This is a shortened version of my Arts Policy Library article on Investing in Creativity.

Investing in Creativity: A Study of the Support Structures for U.S. Artists (2003), an Urban Institute publication authored by Maria-Rosario Jackson, Florence Kabwasa-Green, Daniel Swenson, Joaquin Herranz, Jr., Kadija Ferryman, Caron Atlas, Eric Wallner, and Carole Rosenstein, sheds light on the economic and employment situation of individual artists in the United States following the cessation of NEA funding to individual artists in 1995.  The report reflected several years of research, which included interviews with artists with arts leaders in nine cities, a national poll on attitudes towards artists, and expansion and analysis of a new NYFA Source database, in partnership with the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA).

Investing distinguishes itself by “providing a new and comprehensive framework for analysis and action, which views the support structure for artists in the United States as a system made up of six key dimensions of the environment in which an artist works:”

  1. Validation: The ascription of value to what artists do.
  2. Demand/markets: Society’s appetite for artists and what they do, and the markets that translate this appetite into financial compensation.
  3. Material supports: Access to the financial and physical resources artists need for their work: employment, insurance and similar benefits, awards, space, equipment, and materials.
  4. Training and professional development: Conventional and lifelong learning opportunities.
  5. Communities and networks: Inward connections to other artists and people in the cultural sector; outward connections to people not primarily in the cultural sector.
  6. Information: Data sources about artists and for artists.

This is a helpful framework for further research on artists’ conditions in any given region, and also marked a new understanding that it is not be enough to simply restore cuts to funding for artists.

Some especially salient findings and recommendations in the report are as follows:

  1. Individual artists are undervalued by society, in comparison to art itself. Artists’ societal contributions are not well understood, documented, or publicized—but if they were, it might be easier to make the case for allocating resources to individual artists.
  2. Individual artists feel overshadowed and neglected by large urban institutions, and are frequently left out of arts-based urban planning initiatives.
  3. There is a perceived inequality of opportunities for artists (such as exhibitions or awards programs) based on factors such as race/ethnicity, and art form.
  4. An artist’s career spans multiple markets and disciplines: this is especially important when assessing artists’ needs.
  5. Many artists face the economic uncertainties of irregular employment, lack of health insurance, and lack of affordable work or living space.
  6. Training in the practical side of working in the arts, and in specialized or hybrid fields like arts education/community work, is limited. Training should be expanded and diversified.
  7. Grants and awards need to be more accessible, equitable, and relevant for artists. An “information clearinghouse” with data on resources, and the capacity to support further research, would be helpful.
  8. Various arts organizations, arts councils, and artist networks are meeting some of these artists’ needs described above, but these organizations need strengthening.
  9. It is also important to cultivate stronger networks of people from both arts and non-arts fields advocating for artists’ needs.

Investing was commissioned by the Ford Foundation and supported by consortium of 37 other funders, some of whom were committed to acting upon the findings of the research. Therefore, the study is notable for having led directly to the development of several concrete initiatives to increase support for artists:

  1. A new NYFA Source online database allowing artists and other users to access customized, up-to-the-minute information on awards in all arts disciplines 24 hours a day
  2. The Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC) initiative, a ten-year national initiative to improve the conditions for artists working in all disciplines. LINC funds, researches, and aggregates information about three core areas identified as key artist needs in the report: Creative Communities, Artist Space, and Health Insurance for Artists.
  3. Investing is also cited in the development of the United States Artists (USA) grant making program, which gives unrestricted $50,000 grants to artists in all disciplines.   

Investing in Creativity did raise several critical questions for me: first of all, whether it is problematic to build a case for increased support for individual artists so heavily on the idea that artists benefit society, when there was little research to back up this claim.  I also believe that Investing pinpoints many challenges in the employment system for artists, yet never suggests that an entirely new system is needed. Instead, the implication is that conditions for artists can be improved through better information-gathering, networking, and training.

Whether or not the fundamental situation for artists has changed significantly since this report’s publication, Investing at least paves the way for more dramatic changes by suggesting ways in which the existing nonprofit sector can be better equipped to meet artists’ needs.

  • Hi, Ian! Just curious: did this study address anything regarding geography or age issues?

    • Katherine

      Hello Scott, thank you for the question!

      These issues are addressed several times in the report, mainly in the section that analyzes NYFA Source data on awards available to artists based on region as well as age. My longer Arts Policy piece shows some of the visual representations of this data. The authors found that, at least at the time of publication, “Demographic, artistic, and career-stage diversity are not well served through mainstream awards, arts criticism, and media coverage.” For example, there were fewer awards, and means of critical recognition, available for folk artists in rural areas. The NYFA Source data revealed that only 1/3 of grants were restricted to a particular geographic area, with the most available in NY, MA and CA. Yet according to the report, artists, especially emerging and mid-career artists, gravitate toward local grants because “such programs are perceived as less competitive and more accessible, as artists are more likely to have connections to their local and state arts agencies or other organizations administering local awards than to organizations working at the national level or in places that are far away.” The authors found it difficult to analyze local grants because there are so many distinctions within that category, i.e. state-specific vs city or neighborhood-specific.

      With respect to age, the NYFA Source data revealed that “Only 25 percent of all awards are targeted explicitly to career stage. Of these, most (17 percent of total awards) are targeted to emerging artists, with less than 7 percent of the total to mid-career artists, and 5 percent to elderly artists.”

      The most in depth info on these topics can be found in pp. 38-40 of the original “Investing in Creativity” PDF. This is, of course, data published in 2003.

      I hope that answers your question and thank you again for continuing the conversation.