The artists among us

Artist's studio

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Artists tend to get stereotyped a lot as slackers or outsiders, somewhere between struggling and starving.

There's a report out today from the Census Bureau that says artsy types pull down a collective $70 billion a year.

Marketplace's Janet Babin reports now from North Carolina Public Radio.


Janet Babin: It's easy to resent artists. There's this perception they get to lounge around and think all day while the rest of us crunch numbers and kiss up to the boss.

Portland-based visual artist Brian Borrello has gotten that vibe on jobs before.

Brian Borrello: When the artist walks in the room, it's sometimes, "Oh, it's the artist, you know, here comes the wild card."

That's just the notion this National Endowment for the Arts report hopes to dispel. It found that a lot of people work as artists -- almost two million. That includes everyone from performers to designers to architects.

NEA Chairman Dana Gioia says as one of the largest classes of workers, artists deserve more respect.

Dana Gioia: They produce goods and services that people want. They play a significant part in economic life and civic life.

But artists have to keep a lot of balls in the air to make a living. The survey found that about a third work only part of the year and they're more likely to be self-employed. Their numbers doubled between 1970 and 1990.

Author Lisa Chamberlain, who wrote the book "Slackonomics," says it's the Generation X-ers. She says they've expanded the creative economy.

Lisa Chamberlain: So in 1970, I think an artist was considered somebody with oil paints and an easel. Today, an artist is a singer/songwriter, a multimedia artist...

The salary for all that juggling averages just over $34,000 a year -- higher than the U.S. median. But dancer Cynthia Valone says that figure usually doesn't include benefits we might consider standard:

Cynthia Valone: You don't show up, you don't get paid.

I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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