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Creating Art as a Second Job

A new NEA report suggests more than a quarter-million Americans have a side job as an artist or musician.
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(Photo: melis/Shutterstock)

(Photo: melis/Shutterstock)

As we recently reported, it seems a lot of Americans are confused over whether it’s appropriate to call themselves “artists.” That question is even muddier for those who have a day job and pursue their creative calling in their off hours.

Just-released research from the National Endowment for the Arts suggests quite a few Americans fit that description.

The federal agency reports that, in 2013, 2.1 million workers had, as their primary occupation, a job that fell into the “artist” category (including musician, writer, and designer). Another 271,000 or so reported their second job—the one where they put in fewer hours than their main job—fit that description.

The unemployment rate for people whose primary career fits into the "artist" category was 7.1 percent for 2013.

“Twelve percent of all artist jobs in 2013 were secondary employment,” the report summary states.

By a wide margin, the top moonlighting jobs involved making music. Approximately 84,000 Americans played an instrument or sang as a secondary occupation.

Other popular arts-related second careers included working as a designer (36,200), photographer (32,100), announcer (29,300), fine artist (26,700), or writer (24,700).

“Most people with a second job in the arts have a primary job in the professional category,” the NEA reports. “These are occupations that usually require college training, such as doctors, lawyers, teachers, artists, social workers, clergy and librarians.”

“Nearly 21 percent of all workers holding second jobs as artists were teachers,” the report notes. Another 18 percent reported their primary occupation was also as an artist, meaning they spent part of their work week on one artistic pursuit and part on another.

The report also looked at employment trends for artists, which are less than encouraging.

The unemployment rate for people whose primary career fits into the “artist” category was 7.1 percent for 2013. That doesn’t sound so bad until you note that the overall unemployment rate for “professionals,” the broader category artists are grouped under, was 3.6 percent.

“Artists and designers were among the hardest-hit occupations (in the recent recession),” the NEA writes. “While both have halved the 10 to 11 percent unemployment rates they faced in 2009, neither is back to pre-recession employment rates of 1 to 3 percent."

Not surprisingly, professional actors had the highest unemployment rate of all the artistic professions listed, at 31.8 percent. That’s down from 38.5 percent in 2010.

While such figures are sobering, it's important to keep in mind that artists tend to enjoy their work more than the rest of us. That sense of satisfaction is presumably why they keep plugging away at it, even in a tough labor market—and why so many who have accepted the need to work in a more stable field still pursue their art in their off hours.