For five years I’ve lived on St. Marks Place (a street in the East Village famous enough to have its own Wikipedia page). I’ve taken many photos of random street life, and sifting through them, it’s clear that a lot of activity revolves around creative pursuits. Of course, this isn’t a surprise to anyone who lives here, but only recently have there been attempts to actually quantify the creative economy.
More recently, the National Endowment for the Arts released an important study titled, “Artists in the Workforce, 1990-2005,” which Janet Babin reported on for Marketplace and quoted me ever so briefly (listen to the piece here). This time period coincides exactly with the the entrance of Generation X in the labor force, and is therefore a chronicle of the impact that Xer artists have had on the creative economy. It’s huge. Representing 1.4 percent of the labor force, artists represent a larger group than the legal profession (lawyers, judges and paralegals) and medical doctors (physicians, surgeons and dentists). Aggregate income is about $70 billion. Of course, this includes all generations of artists, but the median age of almost every category of artist profiled in the study falls within the demographics of Generation X.
The NEA study confirms what I write about anecdotally in Slackonomics: Compared to other workers, Gen X artists tend to be better educated (twice as likely to have college degrees) and are more entrepreneurial (3.5 times more likely to be self-employed). Despite the fact that artists are not as well compensated given their education levels compared to other professionals (about $6000 less), and are chronically underemployed, the number of Gen X artists has grown at the same rate as the total labor force. So clearly there’s a payoff that’s not measured in dollars.
Artists are also highly concentrated in urban areas, a fact that Currid not only documents but explains: artists are much more likely to live and work in close proximity to each other because social interaction is necessary to develop ideas, make contacts and bring creative products to the market.
As the report points out, “There is no way to understand the new American economy without recognizing the role of its two million creative workers.”
Photos, top left to right: a film being made on St. Marks, a trumpet player in the Howl Parade, and a writer typing on an old-fashioned typewriter on the sidewalk at night; from top to bottom: dancers in the Howl Parade, a painter at the Fringe Festival, and a photographer doing a fashion shoot (click to enlarge any of the pics).