Nearly Two-Thirds of Artists and Creative Workers Report Becoming Unemployed

Friday, April 24, 2020

Americans for the Arts

Americans for the Arts reports that of more than 10,000 artists and creative worker responses so far to the new COVID-19 Impact Survey for Artists and Creative Workers, 62% have become fully unemployed because of COVID-19 and 95% have experienced income loss from COVID-19. The average decline in estimated total annual income per creative worker for 2020 is $27,103.

The survey was designed by Americans for the Arts and launched on April 8 as part of Artist Relief to better identify and address the needs of artists and creative workers, highlight the resiliency and generosity of the creative sector, and ensure that the 5 million creative workers in the United States are supported and advocated for during the ongoing crisis and eventual recovery. Respondents include practicing artists, teaching artists, creative workers, culture bearers, and hobby artists. Real-time survey results can be viewed at

Creative and financial impacts are deeply felt by survey respondents (data as of April 21, 2020):

  • 80% do not yet have a plan to recover from the crisis
  • 36% had savings to cover three months of expenses prior to COVID-19, and only 20% do now
  • 28% had no savings prior to COVID-19, and 53% have no savings now
  • 31% also work non-creative jobs – and of those, 49% have been furloughed or laid off
  • 80% report a decline in revenue-generating creative productivity
  • 66% say they can't access supplies/resources/spaces/people necessary for their creative work

To sustain their creative work during the coronavirus pandemic, respondents pointed to the following resources as critical:

  • Unemployment insurance, with eligibility for freelancers
  • No-interest/forgivable business loans, available for freelancers
  • Food and housing assistance
  • Access to affordable healthcare
  • Paid sick leave, available for freelancers

Despite unprecedented hardship, artists and creative workers are helping their own communities:

  • 75% say they have used or plan to use their creative practice to address the needs of the community
  • 77% say they have used their creative practice to raise morale, create community cohesion, or generally lighten the experience of the community (67% of them have done it without being compensated for time or materials)
  • 82% say they will deploy their creativity to support the recovery and 47% say they will do so whether or not they get paid to do it

“It is remarkable that in the midst of this crisis creative workers are facing, they’re making art at an extraordinary rate, often for free, because they know their communities need it right now even at their own hardship. Art raises morale, creates community cohesion, and lightens the darkness,” said Robert L. Lynch, President and CEO of Americans for the Arts. “Even as the creative backbone of the United States is breaking financially, creative workers stand ready to be part of the recovery – often whether they’ll end up being paid to deploy their creativity or not. However, they do indeed need to be paid. These survey results will prove to be a key piece to further our local, state, and federal policy efforts specific to individual creative workers in the next phase of COVID-19 recovery. Americans for the Arts is steadfastly committed to ensuring that creative workers can sustain their practice.”  

“The results of Americans for the Arts’s Impact Survey are sobering. While it is heartening to see artists do what they can for their communities, this data makes it clear that creative workers need significant advocacy on their behalf to ensure they survive this crisis,” said Deana Haggag, President & CEO of United States Artists, an Artist Relief coaltion member.

In terms of policy solutions, Americans for the Arts has been working with coalition partners representing the broad arts sector and the nonprofit sector to strengthen the key provisions recently secured through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. With state and local arts advocacy leaders reaching out to their members of Congress and state officeholders, Americans for the Arts is working to build a stronger future for creative workers who operate as self-employed, freelance, or independent contractors.

The survey will remain open indefinitely. Americans for the Arts is conducting the survey in partnership with a consortium of funders who have created the Artist Relief organization, a $10 million national emergency relief fund for artists and creative workers that will provide $5,000 no-strings-attached grants. It is intended for anyone who earns income from their creative or artistic practice and who has also been affected by COVID-19.

The fund consists of $5 million in seed funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation matched with $5 million in initial contributions from an array of foundations across the United States. Organizers will continue to fundraise beyond the launch of the grant program to assist with the rapidly escalating needs of the country's artists.

Visit Americans for the Arts’ Coronavirus Resource and Response Center for up-to-date news and resources for the arts and culture field.