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Report: US has 2.1 million working artists

Artists getting ready for the big debut of Art Los Angeles Contemporary.
Steve Proffitt
FILE PHOTO: An artist preparing for a show at a L.A. museum

A new study by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) reports that there are 2.1 million working artists in the United States. California and New York host the largest number of these artists.

The study uses four years of census survey data to profile America's professional artists and many trends arose.

Most of the artists in the U.S. have a bachelor's degree but still typically make less than their educated non-artist counterparts in the workforce.

But there's an upside to the pay cut: Many working artists are their own boss. They are three and a half times more likely to be self-employed and entrepreneurial.

NEA researcher Sunil Iyengar says L.A. in particular has a much higher ratio of entrepreneurial artists; five times the national average.

"You know, I think this kind of adaptability to adverse financial circumstances or whether it's to different types of content knowledge moving from one space to another, those are traits that other segments of the workforce might do well to emulate," Iyengar says.

Iyengar says some types of artists have to be more adept to adverse financial circumstances than others.

The NEA report says the best paying artists are architects and producers, jobs held mostly by men. Dancers and choreographers are near the bottom of the pay scale. These jobs have the highest percentage of minority workers and are held mostly by women.