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A Look at the Artist Landscape Now

June 28, 2024
By Sarah Calderón

At CRNY, we have spent the past many months listening to artists across New York State who are leaders working within their communities to change the economic reality of artists. These creators are part of a movement advocating for employment, financial security, and worker protections — establishing a new framework for improving the lives and careers of artists. As diverse as they are, artists face common economic challenges. You can find inspiration in their perspectives as featured in our new video series.

As CRNY’s work comes to a close, I am resolute in the belief that artists require artist-centric solutions to these challenges. Having listened to artists share their stories and life experiences, we are proud to release data from our “Portrait of New York State Artists” survey. This data quantifies the economic obstacles artists face and revealed the following insights: 

  • Artists are earning significantly less than the average New Yorker. 85% of respondents had a household income of less than $50,000. The median for New York State households is $81,000.
  • Nearly two-thirds of artists don’t have a financial safety net. 62% of respondents have no emergency savings, putting them on the brink of financial catastrophe.
  • Almost half of artists are gig workers. 46% of respondents relied on gig work to earn an income. Gig work often comes without the labor protections of typical full-time jobs, such as access to healthcare benefits and unemployment insurance.

These data fuel our movement and demonstrate to leaders in the public and private sectors that the financial security of artists must be a legislative priority. CRNY is signaling our commitment with a new series of grants for up to $15,000 to encourage research and analysis of these data. 

In another view of the lives of artists, our Director Of Strategic Initiatives for our Artist Employment Program, Bella Desai recently published a blog capturing what artists need most — as told by artists. The blog outlines top-of-mind issues, as well as focus areas for what they want to learn as workers and professionals. Both artists and organizational leaders weighed in on these topics, and we’re excited to share what we learned.

Artists are an indispensable sector of New York State’s economy, and they deserve greater support from our policymakers. Cultural workers  not only nurture and sustain us; they drive tourism, jobs, and tax revenue. I recently co-authored an opinion piece in the Albany Times-Union calling on state leaders to provide the resources to enable our creative residents to thrive. The piece outlines the state of arts funding across the State, and what more we can — and must — do. 

The past several years have been devastating to artists, and the response from elected officials is not yet sufficient. The 2024 state budget allocates $40 million in grantmaking funds for the New York State Council on the Arts to make up for the loss of federal pandemic relief funding. And while the New York City Council has plans to restore funding for cultural institutions in the city, the Mayor remains an obstacle in the way of approving the final budget.  

We will not stop speaking up until we have concrete solutions to the economic insecurity artists are facing. As CRNY prepares the release of a new policy roadmap, follow along with us as we build momentum for a new economy where artists thrive.