Australian artists earn less than most professionals, with many having to work second or third jobs to pay the bills, a new study shows. Headed by Professor David Throsby and Katya Petetskaya from Macquarie University, Making Art Work: An Economic Study of Professional Artists in Australia reveals that the average total annual income for professional artists in Australia is 21 percent lower than the average pay packet.

The average Australian female artist is even worse off, reflecting the gender pay gap that exists in most industries. Though generally better educated and spending an equal amount of time on creative work as male artists, women artists earn a much lower income: $15,400 compared to $22,100 in the 2014-15 financial year. In other words, female artists earn 25 percent less than male artists overall, and 30 percent less for creative work. In fact, the income gap between men and women is more pronounced in the arts than across all industries in Australia, and is particularly evident for women writers, visual artists and musicians.

The disparity for artists with a disability is even greater – those who are differently abled earn 42 percent less overall than able-bodied artists.

The report shows that the income artists receive from their creative work has also fallen 19 percent below what they were paid in 2009. Almost eight in 10 artists are taking on other work, mostly out of necessity. Of this group, 66 percent of artists state they would like to spend more time on their creative practice.

On a more optimistic note, the report also highlights that artists’ skills and capabilities are considered to be among those least likely to be automated, but this is tempered by the fact that the changing digital world poses both opportunities and challenges.

“There are more ways to connect with audiences and distribute work, but also greater exposure to unauthorised exploitation of ideas and labours,” Throsby explained.

In terms of digital opportunities, almost seven in 10 artists regularly use technology to create art, with 27 percent using the Internet to create collaborative or interactive art with others, up from 14 percent in 2009. Four in 10 artists are selling work online through their own websites, while the same proportion is selling through third party sites.

The research, funded by the Australia Council, was released with a statement from CEO Tony Grybowski emphasising the importance of ensuring that the value, identity and economy of artists is not further compromised.

“If we want Australian stories to keep being told and Australia’s diverse artistic talent to succeed locally and internationally we must consider the support structures, protections and remuneration of Australian artists,” he said.

In response to the report, the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) has released its own statement calling for improved support of artists.

“NAVA welcomes this comprehensive study, which affirms and amplifies the findings of our own recent research,” said Esther Anatolitis, Executive Director. “While it’s heartening to see clear evidence of new leaps across artform, discipline and technology, it’s alarming to see the decline in artists’ incomes, career confidence, and respect for artists’ rights and control over their work,” she said. “It’s equally alarming to see that gender inequality in income and career opportunity has now become ‘a serious problem’. Exposing the precarious working conditions facing more and more artists, Making Art Work identifies a critical mass of policy opportunities to which governments at all levels must respond with urgency.”