Learn more about the visual arts industry by exploring the latest statistics on public galleries, the secondary market, and household consumption of visual art.

Get the facts about the royalties earned by artists through copyright distribution and resale of artwork, and the sale of Indigenous visual arts and craft.

Household consumption
Industry  -  Visual Arts

Australian household spending on visual arts has been growing over time.

We now spend over $100 annually on paintings, carvings and sculptures, art and craft materials, and art gallery and museum charges – a 26% increase on 2003-04 levels in real terms.


Households spend more on paintings, carvings and sculptures than computer games or tickets to sporting matches

Australian households spend almost $2.13 billion on things related to visual arts and craft each year (including cameras).

Of this, $860 million in spending relates to direct participation in visual arts, with households spending almost $550 million on paintings, carvings and sculptures, and $250 million on art and craft materials.



Spending on particular items has changed, but total spending on goods related to visual arts is steady

Overall, spending on items related to visual arts remains steady over time.

Between 2003-04 and 2009-10, spending on artworks, cameras and art and craft materials increased.

Over the same period Australian households decreased their spending on studio and other professional photography, photographic film and developing costs – changes which probably relate to the developments in digital photography.

Spending on gallery charges also decreased 22 percent to $0.14 per household per week.

Table 6 - Household spending on items related to visual arts including cameras - 2003-04 and 2009-10 (shown in 2010 dollars)

$ per week
$ per week
Change since 2003-04 (%)
Studio and other professional photography0.590.56-5%
Paintings, carvings and sculptures0.831.2551%
Art and craft materials0.550.574%
Art gallery and museum fees and charges0.180.14-22%
Cameras (excluding video cameras)1.391.4822%
Photographic equipment (excluding film and chemicals)0.22
Photographic film and chemicals (including developing)1.270.64-50%


Public galleries
Industry  -  Visual Arts

Australia’s art museums are home to 2.8 million art works. In 2007-08, they held over 2,000 special exhibitions or displays, and recorded over 2 million paid and 10 million unpaid visitors.

Our art museums and galleries also enable millions of international tourists to experience Australian culture, and fuel important economic activity through tourism. In 2009, around 30% of international visitors and 43% of domestic travellers visited a museum or gallery.


Australia’s 165 public art museums attracted almost 13 million attendances in 2008

There are an estimated 165 non-commercial galleries/museums in Australia with a visual arts focus.  In 2008, the ABS estimated that these visual arts galleries/museums made up 14 percent of all museums in Australia – with an estimated 712 social history museums, 247 historic sites and 59 other museums operating.

Art museums held over 2,000 special exhibitions or displays during 2007-08. That year they recorded 12.9 million admissions, the equivalent of 42 percent of all museum admissions reported.  Four in five of these attendances were for free exhibitions and events.

Art museums were more reliant on public funds than other museums, with government funding accounting for almost 40 percent of their income in 2007-08. However, art museums also earned more than three times the funds of other museums through sponsorship and philanthropy.

Table 2 - Summary of non-commercial art galleries/museums in Australia

Year Art museums Free attendances Paid attendances Admissions incomeOnline visits
2007-08 165 107710002177000$1960000011987000


Art museum websites attracted almost 12 million visits in 2007-08

In terms of online engagement, art galleries reported almost 12 million unique online visits in 2007-08, and almost 50 million page views during that year.

This far exceeds the website visitation of social history and historic site websites, but is less than that of ‘other museums’, including natural history and science museums such as Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum.

Table 3 - Summary of on-line visits to non-commercial art galleries/museums in Australia

Museum typeNo. of museumsTotal webpage viewsTotal unique visitsAverage unique visits per museum
Art museums165493181198773
Social history museums71227495870412
Historic sites24716237
Other museums5941194698


Artbank is the largest single buyer of contemporary Australian art in Australia

Artbank, the Australian Government’s art rental collection, includes over 10,000 artworks from 3,500 artists in a range of mediums from paintings and works on paper to sculpture and video.


In 2011-12, Artbank invested $1 million in 270 works, at an average price per work of around $3,700. The collection is valued at approximately $36.3 million.



Table 4 - Artbank acquisitions and collection value (2008-09 to 2011-12)

Financial yearWorks acquiredAcquisitions ($m)Average acquisition price ($)Total value of the collection ($m)


Australia Council-funded visual arts organisations produced 233 new works in 2011, and generated over 4 million exhibition attendances

The Australia Council supports 39 visual arts organisations with regular funding – including galleries, arts and craft centres, festivals and service organisations.

In 2011, these regularly funded visual arts organisations produced 233 new Australian works (e.g. commissioning of new contemporary visual art works). They also recorded over 4 million attendances. The majority of these attendances were at exhibitions with a small proportion going to visual arts performance events.

Table 5 - Summary of visual arts organisations in Australia - 2011

‘Key Organisations’ supported with multi-year funding:Number of orgsNew Australian worksExhibition attendancesPerformance attendances
Visual arts organisations 3923340803287793
All arts organisations14994746614691331790


Commercial art galleries manage over 16,000 relationships with visual artists

The ABS estimated that there were 514 commercial art galleries operating in Australia during 1999-2000. This included 31 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) art centres and 483 other commercial art galleries.

These galleries provided over 16,000 on-going ‘representations’ for visual artists.[1] The average number of artists represented by ATSI art centres was 93, compared to 29 artists for other commercial art galleries.

In 1999–2000, commercial art gallery businesses had total sales of artworks of $218 million. Two thirds of this ($145 million) related to commission income from the sale of works on behalf of others.  One third related to sales of works owned by the gallery.

Represented artists shared in over $100m in commission income generated through the sale of their artwork by commercial galleries in that year. That is equivalent to over $6,000 per represented artist.

The ABS reports that in 2007-08 commercial art galleries charged a higher average commission for the sale of Indigenous visual artworks (40 per cent), compared to the work of non-Indigenous Australian visual artists (29 percent) and those from overseas (17 percent) in 1999-2000.

[1]   Artists represented on an ongoing basis are defined as the number of artists who have an agreement with a commercial art gallery to represent them by regularly displaying or promoting the sale of their artworks. This figure includes double counting as a commercial art gallery could represent more than one visual artist. As such it is not a representation of the total visual artist population.


Secondary market

Sales of works at auction reached $95 million in 2012 – around five times the market in 1991

Auction sales of visual art works in Australia reached around $95 million in 2012. These sales are understood to relate mainly to the secondary market, in which artworks are resold, and include contemporary and heritage works.[1]

Sales at auction have experienced strong growth since the 1980s – peaking at $175 million in 2007. Since 2007, total sales have fluctuated between $88 million and $115 million annually, and they remain more than 5 times the size of the market in 1991.

Australian auction turnover includes sales of works by non-Indigenous Australian artists (83 percent), Australian Indigenous artists (8 percent), and overseas artists (9 percent).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art sales have stabilised around $8.2 million, after four consecutive year of decline.  Sales remain well below the record total of $26.4 million set in 2007.

[1]   The primary market is made up of works being sold for the first time – usually in a commercial gallery.


Speculation by investors fuels price fluctuation in the secondary market

Between 1998 and 2011, the average price of works sold at auction increased markedly. Prices peaked in 2007, with the average price of works sold reaching $15,000 (64 percent higher than the 2006 average of $9,138).

Commentators suggest that speculation by investors led to a ‘market aberration’ in 2007.

Sales have since returned to pre-2007 levels. After the economic downturn in 2008, sales grew between 2009 and 2010, before stabilising in 2011 and 2012.


Growing numbers of visual artists are receiving royalties from copyright distribution

Almost all visual artists believe they have copyright ownership over any work they produce (92 percent). However, in 2009, Throsby and Zednik estimated that less than a third (28 percent) were members of a copyright collecting agency.


Viscopy currently represents over 9,000 Australian and New Zealand artists. New membership has been increasing over time, with a six percent increase in 2011-12. In 2011, Indigenous membership accounted for half of all Viscopy members.


In 2011-12, Viscopy distributed $1.7 million to members. Royalties were distributed to over 930 Australian and 440 international members in 2011-12 (compared to 800 Australian and 280 international members in 2010-11), with the average payment being $1,100.





Over $1 million in royalties have been distributed to almost 500 artists since introduction of the Resale Royalty Scheme in 2010

Since introduction of the Resale Royalty Scheme in 2010, more than $1 million in royalties has been distributed to more than 500 artists from the resale of over 5,000 visual arts works.

Viscopy reports that around 90 percent of distributions are to artists who are still alive. Over 60 percent of these artists were Indigenous.

With a few exceptions, the royalty payments generated by the scheme are relatively small: about 95 per cent of royalties paid to artists or their beneficiaries have been between $50 (the minimum amount) and $500. At the other end of the scale, the highest royalty generated to date by the scheme has been $50,000.




Sales of Indigenous visual arts and craft has decreased since the Global Financial Crisis, after several decades of growth

The visual arts sector provides a significant source of income for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, particularly for those living in remote areas where employment opportunities are limited.

Figures compiled by the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations (ORIC) suggest that the sector experienced strong growth over 1979–2007. However, since 2007, there has been a decline in the average revenue generated by Indigenous visual arts organisations, including remote arts centres.

Based on a review of financial reports lodged by the 101 corporations registered as making and selling Indigenous art, ORIC reports that between 2007-08 and 2010-11 the average revenue[1] generated by Indigenous visual arts organisations fell by 52 percent from almost $390,000 to $186,000 per organisation.

Whilst there is no conclusive information about the number of art centres, ORIC reports that this period saw a gradual decrease in the proportion of Indigenous organisations generating more than $500,000 in art sales revenue and an increase over time in the number earning no revenue at all.

Auction sales figures confirm that the total revenue generated through the public auction of Indigenous art fell 69 percent from $26.5 million in 2007 to just over $8 million in 2012 – a more marked decline than that experienced by other Australian art.

Declining sales in this area may be linked with the strong performance of the Australian dollar since 2009-10, which has affected the buying power of overseas visitors.

[1] Revenue from art sales refers to the amount directly generated from the sale of artworks, before expenses are taken into consideration.