Incomes decline and pay gap widens, new research reveals

New research released by the Australia Council reveals that artists’ incomes are 21% below the Australian average, with the economics of creative life particularly challenging for women.
Incomes decline and pay gap widens, new research reveals

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New research released by the Australia Council today reveals that artists’ incomes from creative work have decreased by 19% since 2009, and that average total incomes for professional artists are 21% below the Australian average.

The new report, Making Art Work: An Economic Study of Professional Artists in Australia by David Throsby and Katya Petetskaya, examines the economic conditions faced by practising professional artists in Australia and their increasing value to society and the future of work.


It is the sixth such study carried out independently over 30 years by Professor Throsby at Macquarie University, with funding from the Australia Council.

Among the report’s other findings, it notes that there are 48,000 practising professional artists in Australia – a number that has remained relatively steady since the 1990s.

This figure includes 15,400 professional musicians; 8,600 visual artists; 7,900 actors/directors and an equal number of writers; 3,000 craft practitioners; 2,300 dancers and choreographers; 1,700 composers, and 1,200 community cultural development artists.

Of these 48,000 professional artists, 51% of them are women. Throsby and Petetskaya note that the economics of life as an artist are particularly challenging for women, despite their dominance in the sector.

The average female Australian artist earns a much lower income from her practice compared to her male peers – $15,400 versus $22,100 in the 2014-15 financial year.

‘Indeed, the income gap between men and women is wider in the arts than the average gap across all industries in Australia. This gap appears to be especially evident for female writers, visual artists and musicians,’ Thorsby and Petetskaya said.

Read: The gender pay gap is wider in the arts than in other industries

Digital disruption is also impacting on the arts, both positively and negatively, the report finds.

Many artists are embracing new technology. Almost seven in ten artists regularly use technology in the process of creating art, and 27% use the internet to create collaborative or interactive art with others (up from 14% in 2009).

Four in ten artists are selling work online through their own site (41%) and the same proportion are selling through a third party’s site (39%).

Australia Council CEO Tony Grybowski said that the arts have a critical role to play as we navigate accelerated technological and social change as a nation. Given that this new research highlights the challenges of maintaining a viable career as a professional artist in Australia, Grybowski said that action is needed to ensure the immense value artists provide to our culture, identity and economy is not further compromised.

‘If we want Australian stories to keep being told and Australia’s diverse artistic talent to succeed locally and internationally we must consider the support structures, protections and remuneration of Australian artists,’ Grybowski said.

The research highlights that artists’ skills and capabilities are also considered to be among those least likely to be automated and increasingly sought in the workforces of the future. Artists are well placed to respond to accelerated technological and social change. Artists imagine new possibilities, embracing experimentation and disruption - maintaining the crucial connection to what it means to be human.

Professor David Throsby said the study highlights ongoing and increasing challenges to ensuring artist careers continue to be sustainable in Australia.

‘Artists are highly skilled professionals with a passionate commitment to their craft – but too often they are expected to work for love not money. The digital environment presents new opportunities and challenges for artists. There are more ways to connect with audiences and distribute work, but also greater exposure to unauthorised exploitation of ideas and labours,’ Throsby said in a statement.

Other key findings

Making Art Work: An Economic Study of Professional Artists in Australia also reveals: 

  • Disparities in representation and income persist: 9% of artists identify with disability and 10% as having non-English speaking background, compared to 18% and 19% respectively across the Australian population. Female artists earn 25% less than male artists overall, and 30% less for creative work. Artists with disability earn 42% less overall than artists without disability, compared to 8% in the last survey.
  • Almost eight in ten artists (77%) mix creative practice with other work, in arts-related roles and outside the arts. Half (51%) apply their creative skills in other industries, up from 36% in 2009. Much of this is due to necessity rather than choice, with 66% of artists stating they would like to spend more time on their creative practice. However, it also suggests opportunities for arts practice to take new and varied forms, and underlines artists’ transferable skills and interdisciplinary thinking - abilities considered vital for innovation and future workforce needs.
  • A willingness to obtain new skills is considered essential as workforces prepare for jobs that have not yet been imagined. Artists embody a sense of lifelong learning, with seven in ten (at all career stages) still engaged in training (72%, up from 39% in 2009).
  • Over half (51%) of artists work across more than one art form, up from 43% in 2009. Some crossovers are more predictable (47% of composers also play music or sing), and others less so (28% of dancers also create visual art).
  • One third (33%) of artists report having received payment through a copyright collecting society, more than double the 15% in 2009. Around a quarter (26%) report their copyright has been infringed in some way, and 21% their moral rights. Increased audience expectations for free content, and opportunities for misappropriation and unauthorised exploitation, pose significant challenges to artists’ rights and livelihoods.
  • Artists draw on a range of structures and entities to support creative work – 30% report applying to the Australia Council between 2010 and 2015, 26% to state and territory governments and 24% to arts organisations.

The results of Making Art Work are based on responses from almost 1,000 Australian professional artists surveyed during late 2016 and early 2017.

For the first time the Council has produced a companion report which provides a summary and response to the artist survey. Making Art Work: A summary and response by the Australia Council for the Arts places the findings alongside other literature and analysis to explore the wider context for Australian artists.

Visit for details.

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Richard Watts

Monday 13 November, 2017

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R FM, a program he has hosted since 2004.

Richard currently serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management, and is also a former Chair of Melbourne Fringe. The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, he has also served as President of the Green Room Awards Association and as a member of the Green Room's Independent Theatre panel. 

Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend in 2017. Most recently he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize for 2019.

Twitter: @richardthewatts