Erie Vital Signs

Presence of Arts and Cultural Activities: Artists as a Percent of all Jobs

Recent Performance

Erie’s performance relative to the nation is weak for this indicator.

Nationally, “artists” account for about 0.77% of all jobs—not quite 8/10 of one percent. In Erie County, that number is about 0.41%--not much more than half the national rate.

We must be a bit cautious about these numbers, though. They reflect people who hold jobs which have a selected group of titles (listed below), and those who have their own one-person businesses as independent artists and that bring in revenue of at least $1,000 a year. By these criteria, it is easy to miss many people who consider themselves artists, but only work part time, or off the books. By the first criterion (artists who work for someone else), Erie County lists no employment at all in the categories of art directors, fine artists (sculptors, painters, illustrators), multimedia artists and animators, musicians, writers and authors, and camera operators (TV, video, motion pictures) among others. Still, the same rules apply nationally as in Erie, yet the resulting percentages are nevertheless quite different.

The Basics

As the name says, this indicator presents the number of artists as a percent of all jobs in the local economy. This includes artists either as employees of others, or as self-employed artists.

Why is this important?

According to the Urban Institute: “We think this measure is indicative of support because we know from our research that most artists depend upon a range of formal and informal resources including training, employment, grants, awards, gifts, materials, workspace, and validation. Areas with more people earning money as artists indicate that those communities also may have more of these types of resources—important to artists and also to the robustness of important aspects of the cultural scene in general. In this regard, our interpretation of the density of artists differs from traditional conceptions that consider groups of artists as merely collections of individual artists that happen to aggregate near one another. Instead, we see concentrations of employed artists as signals of an underlying system of formal and informal opportunities and resources that enable artists to be employed or self-employed. From this perspective, a place with a high density of employed artists provides an indication that the place has a cultural ecological system supporting the development of artists in such a way that artists are able to find employment.” (Jackson et al, p. 40-41)

The Details

This indicator is one of the Urban Institute’s “Tier One” indicators, meaning that these indicators use data from respected sources, that are available annually down to the metro area level, and are comparable across areas.

The Urban Institute’s approach to this indicator is an interesting—and hybrid—one. It includes occupational data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey. This will capture people who work for others in jobs with selected titles that the Urban Institute has identified as “artists.” (Details are below.) But it also includes data from the U.S. Census Bureau's Nonemployer Statistics program. This source is technically a count of establishments—businesses, not people. But these are businesses that, as the name implies, have no employees. As the Census Bureau says: “Most nonemployers are self-employed individuals operating unincorporated businesses (known as sole proprietorships), which may or may not be the owner's principal source of income.” In other words, these are not necessarily full-time jobs, but they bring in enough income to require income tax filing—receipts of at least $1,000 per year.

The Nitty-Gritty Details

This indicator makes use of the Urban Institute’s recommended procedure which, in the OES dataset, counts the following occupational categories as artists:
• Art directors (27-1011)
• Fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and illustrators (27-1013)
• Multimedia artists and animators (27-1014)
• Photographers (27-4021)
• Camera operators, television, video, and motion picture (27-4031)
• Actors (27-2011)
• Producers and directors (27-2012)
• Dancers (27-2031)
• Choreographers (27-2032)
• Music directors and composers (27-2041)
• Musicians and singers (27-2042)
• Writers and authors (27-3043)
From the Nonemployer Statistics, the following industry is also used:
NAICS 7115, Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers.


This indicator has no subcategories.

Peer Areas

This indicator include data on Erie County and the United States as a whole.




Additional Studies and Research

Maria Rosario Jackson, Florence Kabwasa-Green, and Joaquín Herranz. Cultural Vitality in Communities: Interpretation and Indicators. Culture, Creativity, and Communities Program, The Urban Institute, 2006.

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