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NEA finds California tops in artists

Posted By Administration, Thursday, June 12, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

Among United States cities, greater Los Angeles ranks as the urban center with the most working artists and California is the top state by the same measure, according to a new report from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The study, titled "Artists in the Workforce, 1990-2005" and being released today by the federal arts agency, reveals that San Francisco, followed by Santa Fe, N.M., ranks above Los Angeles-Long Beach in terms of percentage of artists in the labor force -- but that in sheer numbers, the L.A. area ranks at the top of the list, with 140,620 working artists.

Even in terms of percentages, Los Angeles-Long Beach ranks above New York City, which came in fourth.

The rest of the list, in descending order: Stamford- Norwalk, Conn.; Boulder-Longmont, Colo.; Santa Cruz-Watsonville, Calif.; Danbury, Conn.; Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Lompoc, Calif.; and Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash.

"I say this as a Californian and an L.A.-born Californian: Californians need to put their artistic inferiority complex behind them," NEA Chairman Dana Gioia told The Times. The research also indicates that, for the 1990-2005 period, the West and the South have seen the greatest growth in artists by state.

The survey shows that nearly 2 million Americans identify themselves as working artists and that as many as 300,000 more report secondary employment as artists. Gioia said the number of working artists, representing 1.4% of the labor force, is only slightly smaller than the number of active-duty and reserve personnel in the U.S. military (2.2 million). While the number of artists doubled from 1970 to 1990, it has remained constant as a percentage of the population from 1990 to 2005.

For the survey, "artist" encompassed workers in both nonprofit and commercial arts fields, including the entertainment industry. The survey included photographers (7%); producers and directors (7%); writers and authors (9%); architects (10%); fine artists, art directors and animators (11%); and performing artists (17%). A whopping 39% identified themselves as designers.

Gioia said that the purpose of the study was to educate decision-makers about the importance of artists to the global economy. "People believe that most artists are unemployed. This is wrong. They are extremely entrepreneurial."

"I think what troubles me most is how many artists are not unemployed but under-employed," he added. "Schools have mostly eliminated the arts from education. It seems to me a big failure of imagination not to use the considerable skills of artists in the American public sector."

By Diane Haithman
For The Los Angeles Times

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