Poorer, precarious: artists struggle to make a living

The Artists as Workers report from Macquarie University has been tracking working conditions for artists since 1983 and its latest snapshot of the sector was released on Tuesday.

It shows artists – from painters to musicians and dancers – earned a gross income of $54,500 in 2021-22 on average, about a quarter less than the average income of the wider workforce.

Less than half of that money was earned through their creative output, with the rest coming from various other work.

There are just under 50,000 professional artists in Australia, and the study found of those, only 15 per cent made more than $50,000.

The majority earned far less, with the data showing just under half of Australia’s artists made less than $10,000 from their creative work, while about 16 per cent earned less than that amount in total.

At the same time, the average cost of producing artistic work has increased due to inflation, while employment has also become more precarious, said report author Professor David Throsby from Macquarie University.

“Overall economic conditions at the moment are not very favourable with the cost of living, everybody’s affected by these sorts of things,” he told AAP.

“It’s always been difficult to make a living as an artist.”

Women now outnumber men roughly two to one across almost all artistic occupations, the study found.

That’s with the exception of musicians and composers, who are mostly men.

While the gender pay gap is narrowing, women still fared worse than men on all measures of income.

In 2021-22, the mean income for male artists was 24 per cent higher than for women artists, down from a gap of 88 per cent in 2008.

The results of the study were impacted by the global pandemic, with 45 per cent of artists reporting that they faced unemployment, and 16 per cent reporting they doubted they would return to the time they spent on their art before COVID.

“More or less they’re going to leave the industry, so that’s a waste of talent as a result of the impact of the pandemic,” Prof Throsby said.

Almost three-quarters of artists were born in Australia, and the study showed the sector is less diverse than the wider workforce, with 13 per cent from a non-English-speaking background, compared with 23 per cent across the workforce as a whole.

The report was commissioned by Creative Australia.


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