Monday, November 23, 2015

More on the Apocalypse that Was or Wasn't

A couple of months ago, I posted at the Clyde Fitch Report in response to Steven Johnson's New York Times Magazine article The Creative Apocalypse That Wasn't and a trail of responses taking exception to the data he used and the conclusions he drew.

At the time, I commented that while the data seemed to show that the arts have not lost ground and in many cases have continued to grow in the recent past, anecdotally and despite what Johnson offered, individual artists of all stripes report that it is much more difficult to make a living now than in the past. Some two weeks ago, the National Endowment for the Arts research office posted the results of analysis on other data in an effort to help answer the questions Johnson posed. Their analysis concluded that:

  • creative industries such as film, sound recording, and the performing arts have fared well in recent years, but publishing, as a share of U.S. GDP, has remained flat;

  • the long-term growth in the number of musicians, measured as a percentage of all U.S. workers, has been flat;

  • musicians' earnings declined and remain less than the earnings of U.S. workers as a whole, although their real earnings, adjusted for inflation, have grown; and

  • year-over-year investment in new musical compositions has been in long-term decline.
While none of this contradicts Johnson's original conclusions, it points again to the difficulty of projecting an individual artist's situation from aggregated and average statistics.

What seems most salient here is that while musicians make up a consistent share of the US workforce, there is a long-term decline in the investment in the creation of new work. This would seem to indicate, for example, that more revenue is being generated from existing music than new work and/or that a smaller percentage of the musician's working are generating an increased amount of income, leaving the rest of the field to struggle with a smaller piece of the pie.

While not conclusive in any way, this new data and its analysis gives us a bit more detail on the evolving environment in which artists try to make a living.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Contradictions of the Creative Economy

This excerpt is from my regular column, Culture & Kibbitz, at The Clyde Fitch Report. You can read the entire post here.

Lucy Sexton, the executive director of the [Bessie] awards, was not the only participant to remark on the difficulties that New York dance artists face, but she also noted that the number of dance companies in the city was higher than it was a decade ago.
Brian Seibert, New York Times, Oct. 20, 2015

We often hear that despite a growing arts industry, the lives of artists have grown increasingly difficult. I wonder, though, about the paradox of such statements. If the industry is growing, it should be thriving, and shouldn’t people be more successful? Why is there so much focus on difficulties?

Despite a lack of consistent definitions and key frames of reference, there is strong evidence that culture and its value are growing worldwide. Studies agree that today, culture contributes a larger piece to the economic pie and there are now more people employed by this sector globally — and in the United States. However, it is hard to draw a complete picture because most reports do not include information about earnings. Still, aggregated information and averages are available, though, as Steven Johnson noted in his recent controversial New York Times article, such high-level aggregate data-points are only of limited use and may not accurately portray the individual’s story.

Recently, two U.N. agencies concluded that the creative economy is one of the most rapidly growing sectors of the world economy. Notwithstanding this growth, real changes in local creative ecologies are forcing artists to adjust to some very burdensome challenges. For example, rising real estate costs in many urban centers is seriously threatening artists’ way of life. The high cost of real estate may also diminish artists’ proximity to their colleagues, tearing at the fabric that feeds artists’ practice. In addition, artists face fundamental changes in the ways they generate income. Evolving institutional funding priorities and diminished revenue streams in certain areas are forcing artists to rethink how they sustain themselves and their practice. And, of course, the digital revolution has affected both practice and sustenance for artists.

In response to changes in their environment, artists adeptly shift their practice. Greg Sandow recently recounted some of the history of how classical musicians have adapted, tracing the shift from a patronage model, where artists earned support with no claims on their work, to entrepreneurial musicians hired as employees to perform particular jobs. More recently, Matt McDonald described his shift from dependent musician with a record deal to a successful musician-entrepreneur generating more income and artistic success with the change.

Looking back, despite what we often hear, artists have persistently evolved with their environment in order to produce exciting work, responding to this evolution with resilience. So perhaps it is chimerical to try holding onto the 20th century model in which artists expect to create art for art’s sake and thus be delivered of a career. In the future, we may see that we had a golden age for artists and it was an anomaly. For practical steps, we can look to the concrete recommendations of the Center for an Urban Future’s “Creative New York (2015)” report. Its holistic analytical approach culminates in almost two dozen specific recommendations and is a model for how we can offer strong advocacy in response to the sometimes contradictory forces at work today.

Read the entire post in Culture & Kibbitz at The Clyde Fitch Report here.