Art During the Pandemic: A Baseline Assessment
Art During the Pandemic: A Baseline Assessment

Art During the Pandemic: A Baseline Assessment

The COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly devastating for artists and arts organizations.

The trick is that the coordinated efforts of art advocacy groups, in collaboration with the bipartisan Congress leadership, stimulate public debate on art politics. The multi-purpose COVID-19 aid bill in December included a $ 15 billion grant for certain types of performing arts venues. There is also constant debate about how art can fit into a holistic recovery plan and how the Biden administration can review and even redesign how the federal government supports art.

Data and evidence are critical parts of any rigorous policy debate. But when it comes to art – and especially the labor market for artists – there are very few sources of data available. And each of the available resources measures a different, partial piece of a larger puzzle. Researchers and practitioners working in the art labor market will therefore have to deal with two questions before doing any analysis: what data source should be used and how should “art” be defined? Here are some guidelines:

Two surveys that are frequently cited in research reports on the arts are: Current Population Survey (CPS) and Quarterly Employment and Pay Census (QCEW), both managed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Both provide regularly updated data collected through rigorous, documented methodologies that allow rapid changes in the labor market during the pandemic. Other sources of data are available, but these are either infrequently published (e.g. the Bureau of Economic Analysis’s Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account was last produced in 2017); Based on statistical estimates (eg Monthly Current Employment Statistics); or registered (for example, Americans for the Arts’ COVID-19 survey).

Data and evidence are critical parts of any rigorous policy debate. But when it comes to art – and the labor market especially for artists – there are very few sources of data available.

The CPS is a monthly survey of approximately 60,000 households selected to represent the non-institutionalized civilian population at the national and state level to determine employment rates. The CPS contains detailed information on individual workers, including their employment status, income, industry (or, for the unemployed, they last worked), and their primary occupation.

Using sample weights, statistics calculated from the survey (such as unemployment rates) can be scaled to the population as a whole. Sample weights allow researchers to adjust how many people in the wider population “represents” a single survey participant’s personal characteristics. However, researchers should be careful not to make predictions from just one or two CPS participants. For example, if there is only one unemployed choreographer in the data, it would not be appropriate to deduct the overall unemployment rate for choreographers; It cannot be assumed that a single individual adequately represents all unemployed choreographers in the population.

Unlike CPS, QCEW is not based on a sample of individuals, but instead focuses on agency-level data extracted from administrative registers, particularly from state unemployment insurance programs. QCEW reports the number of employees, wages paid, and number of workplaces in each industry up to the district level. QCEW is a census, meaning it calculates the entire population rather than sampling a subset of the population, so survey weights and sample sizes are not an issue. However, QCEW data may be printed due to small sample sizes and privacy requirements; this may be relevant when analyzing more detailed industry codes for smaller geographic areas (eg districts).

The choice of whether to use CPS or QCEW will depend on the purpose and focus of the analysis. As Table 1 below shows, each resource is well suited for a different purpose. CPS is useful when individual person-level results are interesting, including workforce participation and occupation. Because it researches people, the CPS also covers certain groups that are not covered by QCEW: self-employed, unemployed or not in the labor force.

As the CPS surveys a relatively small portion of the U.S. Population each month (in 2019, from 117,196 to 120,811 people were in sampled households), CPS can yield very small subpopulations to do certain analyzes. This is particularly important when analyzing conditional subpopulations across multiple demographics (eg race by occupation or occupations by industry).

QCEW is better suited for questions about business organizations, such as trends in the number of arts organizations and museums, or trends in how many employees they have. Employment information is collected differently, as the QCEW focuses on the organization and the CPS focuses on the individual.

While QCEW reports everything by industry, the CPS defines both the worker’s industry and occupation. As shown below, differences are important, especially when working with artists.

Table 1: Comparison of Two Data Sources on Labor Market for Artists

Data SourceData ElementsWhat Can Be Studied?Limitations
*Labor force status
-Unemployment rate
*Trends by occupation or industry
*Small samples may not be suitable for granular analysis
*Likely insufficient coverage of secondary sources of incomea
QCEW-Industry level
*No. establishments
*Total employmentAggregate wages
-No. of businesses
*Changes in total employment
-No data on occupation
*Does not cover unemployed or self-employed workers
*Five-month lag in data release
The CPS only asks questions about secondary occupations in the last month of household participation. Consequently, separate sample weights must be used to analyze secondary occupations and the number of respondents is very small. See this NEA report for a study of artists’ primary and secondary careers using this data.

How should “art” be defined before showing the differences in employment numbers? There is no single standard and the answer probably depends on the research question.

In earlier Rand work, “artist” was defined according to the set of professions used by the National Art Foundation (PDF), regardless of the industry in which they work. Instead, other studies may begin with art industries that use the six-digit NAICS code to describe arts and cultural institutions. As a benchmark, the following calculations focus on organizations with NAICS codes starting at 711 (Performing Arts and Sports Companies, Organizers and Representatives) and 712 (Museums, Historic Sites, and Similar Institutions).

The choice of data source also affects the emerging picture of the art market. Conceptually, industry codes show what a business organization does; profession refers to what an employee does. Not all workers in a particular sector have the same occupation, and not all workers in a particular occupation work in the same sector. The Venn diagram in Figure 1 shows the overlap between workers in the art industries (defined by the NAICS code) and the artist (defined by profession) as recorded in the CPS, before the pandemic.

Figure 1: Art Professions and Art Industry Workers as of January 2020

Source: Current Population Survey, January 2020. Art industries are defined as NAICS codes 711 (arts, entertainment and recreation) and 712 (museums, historical sites, and similar institutions). Artist professions include: actors, announcers, architects, dancers, choreographers, designers, fine artists, art directors, animators, musicians, photographers, producers, directors, writers, writers and other entertainers.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the art industry employs more than artists: approximately 618,000 people, according to the CPS. The most common occupational codes for these individuals are: landscaping and retaining workers; managers; non-retail sales managers; security guards; and animal keepers. (The last group is available as zoos are included in NAICS code 712.) Conversely, there are many artists who do not work in the art industry. In fact, out of roughly 2.9 million artists nationwide as of January 2020, only 504,000 were working in the art industry.

The remaining 2.4 million were in a variety of industries, but often in custom design services (including interior, jewelery, costume, floral and fashion design); architectural, engineering and related services; cinema and video industries; and other professional, scientific and technical services (a broad category that includes commercial photography, market research, translation / interpretation, and veterinary services). In light of these observations, researchers may wish to choose a more customized definition of “art industries” that may include additional NAICS codes specific to their interests.

As of January 2020, of the roughly 2.9 million artists nationwide, only 504,000 were working in the art industry.

CPS and QCEW also register different groups of workers in terms of employment status. QCEW specifically does not cover self-employed or government employees. This is especially true for artist work because a significant number of artists are self-employed.

This, with industry and profession misalignment, means that the data captures different samples of workers and therefore total employment may be different when using QCEW versus CPS. As an example, in Figure 2, data was pulled to compare total private sector employment over the first six months of 2020 in two ways, following the CPS in QCEW or occupations in industries. The total employment provided by the two sources differs greatly, but trends for the performance artists (CPS) and the arts, entertainment and recreation industry (QCEW) industry are closely monitored.

However, as noted earlier, the paid arts / entertainment industry clearly employs other professions alongside performance artists, and the graphic shows how difficult it is to relate employment among non-performing artists to industry-specific changes: they are much more than the total employment of individual arts. The increase in industries and employment until June 2020 indicates that recruitment must have occurred outside of the arts industries.

Figure 2: Total Private Sector Employment in Art Professions and Art Industries, January-June 2020

As a result, the research question should identify the appropriate data set and variables of interest. To examine the employees most affected by the $ 15 billion grant program, an industry-level analysis such as those provided by QCEW may be most appropriate. After all, aid grants are aimed at businesses, not workers, and as Figure 1 shows, many people whose livelihoods depend on the arts economy are not artists themselves. But if we instead want to understand the gaps in the charity law by measuring how many people could not take advantage of it, or what its impact on artists in particular, we can look at self-employed artists at the CPS.

States or counties interested in the contribution of the arts to the economy or the job market may also be interested in QCEW data (understand that this is only a lower limit, as independent workers and unemployed are not counted). On the other hand, CPS data may be more informative if advocacy groups, disaster preparedness organizations, educators, or tourism advocates are interested in understanding the composition and distribution of the artist community.