income earned from activities outside the arts was $13,500, giving an average total income from all sources of $41,200 (median $35,900). More than half of all artists (56 percent) earned less than $10,000 from their creative income, and only 12 percent earned more than $50,000 from this source, in 2007/08. The overall income position of artists is somewhat brighter if all earnings are accounted for; even so there were still 16 percent of all artists with incomes of less than $10,000 in total, and only one-third of artists with aggregate incomes exceeding $50,000 in the year. Even when other arts-related earnings and non-arts income are added in, the gross incomes of artists,from which they must finance their professional practice as well as the demands of everyday living,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. The survey gathered data on artists’ estimates of the minimum income that they would need for financial survival. Our results indicate that only about one-fifth of all artists are likely to be able to meet their minimum income needs from their creative work alone, with only about one-third able to earn this amount from all arts work. Equally noteworthy is that half of all artists are unable to meet their minimum income needs from all of the work they do, both within and outside the arts. More than 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. The support of a spouse or partner’s income is somewhat more important for female artists than for men. We can compare the incomes of artists as found in the present survey with those revealed in the previous study, undertaken in 2002. The comparison suggests that artists’ incomes have remained fairly static in real terms between the two periods, over a time when the real incomes of other workers have risen. It can be concluded that as a whole, practising professional artists have not shared in the real earnings growth that most occupations have enjoyed during the past several years. Employment and social security Within their principal artistic occupations, only just over one-quarter of all artists work as employees,on a permanent or casual basis, and are paid a salary or wages. The remaining three-quarters operate as freelance or self-employed individuals.It is thus apparent that a substantial majority of artists face an insecure working environment for their primary creative work, forgoing the sorts of benefits that employees customarily enjoy such as sick leave, maternity leave, employer’s superannuation contributions, holiday pay, and so on. Nevertheless many artists receive at least some of these benefits in their arts-related or non-arts work; around 60 percent of artists work as employees rather than as freelancers in their arts-related work, and almost three-quarters of artists engaged in non-arts work do so as employees, so presumably these individuals do receive some employee benefits. Considering the large numbers of artists working on a freelance/self-employed basis, the future financial security of artists is a matter of considerable concern. Only two out of five artists believe that their future financial arrangements will be adequate for their needs. Our data indicate that just over half of all artists are members of a superannuation scheme with an employer. Some artists belong to a superannuation scheme set up specifically for artists;this is more common for performing artists than non-performing artists, who mainly rely on personal superannuation schemes and personal investments. Although only a minority (14 percent) of artists have no arrangements whatsoever for their future financial security, this is still a worryingly high proportion, especially for visual artists, amongst whom about one-quarter have no superannuation or other arrangements. Just over one-quarter of all artists experienced some period of unemployment between 2004 and 2009, a fall in the apparent unemployment rate since the last Artists’ Survey. Fewer than half of all artists who experienced unemployment have applied for unemployment benefits. Of these, 40 percent experienced difficulty accessing unemployment benefits because of their creative occupation; the problem arose because their artistic skills were not recognised or valued or because they were expected to undertake inappropriate work or work that was not related to their artistic skills. Nevertheless, the great majority of artists who applied for unemployment benefits received them, and just over one-third of those receiving benefits were able to continue their creative practice as an ‘approved activity’. Professional practice issues Overall, around 40 percent of all artists use an agent,gallery or dealer, with the highest proportion amongst actors, four out of five of whom use an agent always or some of the time. Not everyone is satisfied with the services they receive from their agent, manager or gallery dealer, especially those artists who use an agent only sometimes. Nevertheless almost all artists who use an agent, manager or dealer always are either completely or partially satisfied with the services provided. Artists working as freelancers require a certain level of business acumen in order to be able to organise and keep track of work-related issues. Overall, half of these artists believe their skills to be good or excellent, but it is a sobering thought that more than one-third of artists describe their skills only as adequate, and a further 14 percent regard their business skills as inadequate. Altogether, one-third of Australian professional artists are a member of one or more copyright collecting societies, an increase on the one-quarter of artists who were a member in 2002, but still well short of the potential proportion who might gain from having a collecting society administer their copyrights. More than half of all artists belonging to a collecting society did not receive any payment in the last 12 months. One-quarter of all artists have experienced some copyright infringement, and one in five artists say they have experienced some moral rights infringement, with the proportion in both cases being highest amongst visual artists and craft practitioners. About half of all artists believe that the current provision for copyright protection is adequate or very effective, and about one-third of artists believe that current provision for moral rights infringements is adequate. It is noteworthy that awareness amongst artists about copyright and moral rights issues appears to be growing, as is their satisfaction with the arrangements for protection of their rights. Somewhat less than half of all artists (45 percent) applied for some form of financial assistance during the last five years. Overall, 29 percent of artists received a grant, prize or other funding between2004 and 2009, representing a success rate of65 percent for funding applications. The majority of artists (57 percent) further believe that income maintenance or ‘buying time’ to allow individuals to concentrate on arts work or research is by far the most important purpose for helping to develop individual artists through financial assistance. The changing context of artistic practice In our survey we sought to identify the extent to which practising professional artists contribute creative ideas and skills to industries beyond the core arts. We find that just over one-third of all artists have at some time put their creative artistic skills to use in some other industry outside the arts, and most of them have done so on a paid basis. The major areas where artists as a whole have applied their skills are in government, social and personal services, with particular concentrations in the charity ,community, non-profit, health and welfare fields. Just over one-third of artists applying their skills outside of the core arts have done so in the wider cultural and related industries, and a further third in the non-cultural industries. Artists use new digital technologies of various sorts in their creative practice generally and int he process of creating art. Using technologies in the latter context encompasses the situations where technology either enriches or changes the artwork or performance itself or enables the artist to explore new forms of creative expression. In regard specifically to the internet, most artists across all artforms (90 percent) access the world wide web frequently or occasionally for some purpose related to their creative practice, whereas a much smaller proportion (38 percent) use it frequently or occasionally in the process of creating art. Artists strongly believe that new technologies will open up more creative opportunities in the future, and amongst artists who hold this belief, a majority (60 percent) believe these technologies are likely also to improve artists’ income-earning position. The most common opportunities mentioned by artists were the possibility of reaching a wider audience for their art and extending the promotion of their work (26 percent) and networking, collaboration and communication with other artists (20 percent). The range of other possibilities included improvements in the creative process, and the prospect for the emergence of new technology-led artforms. Gender issues On the whole, female and male artists are fairly similar in socio-demographic terms, although the median age of female artists is slightly lower than that for males. The only significant difference is seen in location, with a larger proportion of women than men living in non-urban areas. Men and women artists point to passion and persistence as the two most important factors advancing their professional careers in approximately equal numbers, but when looking at training and talent as possible factors advancing a career, women emphasise the former and men the latter. When it comes to factors holding back professional career development, equal numbers of men and women nominate lack of financial return as the most important issue. However, more women than men identify lack of time and more men than women point to lack of work opportunities. The difference in regard to time is particularly telling, with women typically caught up with domestic pressures and responsibilities to a greater extent than their male counterparts. It is a well-established fact that females in the workforce as a whole earn less than males, even after accounting for differences in part-time/full-time participation rates, hours worked, and so on. This earnings gap is particularly acute for women artists. On all income 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 principal artistic occupation. Regional issues Not surprisingly it is performing artists who are concentrated in the cities, since they need to be close to the companies and organisations that employ their talents. Does living in a regional location affect arts practice in any way, and if so, is the effect positive or negative? Only 13 percent of regional artists claim that their location has no effect on their artistic practice; overall, the positive effect dominates,with almost two-thirds of artists saying their practice has benefited from their regional location. Nevertheless regional artists do seem to have a slightly greater difficulty accessing markets or promotion than city artists, but for both groups other influences are more important in inhibiting professional development. Artists from non-English speaking backgrounds Two-thirds of artists who learned a language other than English as their first language see a more positive than negative effect stemming from their non-English speaking background (NESB), and only a minority see a mainly negative effect. Does NESB status affect the financial circumstances of Australia’s practising professional artists? The difference in total income between artists from a non-English speaking and an English speaking background is only marginal; however artists from an English speaking background earn on average about a third more creative income than NESB artists. Comparing the most important factors inhibiting the professional development of NESB compared to other artists, we find no really significant differences between the groups, and it is noteworthy that only a tiny minority (one to three percent) of NESB artists point to their ethnic or non-English speaking background as the most important factor holding back their professional career as an artist. Artists with disabilities On the basis of our survey sample we estimate that about five percent of artists have some form of physical disability and about three percent have to cope with some sort of mental illness or intellectual impairment. Some artists see their disability in positive terms, as a stimulus to new avenues of creativity and as a challenge to the form and content of the ideas they want to express. But for others, coping with disability is a difficult aspect of their lives that they have to deal with on a daily basis. For the great majority of artists the effects of coping with a disability are felt at least sometimes, and significant proportions of them feel the effects most or all of the time. One in five artists with disability point to their disability status as the most important factor holding back their development at the present time, and one in ten see this factor as having been the most important throughout their career. Otherwise the most important factors that these artists nominate are, as with all artists, lack of financial returns, lack of time and lack of work opportunities. Some longer term trends We can use the data from previous surveys to observe some trends in major variables over the last 20 years. As noted above in regard to the artist population,up until the end of the 1990s the numbers were increasing in most artforms, but most have shown little growth since the turn of the millennium and some have declined. Turning to some demographic characteristics,we note that artists are getting older, with the mean age of professional artists rising from 41 in 1988 to 48 now, indicating some maturation in the overall artistic workforce. But there has been little change in the gender balance. Patterns of time allocation have remained remarkably stable over the last 20 years.The average proportion of time spent on creative work has been just under 50 percent and time spent on non-arts work has remained around 20 percent over this period. Since 1986/87, artists’ incomes as a whole have increased sufficiently to keep pace with inflation but no more. In other words, artists have not shared in the rising trend in real (inflation-adjusted) incomes that have been experienced across the workforce at large. ABOUT THE AUTHOR David Throsby has been Professor of Economics at Macquarie University in Sydney since 1974. He has been a consultant to the World Bank, the OECD, FAO and UNESCO, as well as private firms and many government organisations, working groups and panels. For further information about the Australia Council’s Artist Careers Research visit

About the author

ArtsHub: Keeping you informed