Arts creation focuses on artists and their practice.

Learn more about the diversity of professional artists: their gender profile, education, income, and the involvement of Indigenous Australians.

Get the facts about the economic conditions impacting the work of artists and the effect on their creative practice.

Creative Workforce
Creation  -  Overview

Throsby and Zednik's economic study of professional artists in Australia found that just over one third of artists had at some time used their creative skills in industries outside the arts and most had done so on a paid basis.

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After strong growth in the 80s and 90s, Australia’s artist population has stabilised to around 44,000 practising professional artists

Throsby and Zednik estimated that there were 44,100 practising professional artists in Australia in 2009. Overall artist numbers have remained relatively stable since 2001, after strong growth between 1987 and 2001.

The number of actors, dancers and writers has increased over time, while the number of craft practitioners has decreased over time.

NSW and Victoria have the highest estimated numbers of practicing professional artists. However, the proportion of artists in each state is in line with the population breakdown.

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Arts graduates face challenging conditions entering the workforce, with the lowest employment prospects of any field of education

Few professional artists are fully employed or practising full-time (discussed in depth in the following section, ‘Artist incomes’), and arts graduates face correspondingly challenging conditions entering the workforce.

According to Graduate Careers Australia, just 48 percent of ‘Visual/Performing arts’ graduates are working full time four months after graduating - a lower proportion than all other fields of education reported in 2013.

The proportion has declined since 2007, when 67 percent of graduates were working full time. As shown in the graph below, the decline has been more marked than that seen for graduates in other fields.

Graduate Careers Australia also ranks ‘Art and Design’ as the 22nd field of education out of 23 in terms of starting salaries, just behind Pharmacy (pre-reg).

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With limited artistic job opportunities, many of Australia’s 140,000 creative arts graduates go on to other careers

In 2009, the ABS reported that almost 77,000 Australians aged 15 to 64 had a non-school qualification in ‘Visual art and crafts’ and 63,000 in ‘Performing arts’.[1] Performing arts graduates include music (59 percent), theatre and drama studies (26 percent) and other performing arts graduates. Of those qualified in visual arts and craft, 36 percent had a qualification in Fine Arts, with other common qualifications including Photography (21 percent) and Crafts/jewellery-making/floristry (20 percent).

Whilst adopting a wider definition of ‘visual art and craft’ than other sources, these figures confirm that significant numbers of Australians are qualified in visual arts. The ABS estimates that the number qualified in ‘visual art and craft’ is similar to ‘architecture and urban design’, and higher than the performing arts.

When compared with estimates of those practising professionally, these figures suggest that many arts graduates go on to careers in other industries. Relative to Throsby and Zednik’s research, visual arts graduates appear to be less likely than performing arts graduates to become practising professional artists.


[1] Non-school qualification refers to educational attainments other than those of pre-primary, primary or secondary education.

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Employment in arts-related occupations has almost doubled since 1996

According to Cunningham and Higgs’ analysis of Census data, there were 23,600 people employed [1] in artist occupations (such as authors and painters) and 69,270 people employed in arts-related occupations (such as music teachers and jewellery designers) as their main job in 2011.

A further 31,000 people were employed in other occupations within the arts industries (such as stage managers and video editors).

In total, they estimated that there were almost 124,000 people employed overall in the arts as their main job, including both full time and part time workers.

An estimated 14,820 new arts jobs were created from 2006 to 2011. On average, arts employment has been growing by around 2.6 percent annually since 1996, which is faster than the growth in employment overall (1.9 percent). Much of this growth is in arts-related occupations, which saw 8,190 new jobs between 2006 and 2011 (representing 55 per cent of all new arts jobs).


[1] The term ‘employed’ is used inclusively and synonymously with ‘work’, as many in the arts are self employed or employers, rather than employees. It also includes all those employed whether on a full time or part time basis.

[2] The 1996 and 2001 census were categorized using ANZSIC93 for industry of employment and ASCO v.2 for occupation. The 2006 and 2011 census, were coded using the classification ANZSIC93 and ASCO v.2. Whilst most classification effects on time series employment are minor a more significant discrepancy arises because of the addition of two industry classifications that are relevant to the arts (Arts Education and Other Specialised Design)

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Less than half of all arts professionals continued long-term in their chosen occupation

Analysis of the Australian Census Longitudinal Dataset, 2006-2011 highlights the difference in staff retention rates between arts professionals and other professional occupations.

Looking at those people employed in professional occupations in 2006 who were still working in the same occupation in 2011 shows staff retention rates of arts professionals is the lowest at 35%. In contrast, Health (71%) and Education (64%) professionals have the highest retention rates with around two thirds of people still working in those occupations from 2006 to 2011.

The low arts rate may be influenced by factors such as lower average incomes of professional artists compared to general workforce and the part-time and freelance nature of work.

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Australian artists are highly educated and complement formal training with other types of training and professional development

Australian professional artists are highly educated and have done various types of training to become a professional artist.

Two thirds of artists have completed a university degree, compared to only one quarter of the workforce in general.

However, artists do a variety of training to become an artist. While formal training[1] plays a key role, around half of artists have done private training (48 percent), learning on the job (53 percent) or been self-taught (52 percent).


[1] Formal training refers to training that leads to an award given by an institution such as a university, CAE, Institute of Technology, Teacher’s College, TAFE, Art/Craft/Design school, drama school, dance school, music school/conservatorium etc.

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The average artist spends four years on basic training – and continues training throughout their career

On average it takes artists around four years of training to gain a basic qualification in their principal artistic occupation. Although most practicing professional artists attain their basic qualification in 3 – 5 years, the time taken ranges (for example, 15 percent of artists take over 10 years).

Training continues throughout their career for many artists and most artists acknowledge that they improve their skills throughout their career through experience and learning on the job. Many of the professional artists surveyed by Throsby and Zednik were still engaged in some form of training. Over one third were still engaged in formal/private or other training (37 percent), 29 percent were engaged in teaching themselves and 35 percent were still learning on the job.

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While most artists see themselves as ‘established’, many are still in the process of becoming established

Most practising professional artists surveyed by Throsby and Zednik considered themselves to be established (41 percent were ‘established’, 23 percent were ‘established but working less intensively than before’). However, one in ten said they were ‘starting out’ and a further 27 percent said they were in the process of ‘becoming established’. [1]

Musicians and composers have the highest proportion of established artists (they also have higher average ages than many other groups of artists). Visual artists and writers have the highest proportions of emerging artists.

The first big professional engagement, solo show or publication was seen as the key moment of establishment for many artists (42 percent of established artists).


[1] Artists were asked to self-select their degree of establishment at present

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The artist population is less culturally diverse than the wider workforce

Throsby and Zednik found that the majority of practicing professional artists were born in Australia (78 percent), a slightly higher proportion than in the general labour force (73 percent). Artists who were born outside of Australia were mainly from the UK and Ireland, continental Europe, New Zealand and Asia.

There are a lower proportion of people of non-English-speaking background among artists (eight percent) than among the wider workforce (16 percent).

Most artists with a non-English-speaking background felt that their background has a more positive than negative effect on their creative practice (60 percent). Only 15 percent thought that their non-English-speaking background had a more negative than positive effect.

However, artists from a non-English speaking background earn a lower median creative income than artists from an English speaking background. Throsby and Zednik suggest that this may be partially due to a greater proportion of non-English speaking background artists working as visual artists and craft practitioners – artforms that incur greater expenses related to their art practice.

Figure 10 – Employment and income of artists from a non-English-speaking background

Artists from non-English-speaking backgroundArtists from English-speaking background
Proportion of artists8%92%
Median creative income$5,300$7,400
Median total income$33,000$35,000

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Most artists practice in metropolitan areas, and regional artists earn less than those living in capital cities

Throsby and Zednik estimate that 31 percent of practising professional artists are located in regional or remote areas of Australia. The distribution of artists reflects the Australian population, although artists are slightly more likely to be located in capital cities than the general labour force.

Actors, dancers and musicians are more likely to live in an urban area, while almost half of writers and visual artists live in regional areas. Throsby and Zednik suggest that this is related to the location of work opportunities, with a higher concentration of performing arts organisations in urban areas.

There was a shift in the location of writers and visual artists to the regions between 2003 and 2009. In 2003 a quarter of professional writers lived outside the capital cities, in 2009 it was about half.

Regional artists earned 30 percent less than those living in capital cities. This is partly because those artist professions that are relatively better paid such as actors and musicians are more likely to live in the cities. However, regional artists also showed stronger income growth than those in capital cities.

Living outside a capital city was generally viewed positively by artists located regionally. However there are differences across artform. Regional composers were more likely to view their location as more negative than positive. Regional writers, craft practitioners and community cultural development workers reported notably more positive effect of living regionally than other artists.

Figure 11 - Effects of living outside a capital city on creative practice

All artistsActorsCACD practitionersComposersCraft practitionersDancersMusiciansVisual artistsWriters
% That live regionally311728293412194947
More negative effect253210512327253117
No effect131910731826813
More positive effect614880417454496070

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There are notable differences in the gender balance of artists practising in each artform

Throsby and Zednik estimate that just over half of artists in Australia are female (51 percent) and 49 percent are male. In comparison, there are more males in the total labour force than females (55 percent males versus 45 percent females).

The gender split across art forms varies substantially, with a higher proportion of females among dancers (76 percent), community cultural development workers (72 percent), and craft practitioners (79 percent). Composers and musicians are more likely to be male (73 and 68 percent).

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One–fifth of all Australians are involved in arts activities as a part of paid or unpaid work

The number of Australians involved in the arts and culture (including those working in a paid or unpaid capacity) increased from 2.2 million in 2001 to 3.4 million in 2007.[1] The ABS 2007 Survey of Working in Culture and Leisure Activities found that 22 percent of the adult population conducted some arts-related activity as a part of paid or unpaid work (excluding hobbies).

Visual arts and craft activities were amongst the most common and fastest growing forms of involvement, although these were largely unpaid.

The most common types of cultural activities which formed part of a person's main job were design (230,700 people), writing (184,300 people), creating artworks with a computer (98,400 people) and designing web sites (83,300 people).


[1] Arts involvement defined by the ABS includes involvement in visual art activities, craft activities, writing, publishing, performing arts, music, radio, television, cinema or video distribution, designing websites, designing computer games and other interactive software, design, teaching, festival organising, art and craft show organising, government arts departments and agencies. Breakdown of specific areas of interest is shown in the figure below.

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Museums engage more volunteers than the performing arts

The performing arts engage fewer volunteers than the museum sector, as suggested by the ABS Service Industry surveys undertaken on parts of the cultural sector.

Museums attract the largest number of volunteers overall.

Figure 15 - Number of volunteers for selected arts and culture service industries [1]

YearVolunteers
Museums and art galleries2007-0823,426
Performing arts2006-076,582
Performing arts venue operation2006-071,935
Libraries and archives2003-046,853

[1] Volunteer numbers for industry metrics are asked of organisations, not individuals. Hence the numbers presented here are not directly comparable to the numbers presented in the Voluntary Work data source (cat no. 4441.0), which are asked of individuals.

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The arts currently attract fewer volunteers than sport or welfare/community organisations

Despite 3.4 million Australians involved in arts activities in their work, the arts have a relatively small volunteer base compared with other industries.

According to 2010 ABS data on volunteer work, around 403,000 Australians volunteer with arts/heritage organisations, representing 7 percent of all volunteers.

Arts/heritage organisations attract slightly more volunteers than animal welfare (5 percent), but significantly less than sport (37 percent), religious (22 percent) and welfare/community organisations (22 percent).

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Artist Incomes

Artists spend 22 hours a week on their principal creative practice – and many would prefer to spend more

According to estimates by Throsby and Zednik, the average practicing professional artist spent over half their time on creative work (53 percent), a further 28 percent on arts related work and 20 percent of their time on non-arts work in 2007-08.

Around 20 percent of artists spent over half their time working on their principal creative practice, and 12 percent of artists spent all of their time working on it. Of the 45 percent that also spent time on non-arts work, two thirds would prefer to spend more time on arts work.

The average artist works around 41 hours a week. They spend 22 hours a week working on creative work in their principal creative practice, 4 hours on creative work outside their principal creative practice, 7 hours working in another paid occupation related to the arts, and 8 hours on paid work not connected with the arts.

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Less than 20 percent of artists worked full time on their creative practice and they earned around $22,500

In 2007-08, the median total income of an artist was estimated by Throsby and Zednik to be around $35,900 and the median creative income was $7,000. However, 17 percent of artists worked full time on their creative practice (more than 38 hours per week) and the median income increased to $22,500. Of those artists working full time, the average time spent on their creative practice was 51 hours per week.[1]

In comparison, employees in other occupations earned higher median incomes of $43,300 for all employees, $61,700 for professionals and $77,500 for managers.

Artists have not shared in the rising trend in real (inflation-adjusted) incomes that has been experienced across the workforce at large. Throsby and Zednik report that creative income for artists remained relatively stable from 2000-01 to 2007-08, whereas general workforce incomes showed an increase of around 16 percent on 2000-01 in real terms.

Few artists meet their minimum living costs with their creative income alone. Indeed, only 55 percent of artists reported that they earn enough from all their sources of income to meet their basic needs.

Across artforms, the creative income of artists who spent more time working on their creative practice is notably higher than artists who also spent time working outside their creative practice to generate income. Musicians, composers and dancers who were able to double the number of hours worked on their creative practice earned around five times the median creative income. However, working more hours does not always translate to more money as craft practitioners received similar median creative incomes regardless of hours worked. [1]

Around 4 percent of artists earned a total annual income of over $100,000. Around one in ten composers earned a total annual income over $100,000.


[1] Calculated using Artists Survey 2009 data from Throsby D and Zednik A, 2010, ‘Do you really expect to get paid? An economic study of professional artists in Australia’.

Note: > 38 hrs are unweighted creative incomes 2007-08 (q51a) by hours per week (2009) spent on creative practice (q11a). Excludes artists whose total income exceeds $250,000 (q54a)

Figure 18 - Median creative incomes (2007-08) and average time spent on creative work by art form

AllTime spent > 38 hrs
Median incomeAvg time (hrs)Median incomeAvg time (hrs)
All artists$7,00022$22,50051
Actors$15,00019$36,00049
CACD practitioners$14,60022$60,00047
Composers$8,10020$45,00052
Craft practitioners$10,00027$13,00051
Dancers$7,90019$39,00045
Musicians$7,20018$31,00051
Visual artists$4,50028$19,20053
Writers$3,60023$6,10052

Figure 19 - Proportion of artists with a total annual income of $100, 000 or above

$100, 000 - $149, 999$150, 00 or more
All artists12
Actors22
CACD practitioners3-
Composers47
Craft practitioners24
Dancers01
Musicians12
Visual artists45
Writers31

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Artists earned almost $1 billion in creative income in 2007-08

Australia’s 44,000 practicing professional artists earned a total estimated creative income of around $833 million in the 2007-08 financial year.

Figure 20 - Total size of creative income ($)

Number of artists44,100
Average creative income$18,900
Total income$833,490,000

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Female artists earn lower creative incomes

Both male and female artists work an estimated 41 hours a week, however there are significant differences in the hours dedicated to creative practice and their creative incomes. Male artists spend about 50 percent of the time on their principal creative practice, while female artists spend around 44 percent of their time on their creative practice.

Although female artists spend only 12 percent less time on their creative practice than male artists, their median creative income is half that of male artists.

Figure 21 - Median artist income by gender

Females ($ median)Males ($ median)DIfference (%)
Creative income$5,000$10,300106
Total arts income$14,500$21,60049
Total income$26,900$40,60051

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The income gap between arts occupations and the average Australian worker continues to widen in 2011

Analysis of the 2011 Census by Cunningham and Higgs highlights the income gap between main job art workers (average annual income $44,000) and the workforce in general (average annual income $54,000).[1]

While the income of main-job arts workers rose by 0.8 percent per year between 2006 and 2011, the general workforce income increased by 1.4 percent. This means the income of those employed in the arts as their main job has continued to fall further behind the rest of the workforce.

Part of the reason for this income gap may be that those working in the arts are more likely to work part time in their main job. However, the gap exists for full time workers also. For example, median full-time income of arts workers was $51,740 in 2011, compared to the workforce median full-time income of $57,820.

Within the population of arts workers there are also differences. Those in artist occupations earned a lower median full-time income ($40,660) than those working in arts related occupations ($53,560) or those in other occupations in the arts industries ($53,720).


[1] This data is a combination of full-time and part-time income. Full-time figures are shown in the chart below.

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Artists believe technology will improve their earning potential

According to Throsby and Zednik, artists are optimistic about new technologies. Almost nine in ten artists believe that technology will open up more creative opportunities in the future (85%), with 60% of them thinking it was likely or very likely for new technologies to improve their income earning potential.

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Artists use the internet to create art

A number of professional artists were using the internet to create art in 2009, mainly to create collaborative or interactive art with other artists, or to create artistic work using social networking websites.

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Artists do other jobs to earn a living

On average, practising professional artists spend over half of their time on their creative work (53 percent), but earn less than half of their total income from their creative practice (45 percent).

In contrast, they spend around 20 percent of their time on non-arts work, but generate around 32 percent of their income this way.

Throsby and Zednik found that insufficient income from their creative practice was a key factor preventing artists from spending more time on their desired arts occupation.

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Part time and freelance employment is more common in the arts than the general workforce

According to Cunningham and Higgs’ analysis of the 2011 Census, one third of the general workforce was employed part time (32 percent). In comparison, well over half of those working in artist occupations in their main job were working part time (59 percent) and 4 in 10 of those working in arts-related occupations were part time (41 percent).

Around half of people working in main-job artist occupations were working freelance/own account worker (47 percent). Those in arts-related occupations were more likely to be working as employees (66 percent). However, in comparison, 89 percent of the general workforce work as employees, highlighting the greater contingency in the work situation of arts workers.

These levels are consistent with findings from the 2006 census report.

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Artists face insecure financial conditions, and some feel they lack the skills to manage their business affairs

Throsby and Zednik find a high incidence of freelancing in the professional artist population (72 percent). This is higher than the 47 percent of main job artists that were working freelance/own account worker in the 2011 census, highlighting one of the key differences between professional artists and those working in artist occupations in their main job.

Around nine in ten composers (93 percent), craft practitioners (92 percent), writers (88 percent) and visual artists (87 percent) work on this basis.

On the other hand, only around four in ten actors (43 percent) and community arts and cultural development (CACD) practitioners (42 percent) work as freelance or self-employed artists.

Around half of artists practicing in a freelance/self-employed capacity feel that they have good business skills to manage the business side of their creative work. A further third felt their skills were adequate, and 14 percent felt their skills were inadequate.

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Artists are versatile and engage in artistic practice outside their principal creative practice

Australian artists are ‘multi-talented’ and engage in a number of creative occupations outside the area of their principal creative practice throughout their career.

The table below shows the variety of work artists have been involved in. For example, although only 17 percent of artists are writers in their principal creative practice, almost 3 in 10 artists have been involved in a writing occupation throughout their career. Similarly, while only 2 percent of artists are composers in their principal practice, 18 percent have done composing or arranging throughout their career.

Figure 28 - Artistic involvement in various arts occupations at any point during artist's career

All artists (%)Actors (%)CACD practitioners (%)Composers (%)Craft practitioners (%)Dancers (%)Musicians (%)Visual artists(%)Writers (%)
Acting25973862117612
Directing1334339520838
Community & cultural development work971006711435
Composing or arranging1898100174125
Craft1531421002223
Dancing688119342
Choreographing4411672
Musical instrument playing265838138024
Singing1613322114424
Visual Arts3315361145101010014
Writing29281717511119100

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Many artists also apply their creative skills outside the arts

Throsby and Zednik found that just over one in three artists had ever used their artistic skills in some other industry outside the arts.

Of those artists that had used their skills outside the arts, over four in ten have applied their skills in government, social and personal services, while around third have applied them to the wider cultural and related industries and one in ten have applied their skills to the non-cultural industries.

The specific occupations that artists apply their artistic skills to vary based on their creative practice. Of those artists who have applied their creative skills in industries outside the arts:

  • 41 percent of writers have worked as copywriters, editors, journalists
  • 41 percent of visual artists and 39 percent of craft practitioners have worked as designers, drawers, illustrators
  • 31 percent of dancers have worked as fitness instructors
  • 30 percent of actors have worked as a corporate trainer/actor

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Despite an increase in membership over time, only one third of artists are members of a copyright collecting society

Over 3 in 4 artists believe that they hold copyright over their artwork. However only one third are members of a copyright collecting society, up slightly from 25 percent in 2002. Of those who are members of a copyright collecting society, just under half have received a payment in the last 12 months (46 percent).

The use or exploitation of creative work without the copyright holder's permission is a key issue for artists. Despite one quarter of artists having had their copyright infringed in the past, around half of artists feel that the current provision for copyright protection is adequate. For actors, dancers, visual artists and craft practitioners, more artists have had their copyright infringed than are members of a copyright collecting institution, suggesting the artist population may not be adequately represented.

A smaller proportion of artists have had their moral rights infringed (including things like misattributed authorship, wilful damage of work etc.), but only one third of artists feel that the current provision for moral rights infringements is adequate.

Figure 30 - Protection of artists' copyright and moral rights

All artists (%)Actors (%)CACD practitioners (%)Composers (%)Craft practitioners (%)Dancers (%)Musicians (%)Visual artists(%)Writers (%)
Are members of one or more copyright collecting societies331425881617442843
Had copyright infringed252222243822193026
Had moral rights infringed191819192411122921
Believe current provision for copyright protection is adequate514048724035555063
Believe current provision for moral rights infringements is adequate333525492428363235

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Many artists have insufficient arrangements in place for their financial future

Throsby and Zednik estimate that 14 percent of artists had no arrangements in place for the future, such as superannuation, investments etc. Among those that did have some sort of arrangement for the future, only 40 percent believed that the arrangements would adequately meet their needs.

CACD practitioners and Dancers were the least likely to have adequate arrangements in place, whilst musicians and writers had the highest proportions who thought their arrangement would be adequate.

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