Press Release
OCT 19, 2021

Arts Commission: If You Like Art, Support Artists


[CAMBRIDGE, MA | October 19, 2021] There is a fundamental contradiction at the center of American attitudes about art, that is then reflected in national arts policy: Americans enjoy and value artistic creations of all kinds, but remain skeptical about the role of the artist, and undervalue creative work.

According to recent surveys, 81 percent of Americans believe the arts are “a positive experience in a troubled world,” but only 22 percent believe artists contribute “a lot” to the general good of society.

A new report, Art is Work: Policies to Support Creative Workers, from the Commission on the Arts of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences says that we cannot separate the arts from the artists in this way, and that our nation’s creative workers, so often forgotten in policy discussions, are in desperate need of assistance, especially in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic.

The Commission, chaired by actor and author John Lithgow, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts President Deborah Rutter, and two-time United States Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey, is comprised of 38 other artists, scholars, and activists, all of whom contributed their time and expertise to this multi-year effort. Speaking from the diversity of perspectives on the Commission, they recommend ways to better recognize the value of artists in our national policy in order to enable the essential work they do.

“For an artist, the work is something you have to do—a necessary articulation of the self, the soul,” Trethewey observes. “While it’s wonderful to get lost experiencing a poem, a song, or movie, we cannot lose sight of the fact that creative workers make their art and share it with us despite very little support. With this report, we seek to recognize the work of art.”

Art is Work: Policies to Support Creative Workers  Click here to access Art is Work

Art is Work documents a creative economy in peril. Before the pandemic, arts and culture supplied approximately 4.5 percent of the gross domestic product. In 2019, the sector was larger than construction, travel and tourism, or agriculture. But by summer 2020, according to The Brookings Institution estimates, 2.7 million jobs and more than $150 billion in sales of goods and services related to the arts had been lost due to pandemic-related restrictions.

“What the pandemic did was pull back the curtain on how artists live and work, which is with little structural support and next to no agency in our society. What creative people do matters, it has value and should be recognized accordingly.” says Rutter. “When people are at their most joyful, or in their darkest moments, they turn to art to celebrate or to soothe. Whatever the medium—music, dance, theater, a favorite poem, a book—someone created it, and that someone has value.”

To support for creative workers, Art is Work sets forth four key principles:

  1. Include artists in federal policy-making decisions;
  2. Recognize how creative work happens, through the investment of time and labor;
  3. Make equity a central feature of grant-making and other forms of support;
  4. Think locally and share nationally, so that creative endeavors, which are by nature local, do not become siloed.

“Our rich and diverse culture is the heart of America. It is also among our greatest gifts to the world,” says Lithgow. “It is so important to recognize the people who make the things we all enjoy, and to support them the way we would support any other working member of our society.”

The new report builds on a previous study from the Commission, Art for Life’s Sake: The Case for Arts Education, which was released in September and examined the challenges of access to arts education in public schools, and offered recommendations ensure greater support for the subject.

“This report of our Commission on the Arts comes at a critical time, as we return to the vibrant, diverse culture we all have missed for too long,” said Academy president David Oxtoby. “The American Academy of Arts & Sciences is grateful for the work of the commission members who produced Art is Work and we hope it begins to improve our nation’s policies surrounding the creative economy.”

The Commission is funded by the Barr Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Getty Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and Roger and Victoria Sant.

The new report is online in its entirety.



Commission on the Arts

John A. Lithgow, Deborah F. Rutter, and Natasha D. Trethewey