Plunge in Performing Arts Jobs

Up to now, paid employment at performing arts companies has held up pretty well in the downturn. In 2010 the number of jobs at music, theater, dance, and similar groups was only about 6% below the 2007 level, a decent performance considering the depth of the downturn.

But in the last few months cuts in funding seem to have finally hit hard. Over the past year, employment at  performing arts companies has dropped  a sharp 16%,  according to today’s figures from the BLS. Performing arts employment is now at the lowest level since 1990.  

The chart below shows the year over year change in performing arts employment, based on a 3-month moving average.

In all likelihood, this will not be the end of the decline, since funding is still being cut.For example, the Alabama State Council on the Arts has cut its grants to state arts groups by 25% for the next fiscal year. For the performing arts, this is the moment where recession turns into depression.


  1. So unfortunate. This should be tagged with depressing as well as depression.

  2. Eh, long overdue. If you need to steal tax money to survive, you shouldn’t be around. It is easier than ever for these groups to find an audience because of the internet. If nobody wants to pay for them still, they deserve to die out.

  3. Well of course what the world REALLY needs is more top B-school grads to run those banks….

  4. Ajay’s judicious comment only leaves one question open: is it more virtuous to steal tax money to survive as an arms company, or as a theater company?

  5. I just think everything should die that doesn’t provide for ME!

  6. Believing that Theater should be cut and should not be around in hard times is pretty bullshit.

  7. Ajay’s comment is ignorant and unfortunate…and I fear demonstrative of many people’s perceptions. Arts funding accounts for a fraction of a percent of your tax dollar. No non-profit arts organization has ever been able to survive on a system similar to the for-profit sector. Hence, the term “non-profit”! The public’s expectation is to get a reasonably priced ticket, but all of the artists and administrators who do this work still expect (parish the thought) to make some kind of living and pay their bills. If non-profit theater, dance and music organizations charged what a ticket would have to cost in order to pay their staff and artists- without subsidizing from government grants and individual and corporate donations- the public would balk and not buy tickets. As it is, many people are eliminating or reducing their entertainment budgets- which is part of the problem that arts organizations are encountering. Then everyone can sit at home by themselves and be entertained by the internet versus finding a show to go to on the web, because there will be nothing left to leave the house to go see.

  8. davidb, it is your comment that is ignorant and unfortunate. If “non-profit” arts groups can’t get people to buy tickets, perhaps they should disband and do something else, as clearly not enough people want to watch their tripe. Holding a gun to taxpayers’ heads to subsidize their piffle is just ridiculous, and it is a giant joke that such cowboy poetry was ever subsidized in the first place. I don’t know if you noticed but newspapers, radio, TV, and all kinds of for-profit broadcast media are failing left and right, yet people have more choices than ever online and with for-profit live shows. If non-profit groups can’t hack it without forcing taxpayers to pay them, they should go away: that’s how the market and life work.

    • You are the ignoramus (or troll) here. The arts are a public good. Some people don’t have the money to pay the fully loaded price needed to support artists and performers. At most times, in part continuing today, artists catered mostly to the wealthy elites to support themselves. Today, star performers can perform before large public audiences only because of electronic amplifiers and sound systems. Many stars are hired for small private performances by the wealthy, like a few centuries ago, when many of the greats were court composers, created portraits of successful merchants (no photography!), etc.

    • Back in the day, and that also continues these days, public performances were not too rarely funded by wealthy benefactors who saw that some external party has to pay for public entertainment.

    • The only troll I see is the one spouting an irrelevant history lesson and then flatly declaiming that everyone else must pay for their favorite “arts.” There is no shortage of artists today who collect small amounts from thousands or even millions of fans to get by, particularly with the aid of the internet. If there are some performers who can’t hack it, perhaps they should go flip some burgers. 🙂

      • Aside from the artists, the “arts” also encompass the public infrastructure (public in the sense of used for public performances/exhibitions, not necessarily owned by the public). This infrastructure is as expensive as other infrastructure, and has to be kept up to remain usable. For art events, you need venues that support and give justice to the performance. E.g. in a theatrical context, there are minimalist plays that can do with little stage decoration, but for many performances you need more elaborate stage setups and props. For concerts the venue has to have certain acoustics, sound proofing, etc. For exhibition space, you need certain lighting and air conditioning (humidity), not to speak of other qualifications like the ability to admit and handle certain crowd sizes. Only a relatively small subset of all art fits into the mp3/mpeg format. That you brush aside everything else conveys a sense of cultural impoverishment, if you mean it seriously. But you probably don’t.

    • Please, you are clutching at straws with your ever loonier rationalizations. There are plenty of private venues: where do you think the for-profit artists perform? Nobody ever mentioned online audio/video till you just did: I specifically talked broadly about finding an audience online, with the possibility of live shows. If your arts group is so inept that you can’t even market yourself online, yet another reason you shouldn’t be doing it. Of course, I do prefer the mpeg recordings- and unless you are going to those new smell-o-vision movies, there’s nothing that doesn’t fit into an electronic format- but there are obviously plenty of people who still cling to outmoded forms, 😉 like live shows or silent movies.

      • Live performance is the ONE place where we can experience something together as a community. How many people can you fit around a computer screen. You may want a society that is all ‘if you aren’t rich it is your fault’ but I would like a society that places the community at the center of life. If not; we will all be sitting in cubicles watching screens and no one will be able to say ‘you should have been there’. Let’s just look at history and see what great societies did not incorporate art and education into public life…

      • Aah, but nobody said live performance would go away and you are silly to even suggest it. In fact, because most performers can’t make much money off the internet and broadcast media are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, as I noted before, there is currently a resurgence of for-profit live performance, whether musicians putting on more concerts because CD sales are in the crapper or comedians doing more live shows. While I personally don’t much care for live performance, that’s not the issue: the issue is whether the govt should continue forcing taxpayers to fund the small group of unprofitable artists who can’t support themselves through their audience. And the answer to that is easy, it’s “NO!”


  1. […] The depression in performing arts jobs; not mainly a nominal problem by the […]

  2. […] For the performing arts, this is the moment where recession turns into depression. See data at the […]

  3. […] living in creative fields. Many are forced to go freelance because they are losing their jobs: A new report shows that even well after the official end of the recession, slashed state budgets are making things […]

  4. […] facts are hard to dispute – just look at this graph by economist Michael Mandel, which shows the precipitous decline in performing arts employment from 2006 – 2011. I don’t […]

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