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This Research paper com­mis­sioned by a‑n The Artists Infor­ma­tion Com­pa­ny is part of a series which first began in 2007 as a means of pro­vid­ing on-going evi­dence and insight on the con­text for, and nature of, employ­ment for visu­al artists. By ref­er­enc­ing data from pri­or years, Artists work in 2016 iden­ti­fies the impli­ca­tions of changes in the con­di­tions for artists’ employ­ment and liveli­hoods and pro­pos­es some areas for con­sid­er­a­tion by those charged with for­mu­lat­ing pol­i­cy and mea­sur­ing the eco­nom­ic and social impact of the arts.

Conditions for artists' employment

The Creative Industries Federation suggests 47% of workers are self-employed within the creative industries, in which the visual arts is part. Research by a-n has found that at least half of all visual artists are self-employed, and when those with self-employed and employed status in parallel are included, the figure rises to 81%. Thus within the creative industries as a whole, visual artists are more likely to be those for whom ‘looking for work’ is a constant and continuous activity and having immediate access to paid opportunities is paramount to the pursuit of an artistic practice over time.

Prior creative industries research concluded that the prevailing conditions are more conducive to workers under 35, and present inherent disadvantages for those from ethnic minority groups and for disabled people and women with or wishing to take on family responsibilities. UK arts funding bodies however have a stated commitment to reducing social and economic disadvantage and inequality across the publicly-funded arts.


The 2016 data reveals a substantial decline in the value of openly-offered work for artists since 2007, the UK's the pre-recession year.

In 2007, the total value of work for artists at £26.8m was 17% higher than the 2016 value at £22.18m. If the 2007 figure was translated into relative value for 2016, so that it matched the purchasing power of 2007, the total value would need to be £34.16m, or 54% higher.

Comparison with 2013 shows that by 2016, the average value of a residency, award, competition or commission opportunity reduced and 28% of these made no financial contribution to artists' livelihoods.

In terms of the sectors providing employment to artists, prior reports show that between 2009 and 2011 employer patterns remained fairly steady with the HE/FE sector the major employer. In 2012, arts organisations and the HE/FE sector were neck-and-neck, and local authority employment in third place. By 2013, employment from arts organisations had grown to 33% while that from local authorities had declined to just 3%.

In 2016, the HE/FE sector with 42% of all paid work was the largest UK employer type, arts organisations with 31% were in second place while employment from local authorities had reduced further to 2%.

Consideration of 2016 findings within the underlying conditions for the visual arts concludes that artists' ability to sustain their practice and livelihoods is undermined and the inherent disadvantages of the creative industries are amplified when:

  • The overall value of openly-offered opportunities decreases in real terms and the monetary value of individual opportunities reduces.
  • Artists are expected in pursuit of their artistic ambitions to be willing and able to go wherever the work is and to continually adapt their practices to the needs and expectations of employers and the types of employment on offer.
  • There is no requirement for publicly-funded opportunities to be openly-offered and the 'recommendation route' for appointing artists is favoured over open application.

Artists work in 2016 was commissioned and is published by a-n The Artists Information Company.

Read and download for free from the Research Index at


Creative Freelancers, Creative Industries Federation, 2017

Jones, S (2012), Artists’ work in 2011, a-n The Artists Information Company.

Bell, J, Scott, J (2015), Joint Visual Arts Submission to the Treasury Spending Review, a-n The Artists Information Company.

McRobbie, A (2016), Be creative: making a living in the new culture industries, Polity Press.

Hesmondhalgh, D and Baker, S (2009), ‘A very complicated version of freedom’: Conditions and experiences of creative labour in three cultural industries, Poetics.