Latest Throsby Report Provides Insight Into The Lives Of Australian Working Artists

Chris Bowen
| December 5, 2017

Making Art Work is the latest economic study into the lives of Australian professional artists by eminent researcher David Throsby, released in November 2017 by the Australia Council. Released at five-year intervals, these studies provide rich data into the working lives of our creative professionals.

We investigate what the report reveals for our artists, our musicians, composers and songwriters, and for the vital issue of gender equality.

Insights for artists

Australia has 48,000 practising artists, with 10% growth in the past seven years. Artists are older than the general workforce, approximately equally divided between men and women and are less representative of Australia’s cultural make up than the general labour force. Three quarters live in cities, most have a tertiary education and value self-learning in their training. Passion and persistence are key drivers for the careers of Australian artists, as are support and encouragement from others. 60% or our artists have worked interstate and 40% have had their work seen overseas.

Challenges are numerous – principally economic, lack of time for creative work and lack of work opportunity. Most undertake a variety of external work including non-creative work to maintain a viable living, working an average 45 hours a week, with 81% self-employed. Less than a quarter of our artists work full time on their own creative work.  

Insights for music

Over one third of Australia’s 48,000 professional practising artists are musicians. Australia has 17,100 musicians, songwriters and composers, and at 35% of Australia’s professional artists they comprise the largest single artform group.

In the past fifteen years the average creative income for musicians has dropped from $27,600 to $15,600 (in 2015 dollars), a worrying decline. Composers have been steady at $19,000. Unsurprisingly the report concludes that “professional artists in Australia have not shared in the real earnings growth that most occupations have enjoyed in recent years.

Key stats:

  • The mean (average) income for musicians’ creative income in 2014-15 was $15,600, the lowest of any artform. Composers at $19,100 were just above the average for all artists ($18,800).
  • Two thirds of musicians earn less than $10,000 from their creative work, 31% of composers are in this category.
  • Total income for musicians fared better when arts related (eg: music teaching) and non-arts income was added in, with music artists above the national average of $48,400.
  • 78% of musicians and 81% of composers are self-employed, higher than the average of 65% for all artists.
  • Fees and payments are the main source of creative income for musicians (82%) and composers (58%).
  • 65% of musicians and 89% of composers received payment from a royalty collecting society in the past twelve months (3% of a musicians’ income and 16% for a composer).
  • Musicians (along with writers) are less likely to receive a grant, prize or funding than any other artists, with 45% receiving none. Composers fare better with 68% receiving some form of support.

Gender equality

Women make up 51% of Australian artists, however they are not equally represented in all artforms. This is particularly clear amongst composers, one of the most male dominated creative professions, where 60% are men compared to the artform average of 49%. This situation has improved from 30 years ago when 91% of composers were men.

The gender balance for musicians is closer to the artform average with 55% being men and 45% women.

While the report points to some positive trends in improving gender equality, such as the proportion of women composers, it makes clear that “gender inequality in the arts remains a serious problem”.

More male than female music artists identify themselves as established although it appears women become established earlier than men at a mean age of 31 compared to 46 for men. While few artists point to gender or age discrimination as a career limiting factor, 2% of female artists and no men identified discrimination “as the most important factor holding them back”.

The biggest gender disparity is in income, with the full time pay gap in the arts appearing to be higher than across all Australian industries which favour men by 16%. The report notes that women have substantially lower incomes for their creative work than men, with the gap most acute for female writers, visual artists and musicians.

Access a full copy of the report and some useful tables from the Australia Council website.

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