2006 CCSP

Crossover: How Artists Build Careers across Commercial, Nonprofit and Community Work

LINC, Ann Markusen, Sam Gilmore, Amanda Johnson, Titus Levi, Andrea Martinez

This study challenges conventional wisdom about individual artists’ relationship to the commercial and nonprofit sectors by showing how artists in California move fluidly between the commercial, nonprofit, and community sectors. Their ability to do so, the study concludes, is a major stimulant to regional economic activity and the quality of life, although this reality has been under-counted and under-appreciated in economic impact studies. Economic impact analyses rarely account for artists’ contributions to non-arts businesses and other organizations that improve products, marketing, and employment satisfaction. Nor do such studies consider the role of artists in stimulating innovation and attracting and retaining businesses and people to a community. This report also provides illustrative and instructive case studies of artist crossover and makes recommendations about what artists, commercial entities, nonprofits, funders, government agencies, and others can do to remove barriers to productive movement by artists from sector to sector.



For decades, the art world and the general public have viewed artists and arts activity as compartmentalized into three separate spheres. In the commercial sector, artwork is organized by for-profit organizations and marketed by self-employed artists and companies in a hotly competitive and highly segmented marketplace. In a nonprofit sector that has rapidly expanded since the 1970s, the work of artists and arts organizations is mission-driven and motivated by factors other than financial return, relying heavily on patronage and philanthropy instead. In the community sector, artwork is rarely remunerative but is pursued for cultural, political, and aesthetic reasons.

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In this study, we delineate the three sectors and address how they are organized, including the motivations and conventions that govern each one. We pull together a number of hypotheses about how artists navigate these sectoral divides. To reach artists, we used a web-based survey, soliciting responses by working with dozens of arts and cultural organizations in the San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles metropolitan areas, which host the two largest artistic populations in California and rank first and third in the nation in density of artists in the workforce. We paid particular attention to part-time, ethnic, and community-based artists who are often left out of surveys and undercounted in the Census. We also interviewed more than fifty artists from a diverse mix of disciplines, ages, races, ethnicities, immigrant statuses, and incomes about their own experiences at crossover.


We found the results rather astounding. Artists move among sectors far more fluidly than we had thought, and if money were not an issue, most would cross over even more than they presently do. They report that each sector provides distinctive channels and support for artistic development. We believe that the study findings have far-reaching implications for how leaders in each sector might acknowledge the contributions of the others and cooperate to encourage greater cross-fertilization.

[. . . ]

In sum, our findings reveal broad crossover practice and artists’ desires to move more fluidly among the sectors. They demonstrate that experience in different spheres often enriches artists’ development, work quality, income, and vision of the possible. Artists articulated many good ideas for how the regional arts ecology can become more crossover-friendly. Many of these ideas involve inexpensive attitude shifts or smarter uses of existing space, staff, and programs. Others require commitments of new, expanded, and more strategic resources. Both are good investments for not-for-profit, community, and cultural industry leaders.

“LINC raised awareness of the need for authentic relationships between artists and neighborhoods.”