Employment not so bad for artists, Four Corners Business Journal, Aug 28-Sep 3, 2006

Between 2004 and 2005, artist employment increased by 36,000 to a total of 2.1 million workers. Over the same period, the artist unemployment rate declined from 5.1 percent in 2004 to 4.4 percent in 2005. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the artist labor force is made up of architects; art directors, fine artists and animators; designers; actors, producers and directors; dancers and choreographers; musicians and singers; announcers; writers and authors; photographers and other entertainers and performers (a broad category that includes jugglers, magicians, comedians, cowboys and fortune tellers).

Unemployment rates may have shrunk for all artists, but conditions were mixed for individual artist occupations. Employment improved for architects, musicians and singers and announcers. However, unemployment rates increased for photographers, other entertainers and performers, and the category for art directors, fine artists and animators. Architects have the lowest unemployment rate in all artist occupations. The field gained 28,000 new workers and the unemployment rate dropped 0.3 points to 1.7 percent—a rate even lower than the 2.4 percent reported for all professionals, the broader category under which artists fall.

The unemployment rates fell for designers, writers and authors, but these reductions stem from workers leaving those occupations, rather than from employment gains. Between 2004 and 2005, a full 20,000 writers left the field.

The unemployment rate for actors in 2005 fell to 25.5 percent, down 9.3 percentage points from 2004. Actors have the highest percentage of unemployment followed by dancers and choreographers for whom unemployment rose to 10.4 percent.

Multiple jobs

The numbers above reflect those artists who work at their art full-time. Anyone who is working as an artist knows that secondary employment is high for artists. In 2005, the rate for artists holding multiple jobs was 12.8 percent, which is more than twice the 5.4 percent reported for all civilian workers. More than 300,000 workers hold secondary jobs as artists. Of this group, the 96,000 musicians and singers have the highest multiple jobholding rate at 32.1 percent. Other popular secondary artistic careers include radio and TV announcers and photographers.


But how much money do artists make compared to the rest of the professional category under which they fall? According to the Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey, professionals drew median annual earning of $40,607 in 2004. Art directors collect the highest median earnings within the artist occupations at $63,840, followed by architects at $60,300, fashion designers at $55,840 and landscape architects at $53,120.

Comparable to the median earnings of all professionals are writers and authors who earn $44,350, interior designers who earn $40,670 and fine artist who earn $38,060. The worst earnings recorded are for dancers who earned a median of only $17,763. Other low-earnings include radio and TV announcers at $22,130 and photographers at $26,080.

Job growth

Become a landscape architect if you are looking for an artistic career with faster-than-average employment growth (defined as growth between 18 and 26 percent), at least that is what the BLS projects. The BLS believes that increased construction and real estate development and compliance with environmental regulations will contribute to expanding employment opportunities for landscape architects.

Don’t become an announcer, a field that is in decline and projected to continue waning. And in spite of the popularity of Project Runway, or perhaps because of its popularity, slower-than-average growth is predicted for fashion designers due to strong job competition and only a few opportunities or openings.

Multi-media artists and animators will likely face stiff job competition as well, but the BLS projects average employment growth (9 to 17 percent) for these and other artist categories, particularly due to increased demand for video games, special effects in the movie industry and computer graphics.

In the dance industry, the BLS projects that any growth in employment will come from large dance companies and troupes affiliated with universities and the movie, music video and fitness industries, but not with small and mid-sized companies who are impacted by rising production costs.

As for musicians, the BLS suggests that most new wage and salary jobs for musicians will be found in religious organizations.


There is a high rate of self-employment with many artist jobs. The highest rate of self-employment in 2004 was with authors and writers. Sixty-eight percent of us are self-employed. Other high rates of self-employment include fine artists (62 percent), multimedia artists and animators (61 percent) and photographers (59 percent). Performing artists have the lowest self-employment rates with actors at 17 percent and dancers at 20 percent.


For the 19 artist occupations listed, 11 require an advanced degree and some long-term on-the-job-training. The remaining eight occupations require long-term on-the-job-training and work experience.

The bottom line? You can be an artist and earn a living above the poverty level. The numbers just don’t tell you how hard you have to work or define how long it takes to earn that long-term on the job training.

This story was compiled with information from an artist employment report by Bonnie Nichols provided by the National Endowment for the Arts.

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