Northwest Arkansas survey finds many entertainers aren’t making a living wage

Most artists who work in northwest Arkansas do not earn a living wage, according to the results of a recent survey.

The inaugural Creative Arkansas Community Hub and Exchange survey was conducted from Jan. 21 to Feb. 10 to better understand cultural resources in northwest Arkansas, said Simone Cottrell, office manager of arts resources for the exchange.

The group is preparing to publish a full report on the investigation soon, Cottrell said, but made preliminary results available online in July. The survey focused on regional economic trends and gaps, workforce development, minority hiring rates, creative regional resources and public art, she said. .

The Exchange is an arts service organization operated by the Northwest Arkansas Council. It works to build system-wide capacity of arts and culture organizations in the region, professional development, convocations, small-scale grants, and advocacy.

The online survey collected responses from 354 of the group’s 900 registered artists. About 73% reported an estimated annual income of $20,000 or less, Cottrell said.

The average per capita income for residents of the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metropolitan statistical area was $65,306 in 2019, according to data compiled by the Northwest Arkansas Council. The National Endowment for the Arts released findings the same year, noting that the average income for full-time working artists was $52,800 nationwide.

The exchange conducted and funded the investigation, Cottrell said. She declined to say how much it cost.

Work realities

Olivia Trimble, vice president of the Fayetteville Arts Council, participated in the survey as a self-taught muralist and sign painter.

Trimble has been an active artist for about nine years, but said she only recently started earning more than $20,000.

Trimble, 35, said limited employment and performance opportunities for some mediums – as well as a lack of information on how to collaborate with other artists, write grants or apply for support regional not-for-profit organizations – all pose challenges for regional artists trying to make a living.

“For some people, maybe they consider their art their big passion, but it has to be a side hustle so they can pay the bills,” Trimble said. “It’s a really tough place to live.”

Megha Rao, 35, established the Dhirana Academy of Classical Dance in 2008 in Bangalore, India, she said. She opened an academy of the same name to teach traditional Indian dance in Bentonville in 2018 after getting married and moving to America in 2010, she said.

Rao earns less than $20,000 a year as an artist and has said she cannot support her family on her earnings alone.

She works on outreach and performance opportunities for her students so they can earn sustainable incomes, she said.

“It becomes my duty to provide these opportunities to my students,” Rao said. “They don’t have opportunities, so they don’t want to play.”

The exchange thinks along the same lines, she said, making it a good resource for working artists. Rao said she participated in the survey to contribute to an environment where her students can feel confident that they can earn a living as dancers.

“It’s still there, but it’s very popular, and we have to struggle a lot to be able to make ends meet,” she said of regional performance opportunities.

CACHE responds

The artists’ feedback on the survey reinforced how the exchange plans to support the community, Cottrell said.

“Many artists have passed on the results of the survey and the conversations with CACHE have helped them no longer feel alone in the struggles they are going through,” she said. “Being an artist can often be a lonely experience due to the nature of creativity, which is also exacerbated by an ongoing pandemic.”

The survey results were used to create a framework to connect artists and provide resources to help them grow their businesses through the group’s arts resource office, which was established in the spring, Cottrell said.

Online resources include digital directories to find artists in specific fields, an online library with guides for organizational capacity building, and a message board to share resources and voice the need for volunteers, she said. declared.

Rao said she found the office beneficial in finding collaboration opportunities.

“I was looking for a lyricist and a content writer,” Rao said, adding that the office will provide an easy way to find someone to fill the need.

Cottrell said she likes to think of the office as a frontline tool for artists and nonprofits looking for resources.

The office even runs a hotline from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Wednesdays to offer one-on-one advice to artists on how to maximize their use of office resources, she said.

“Since May, I’ve helped a combination of 45 individuals and nonprofits through the helpline and one-on-one sessions,” Cottrell said. “That doesn’t include the many artists and nonprofits who ask for help or advice on a daily basis.”

Trimble said the office is a game-changer for local artists.

“Until very recently, I didn’t know who to call to help me with a grant,” Trimble said. “We haven’t had a resource like this.”

The work ahead

The work won’t stop with the development of the resource desk, Cottrell said.

“We want CACHE Canvas to be an annual study to track growth within our shared community and understand where additional programming is still needed to fill in the gaps,” Cottrell said.

The exchange will also research and develop programs to create living wages for artists, establish financial support for non-profit organizations, and increase skills development opportunities and resources for artists and creative organizations in the future, according to the initial survey report.

“My next mission is to develop focus groups with individual artists and nonprofits to understand how they view themselves as part of the larger NWA picture,” Cottrell said.

Focus groups are expected to begin in November, she said.

Information from the survey is also incorporated into the group’s strategic plan for the region, which will be released in the fall, Cottrell said.

“CACHE Canvas showed us that individuals, for-profit and non-profit, said they wanted the same things: an active, engaged and accessible art market, scaffolded and accessible career paths, and support for the development of public,” she said. “Knowing that similar barriers and needs are shared across many disciplines, lived experiences, and business structures is eye-opening.”

The dancers perform on Saturday August 28, 2021, while rehearsing a dance at the Kalaloka Institute of Fine Arts in Bentonville. Creative Arkansas Community Hub and Exchange will share the results of its first survey of Northwest Arkansas arts and culture. The survey covered regional economic trends and gaps, workforce development, minority employment rates, creative regional resources and public art. Visit nwaonline.com/210829Daily/ for today’s photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)

Megha Rao, director of the Dhirana Academy of Classical Dance, teaches dancers on Saturday August 28, 2021, while rehearsing a dance at the Kalaloka Institute of Fine Arts in Bentonville.  Creative Arkansas Community Hub and Exchange will share the results of its first survey of Northwest Arkansas arts and culture.  The survey covered regional economic trends and gaps, workforce development, minority employment rates, creative regional resources and public art.  Visit nwaonline.com/210829Daily/ for today's photo gallery.  (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)

Megha Rao, director of the Dhirana Academy of Classical Dance, teaches dancers on Saturday August 28, 2021, while rehearsing a dance at the Kalaloka Institute of Fine Arts in Bentonville. Creative Arkansas Community Hub and Exchange will share the results of its first survey of Northwest Arkansas arts and culture. The survey covered regional economic trends and gaps, workforce development, minority employment rates, creative regional resources and public art. Visit nwaonline.com/210829Daily/ for today’s photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)

Rachael Thumma, 17, of Bentonville, dances on Saturday August 28, 2021, while rehearsing a dance at the Kalaloka Institute of Fine Arts in Bentonville.  Creative Arkansas Community Hub and Exchange will share the results of its first survey of Northwest Arkansas arts and culture.  The survey covered regional economic trends and gaps, workforce development, minority employment rates, creative regional resources and public art.  Visit nwaonline.com/210829Daily/ for today's photo gallery.  (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)

Rachael Thumma, 17, of Bentonville, dances on Saturday August 28, 2021, while rehearsing a dance at the Kalaloka Institute of Fine Arts in Bentonville. Creative Arkansas Community Hub and Exchange will share the results of its first survey of Northwest Arkansas arts and culture. The survey covered regional economic trends and gaps, workforce development, minority employment rates, creative regional resources and public art. Visit nwaonline.com/210829Daily/ for today’s photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)

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Arts Resource Office

The Creative Arkansas Community Hub and Exchange Arts Resource Desk can be accessed at https://cachecreate.org/arts-resource-desk/.

Source: Creative Arkansas Community Hub and Exchange

Michael A. Bynum