Artist Careers Research

A strategic priority for the Council is to support, sustain and creatively develop artist careers, from emerging careers to established ones.

Over the past 30 years recognition of the cultural, social and economic contribution of artists to Australian society has grown. Sadly, this has not translated into higher incomes for Australia’s artists, relative to other occupations. This research found that artists’ incomes as a whole are not keeping pace with the rest of the workforce.

There is a high level of uncertainty associated with the work of artists.  So most artists do a range of paid work in both arts and non arts related jobs in order to make a living. This research found that less than half of artists income comes from their creative work, with the rest earned through arts related or non arts work. As in many countries, the majority of Australian professional artists do not get huge financial rewards for pursuing their art practice. Rarely do people become professional artists for the money. They are driven by their passion and commitment to art.

Two pieces of research commissioned by the Australia Council for the Arts offer a comprehensive picture of the working lives of Australian artists.

report title_do you really expect to get paidAn economic study of professional artists in Australia

('the artist survey')

The careers of practising professional artists across all major art forms (except film) are profiled in this report.  It is based on interviews with professional artists and includes data on their numbers, incomes, achievements and challenges.

report title_whats your other jobA census analysis of arts employment in Australia

('the census study')

This study analyses data from the past three Censuses. It includes a new measure of the size of total employment in the arts by including all relevant occupations and industries. It also gives a picture of artists working in non-arts industries. This analysis is based upon peoples ‘main job’ reported in lead up to the Census.

icon_participateParticipate in the discussion: view and add comments below

Meet the artists

Verna LeeVerna Lee
Sydney, New South Wales
Harpist, music teacher, mother.

'My advice is: always have a plan B. That’s what I say to my students. Always know that there is something you can fall back on. I think its great to try whatever it is that you aspire to... but always have a plan B.’


Lealie RiceLeslie Rice
Sydney, New South Wales
Artist/painter/tattooist. Small business owner and part-time teacher at the National Art School.

‘I teach half a day a week, enough to keep my hand in… I love teaching but I don’t want to become too (institutionalised).’

Maggie JoelMaggie Joel
Inner West, Sydney, New South Wales
Author, Federal Government public servant. 

‘Even if you have a publishing deal that pays you in instalments like mine did, well, unless you’re independently wealthy, you basically have to have a paying job elsewhere.’

Matthew KnealeMatthew Kneale
Melbourne, Victoria
Performance project director, warehouse manager. 

'I enjoy the balance between working in the warehouse and making art. The warehouse and driving the delivery van give me the headspace to come up with ideas for projects and problem solve projects I’m working on at the time. If I only made art I think I would burn out very quickly.’

Research summary

Access here a 14-page summary of the artist careers research that includes key findings and facts. Read about:

  • How did we get the numbers?
  • How many artists are there?
  • Who are Australia’s artists? (age, gender, cultural background, disability)
  • How much do Australian artists earn?
  • How do artists earn their income?
  • What kind of skills do Australia’s professional artists have?
  • What are the issues facing artists?
  • Commentary and international comparisons
Download the summary here

Research authors

David ThrosbyProfessor David Throsby
Professor of Economics,
Macquarie University

David Throsby has been Professor of Economics at Macquarie University in Sydney since 1974. He has been a consultant to the World Bank, the OECD, FAO and UNESCO, as well as many government organisations and private firms. In 1990-1992 he chaired three of the Prime Minister's Working Groups on Ecologically Sustainable Development. In 2008 Professor Throsby was selected to take part in the Prime Minister's Australia 2020 Summit as a participant on the Towards a Creative Australia panel.

Stuart CunninghamDistinguished Professor Stuart Cunningham
Director, ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation
Board Member of the Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.

Stuart Cunningham is Distinguished Professor, Queensland University of Technology, and Director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation. This centre draws on contributions across the humanities, creative arts and social sciences to help build a more dynamic and inclusive innovation system in Australia. He is one of Australia's best-known media scholars with a special interest in policy.

The Australia Council acknowledges the invaluable work of both Professor David Throsby and Professor Stuart Cunningham and their respective teams in delivering this comprehensive update on our working artists.

Contact us

For more information please get in touch with:

Bridget Jones
Director Research & Strategic Analysis

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  • Stu St Hill 8:42pm on 17 Aug 2010
    I am Chair of the Board of Arts Upper Hunter - a voluntary position. I am also a musician playing in a well respected 6 piece band in the Hunter region. I have a day gig like all the guys but all of us would love to make a living from our life long passion. 25 years ago I left my secure day job to pursue a career in music. I was naive I guess but full of belief and passion in what I was doing. I soon found I needed to find work to support my art. To pay rent, to feed myself. When I applied for unemployment benefits back then and was honest and up front with the then CES, they told me being a musician was not a REAL job and they stopped paying me. It's been a battle ever since - even though I have married, raised a family and have a secure job. It still play, still burn with passion - and the pay is still the same. We used to work as a band for $250 supporting major Australian acts touring through Sydney and Newcastle. Pub gigs paid a little more sometimes or you did a bar deal. I did a gig last Friday night which netted me $50. There were 14 musicians in three acts netting $691 from a bar deal. Just enough to buy a beer and pay for my petrol. I'm no amateur - I'm professionally trained, was a 18 year old Australian cornet champion and have reached critical acclaim. I push as Chair of Arts Upper Hunter to value all our artists - indeed I spend much of my time convincing local governments to pay their annual contributions because art matters to their communities - that it is good for community health. When will this country put a real value on our artistic community? I love being a musician. I love providing entertainment to people, making people smile, feel, dance... I'll never stop because that is who I am, what I am. But wouldn't be nice if it was possible to make even close to a meagre living sufficient to pay my rent, child support, fuel, electricity and food bills. I sincerely understand the plight of the modern day artist... Stu Trumpet
  • Wayne Katz 1:01am on 07 Sep 2010
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the song in the video, a composition by AMERICAN band the calling. Perhaps using an Australian composition would've been more appropriate considering the subject?
  • Linda Marr 4:13pm on 07 Sep 2010
    Hear hear Stu! We must be in the only field of employment where the pay is going down rather than up :( Linda Marr
  • Svetlana Zhukova (Australia Council) 9:36am on 09 Sep 2010
    Hi Wayne, the music in the video is a royalty-free track To The Sky we obtained for this video from a stock music website. We wouldn't be able to use the Australian music track and pay adequate fees to the artist, and stock music is an affordable alternative for the promotions like this.
  • mark Richards 11:47am on 24 Sep 2010
    We need to implement a system like the Norwegian's. Artists give proof of their work and get financial assistance from the Government. Artist's work long hours on their works, plus day job hours. This is never understood by the public/government. I have one question for Julia Gillard, "What does the Arts really mean for you?" I don't think she knows.
  • SEO 12:02am on 11 Oct 2010
    It is sad sometimes to see very talented people not to be able to make enough income by doing what they love. Thank you
  • Matthew Dewey 7:43pm on 01 Nov 2010
    Ironically enough, in order to sustain me financially and enable me to continue my arts practice, I work in social security.
  • Danielle Clode 11:36am on 18 Nov 2010
    I appreciate that paying for the use of music is expensive, but the fact that the Australian Arts Council can't afford to pay an artist appropriately for their work really says as much about how we value creative work as the reports themselves. I'm sure the researchers, printers, designers etc were all paid appropriately - but the music bit wasn't as important...? That said, this is all great work and very informative. And I think the video is excellent - I'm sure far more people see it than would read the reports.
  • Ness 9:01am on 08 Dec 2010
    The video's are all very glossy and informative, great for marketing purposes, but reading the report summaries isn't a bad idea either. The Aust Council for Arts aren't always going to get it right, it is still Govt. initiative and bound by Legislation etc. They like the rest of us can only strive to "Be Excellent". This might be frustrating, but the bodies at the Council probably don't know it's 'broken' till issues are raised with them. In the end, it is just a bunch of humans trying to do something good for Aust Arts & it is part of the human condition that we all make mistakes.

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