According to the NEA, artists earn some $70 billion annually, but have a median income of $34,800, well under the average for “professionals.” Only one out of eight actors works full-time, and just one out of four musicians. The “struggling,” if not the starving artist, is both stereotype and fact. NEA chairman Dana Gioia believes that Washington needs to regard them with the same concern as it does other workers.
“You have underemployed and highly trained musicians, actors, dancers and other artists who could easily provide arts education to our schools,” he told The Associated Press. “For the most part, the arts have been dropped from the education of our young people. This is an educational crisis. We are not creating the skills necessary for a 21st-century economy and we have the trained work force that could solve this problem.”
“Artists in the Workforce,” drawing upon data from the U.S. Census Bureau, other government agencies and arts organizations, identifies a growing (nearly triple since 1970), vital, but under appreciated population. Gioia, himself a poet, says the intention is to “bust old stereotypes” of the alienated artist.
“I think American artists are perceived as unemployed, marginal and passive,” he says. “If you look at the statistics, artists represent one of the major occupations in the American economy. These are highly trained, productive and highly entrepreneurial people.”