We like to think of creativity as a mysterious, indeterminate quality that resists being measured.
But it's also a potent economic reality, as the National Endowment for the Arts emphasizes — through the drama of statistics — in a comprehensive new report [PDF]. Released yesterday, Artists in the Workforce: 1990-2005 synthesizes data from the last two U.S. censuses as well as the American Community Survey to give a statistical portrait of the artist in our society — the first such report the NEA has published in the 21st century. According to NEA Chairman Dana Goia, artists, who as a group have an annual aggregate income of around $70 billion, "represent a powerful labor force whose economic contributions go largely unrecognized by both the general public and the government."
The total number of artists residing in Washington grew from 38,364 to 46,465 between 1990 and 2000 (a 21.1% increase). But the state has lost a little ground in overall national ranking of number of artists per 10,000 people, moving from eighth place in 1990 to number 10 in 2000 (Oregon, by comparison, leaped ahead, from 15th to the number nine spot). Seattle takes 10th place for metropolitan regions ranked by percentage of artists in the labor force (2.16%), with the top three spots also in the West (San Francisco, Santa Fe, and Los Angeles).
"Artists" are defined, according to the NEA's criteria, as Americans who describe their "primary occupation" as such; the report excludes those who pursue artistic endeavors as a second job. But even given this restriction, they number just shy of two million (1.4% of the total workforce). By comparison, the U.S. military totals 2.2 million, while artists outnumber such groups as lawyers, doctors, and agricultural workers. The report further divides artists into 11 species: actors; announcers; architects; fine artists, art directors, and animators; dancers and choreographers; designers (from fashion to graphic artists); entertainers and performers (such as comedians and stunt performers); musicians and singers; photographers; producers and directors; and writers (excluding journalists).
A total of 28,535 artists call the larger Seattle area home, according to the last census. Of these, a large proportion (4,890) are architects, while there are 320 actors and 440 announcers. But Seattle has a top 10 spot in only two artist categories: architects and designers. The situation is similar for the state as a whole: Nationally it holds top ten places for architects and tenth for designers. Oregon, by contrast, is a more widely ranging artistic magnet, with appearances in five of the category breakdowns (writers, architects, designers, actors, and fine artists).
The report traces a number of important demographic and geographical trends. Numerous charts, tables, and extrapolations look at diversity, education level, and income (artists tend to earn less than their peers with similar education — big surprise). Overall, men have a higher representation (54%) than women, but women dominate as dancers, designers, and writers.
Some of the factoids inspire a double take. Nashville (and the state of Tennessee overall) has the highest proportion of musicians. But who knew second place was held by Lawrence, Kansas (and, in state rankings, Hawaii)? A total of 40% of musicians work in the nonprofit sector.
Not so hidden among this forest of numbers are the raw data that can be used for policy recommendations. While the growth rate of artists is close to that of the total labor force, Goia laments that so many "remain conspicuously underemployed," resulting in "a huge loss of cultural and creative expertise" that could be — quite literally — profitably channeled.
Consider some of the glaring gaps and danger zones in Seattle's arts culture. The once-thriving, kaleidoscopic theater scene has suffered a scary number of extinctions in recent years, with more threatening. In the classical music arena, given the abundance of talent we have, couldn't Seattle be more than a hotbed of early music? The city lags far beyond similar counterparts, for example, as an environment that nurtures emerging composers. Now we have proof that art means serious business.