Art Is Work


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Commission on the Arts

“I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.”
—John Fitzgerald Kennedy, U.S. President


Art is fueled by a creative spirit, a need for self-expression, passion, and joy. But for all its exuberance, art is the product of rigorous discipline and arduous training. It is hard work, and artists are workers. Their work is essential to every society and culture. Like all workers they need to be paid for their work, but if they are paid nothing, or are underpaid, many will make art anyway. But this status quo is not enough. A healthy society must make every effort to guarantee the livelihood and dignity of its artists. Underlying the spirit of this report, and of the Commission, is the feeling that now is the time to reframe how we think about artists. Now is the time to recognize the immense value of artists’ contributions and to ask ourselves: How much more could be done if it was done with full support?

The artists, designers, culture bearers, and craftspeople who make up the creative workforce need to be recognized and included in the policies coming out of Washington, D.C., and filtering down to states and localities. The pipeline of new talent must be open to all, and the creative workforce supported in all its diversity. Without those supports, the precarity recently exposed by the pandemic could lead to a narrower, more risk averse, and less innovative workforce.

The proposals and recommendations presented in this report are not modest, nor should they be. The challenges for the arts and creative workforce are great and so must be the solutions. The Commission believes, however, that the opportunities are even greater—the opportunities to nurture the artists and creative workforce essential to a flourishing, innovation-based economy and equitable society.