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Creative Industry in America: Sustenance for the Starving Artist

By June 24, 2014August 2nd, 2021Blog

There’s a buzzword that has been floating around as of late: creativity. In a time when demand for STEM and techie innovation threatens the longevity of arts education in America, market researchers point to a rising force in economic output and potential. While the market for youth music education is at risk of dissolution, the professional arts world, ironically, has been growing, and economists, politicians, and academics alike are beginning to recognize that the world doesn’t run without a little creative energy. For “creatives,” this means one good thing that seems to have eluded the wandering muse since the Romans conquered Greece: jobs.

But first, what is the “creative industry”? In short, it is anything that is involved with the creation of artistic goods. This includes anything from the picture book that you read in kindergarten to the multimillion dollar blockbuster hit, as well as anybody who is responsible for the creation, maintenance, or distribution of these creative products. The Department for Culture, Media, and Sport (based in the United Kingdom) breaks the industry down into 12 categories:

  1. advertising

  2. architecture

  3. arts and antique markets

  4. crafts

  5. design (see also communication design)

  6. designer fashion

  7. film, video and photography

  8. software, computer games and electronic publishing

  9. music and the visual and performing arts

  10. publishing

  11. television

  12. radio

Currently in the United States, the creative industry accounts for nearly 3.2 percent of GDP, or $512 billion, and employs over two million people. And these numbers are on the rise. Strangely, so is unemployment.

The image of the starving artist has far too effectively ingrained itself into society. For reasons of artistic freedom, gaining invaluable experience, or simply refusing to “sell out,” artists in all genres repeatedly turn down work or find themselves content with underemployment. Especially at the entry level, emerging artists consistently low-ball themselves, taking low-paying or unpaid work under the adage that every experience is a learning one, regardless of how well it pays the bills. Research and countless testimonies indicate that artists view their undertaking as a vow of poverty until they make it big. But considering how much humans enjoy being entertained, this need not be the case.

The nature of the creative industry, especially regarding emerging artists, speaks directly to a highly vulnerable body of untapped potential. Artists today have to be diligent and resourceful to make it in the music industry, and a large part of it undeniably has to do with luck. Part of that luck is where someone is born and who someone’s parents may be. Particularly in the music industry, the demographics for emerging independent artists are still white, middle-class, and male. It is absolutely ridiculous to think the ethnic and/or female population is less capable of creative work; these demographics are simply being pushed out of the picture by industry structures that favor networked players with a track record. No pun intended.

While a fortunate, young-adult caucasian male might afford to live in a flat (paid for by his loving parents) and eat food (also paid for by his loving parents) while he plays guitar and records in his home studio (paid for by Christmas, birthday, and graduation money from his loving grandparents), a person from a low-income background who does not have these resources from the onset of birth is at a disadvantage based primarily on luck. Not to say that this person is unlucky to have the life he or she has; luck manifests itself in different ways. Furthermore, without any networked support for marketing, graphic design, booking, public relations, and the countless other tasks that are required for successful artist management, even when a musician has produced good work, there is no telling how difficult it will be for the artist to take that music and become successful. But by failing to support these disadvantaged artists and nurture the thought and talent they have to offer, the world misses out on a vital part of cultural and economic value. In short, society needs to figure out how to make it affordable for every artist to do what he or she loves.

We can create a community around these emerging artists to help support their careers and keep the aspirations of music alive. By bringing disadvantaged emerging artists out of isolation and strengthening collaboration and synergy in tasks outside the creative process, artists can gain a collective voice in areas where they have lacked connections or expertise for the Do-It-Yourself mix-and-match that is the music industry today. With a little guidance, critical tasks such as booking, branding, marketing, and promoting are both easier and much more effective when more people are involved. Often times, all a musician needs is a big break, no matter what background. And for the first time, we are entering a period where these big breaks can be more frequent and more accessible than ever before. With a little collective support, we can prepare artists to make the most out of these opportunities and turn whatever luck they encounter into a life that puts a little change in their pockets.

By Jin Park

Sources: Doris Ruth Eikhof and Chris Warhurst. “The Promised Land? Why Social Inequalities Are Systemic in the Creative Industries.” Employee Relations, 2013.

Elizabeth L. Lingo and Steven J. Tepper. “Looking Back, Looking Forward: Arts-Based Careers and Creative Work” Work and Occupations, 2013.

Kretsos, Lefteris, and Umney, Charles. “That’s the Experience: Jazz Musicians in ‘Emerging Adulthood’ and Their Ambivalence to Precarious Work.” Working paper, May 2014.

Mark Banksa and David Hesmondhalgh. “Looking for work in creative industries policy.” International Journal of Cultural Policy, 2009.

U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and National Endowment for the Arts Release Preliminary Report on Impact of Arts and Culture on U.S. Economy. Web. 19 June 2014.

Images: 1) Gozamos, Flickr Creative Commons; 2) PeaceTones