In 1998, funding for artists in the United States—a small but important fraction of total funding for the nonprofit cultural sector—was at a dangerous juncture. In the wake of the “culture wars” of the 1980s and early 1990s and the negative stereotyping of artists that developed during this time, funding for the National Endowment for the Arts had declined and its direct grantmaking to artists through the Individual Artist Fellowship Program had been significantly curtailed. For 25 years, the NEA’s funding had been the largest source of direct support for artists in the country, providing funding crucial to the development of new work as well as general support for artists working in all disciplines. Both the negative attitudes toward artists and the cutbacks in the NEA Fellowship Program reverberated across the field, cooling both public sector and private efforts to boost support for artists. A number of private donors, as well as public funders at the state and local levels, were gravely concerned about the short- and long-term effects of these developments.
The Ford Foundation took the lead in organizing a national response to the emergency. Understanding that any significant shift in policy or practice would require solid research on which to base recommendations for change, Ford provided seed funding to launch an unprecedented national study of the support system for artists. Thirty-seven other funders joined them to finance a three-year research project conducted by the Urban Institute, which resulted in the 2003 report, Investing in Creativity: A Study of the Support Structure for U.S. Artists.
Funders of the Investing in Creativity Study:
The funders included the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, the Boston Foundation, the Breneman Jaech Foundation, The Brown Foundation, the Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, The Chicago Community Trust, the Cleveland Foundation, The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Durfee Foundation, the Flintridge Foundation, the Ford Foundation, The Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Trust, the Greenwall Foundation, the George Gund Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Houston Endowment, the James Irvine Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the LEF Foundation, the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Eugene and Agnes Meyer Foundation, Kulas and Murphy Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Community Trust, the Ohio Arts Council, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Prince Charitable Trusts, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and anonymous donors.
Led by Maria Rosario Jackson, the study set out to improve our understanding of who artists are, what they do, and what mechanisms they need to create fertile environments for their work. The study posed a set of key questions:
Why be concerned with artists? How are artists valued in society? What kind of demand is there for their work and social contributions? What kinds of material supports—employment and benefits, grants and awards, and space—do artists need? Are artists’ training programs preparing them for the environments they will encounter? What kinds of connections and networks enable artists to pursue their careers? And what kinds of information are necessary to assess this more comprehensive notion of support for artists?
The resulting research included: in-depth explorations of conditions at both the national and local levels, using nine cities and several rural sites as case studies; a survey of relevant literature on the history and contemporary conditions of working artists across the country; a national poll of attitudes toward artists; and a first-time analysis of a comprehensive database of grants, awards and support programs. Study team members interviewed more than 450 artists, administrators, funders, critics, and media representatives, and conducted numerous focus group discussions. Throughout the course of the research, the study team maintained close contact with the funding consortium and policy makers to engage in conversations about emerging findings and potential responses.
Case Study Sites:
Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, DC
From this extensive fieldwork, Investing in Creativity was released in summer 2003, and presented at a meeting of Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) later that year.
The study offered a new framework for thinking about the roles artists play in communities, and the support they need to do their work. The framework posited six dimensions or domains that influence artists’ work and professional success, which are:
- Communities & Networks: Connections to artists and others both within and outside the cultural sector.
- Demand/Markets: The extent of markets from which artists can derive financial remuneration.
- Information: Data sources about and for artists.
- Material Supports: Access to resources, including employment, insurance, awards, space, equipment, and materials.
- Training & Professional Development: Conventional and lifelong learning opportunities.
- Validation: The ascription of value to what artists do.
Using extensive data and illustrative examples, the study explored how each of these domains impact artists at both national and local levels and in various artistic disciplines, demonstrating that all of the domains must be robust if artists are to thrive. The domain framework offered artists and their supporters a way to analyze the quality of support structures in their communities and determine priorities for opportunities and results. Using the framework, a given community might see that it has adequate training opportunities for artists, for example, but that it lacks sufficient spaces for artistic production. Another might have strong information networks, but little direct funding and grant support.
In the context of the six domains, Investing in Creativity also examined the economics of artists’ lives, confirming that the employment patterns of artists are highly flexible and unpredictable, and that artists lack health insurance and other benefits—patterns similar to those of “contingent workers.” The study underscored findings from other research about the hard facts of artists’ professional lives:
- A majority of artists are not employed full-time as artists and do not derive substantial income from their artmaking; Artists earn less, on average, than other people with comparable education or skill sets; and
- Artists face particular challenges in finding, establishing, and/or maintaining adequate and affordable spaces in which to conduct their work, which in turn impedes their ability to actually do it.
- The study also made the important case that artists are citizens who can and do serve as community leaders, and argued that strengthening the relationship between artists and the communities in which they live and work can produce benefits for both.
Investing in Creativity found that artists’ many contributions to society are misunderstood and poorly documented, and thus largely underestimated. This is particularly true for artists working in new media, in cultural traditions that are not part of the mainstream (including folkloric forms), and/or at the intersection of social and community issues.
The findings of the Investing in Creativity report represented a call for a major reevaluation of how we can support artists and facilitate their contributions to society. The study outlined a set of priorities for action, with these overarching messages:
- Making a material difference in the lives and creative work of artists requires looking beyond grants and awards (the traditional focus of artists’ advocates). It requires a comprehensive, 360-degree examination of the lives of artists, and all six domains must be addressed in a systematic and strategic way.
- Changing policies and practices in the six domains requires stewards at all levels and new mechanisms to coordinate the key players in the various aspects of the support system. In addition, it requires new alliances to link artists with advocates in associated sectors, such as community development, health care, and affordable housing.
- These changes must be rooted in places, in specific communities whose economic and social characteristics, processes, and policies are integral to how an artist lives and works. Sensitivity to place requires responsiveness to diversity and affirmative efforts to ensure equality of opportunity for artists working in the full spectrum of traditions and creative art forms.
- Long-term strategy must be focused on making a fundamental shift in beliefs about how artists relate to society, and bringing about pragmatic changes that better enable artists to conduct their work.