It has long seemed self-evident to many of us that Santa Barbara has a larger concentration of artists than most American cities. Well, there are now official government statistics to back up that belief.

The National Endowment for the Arts released a report Thursday entitled “Artists in the Workforce, 1990-2005.” Among its many interesting bits of information, the survey ranks the country’s top ten metropolitan areas in terms of the percentage of artists in the labor force.

The Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Lompoc region (which presumably includes the Santa Ynez Valley) ranked ninth in the nation, with 2.25 percent of residents listing an artistic pursuit as their primary occupation.

Four of the top ten artist-rich areas are in California, with San Francisco at number one. Artists represent a remarkable 3.71 percent of that city’s workforce. Ultra-artsy Santa Fe, N.M. was number two, followed by Los Angeles-Long Beach in third place. Santa Cruz-Watsonville also made the list, at number seven.

Breaking down the numbers to look at specific occupations is quite revealing. Santa Barbara doesn’t make the top ten list for musicians, writers, dancers, or designers. (Nor on we on the list of top cities for “announcers,” a dubious category in which Alexandria, LA. comes out on top.)

We do make the top 10 list for cities with professional actors, at number ten. Los Angeles, not surprisingly, is number one, with Ventura at number six.

Santa Barbara also makes the top ten list of producers and directors (at number five) and photographers (number three). Perhaps surprisingly, we don’t make the top ten in the category of “Fine artists, art directors, and animators,” but San Luis Obispo does, at number ten.

Altogether, according to the report, just short of two million Americans identify an artistic pursuit as their primary occupation. Another 300,000 consider it a secondary occupation. The two million represent 1.4 percent of the nation’s labor force a number that has remained steady since 1990, after doubling between 1970 and 1990.

“Artists are 3.5 times more likely (than other workers) to be self-employed,” NEA Chairman Dana Gioia notes in his executive summary of the report. “American artists have learned to be creative not merely in their chosen fields, but also in how they manage their lives.”

Another finding many local creative types can identify with: “Artists are twice as likely to have earned a college degree as other members of the labor force, though they receive relatively less financial compensation for their educational level.”

But the joy of self-expression makes up for the lack of monetary compensation. Doesn’t it?


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