Art Has a White Problem
When I imagine an artist living in New York this image first comes to my mind: a white male with a well-trimmed beard lounging in his stylish penthouse apartment – hardly a starving artist. And according to the collective BFAMFAPhD’s project “Census Report,” my initial image is a rather accurate one. The goal behind “Census Report” was to analyze the demographics of New York City’s art world. It is an interactive website that allows you to explore the data surrounding these demographics by selecting filters and provides visuals for the data using graphs. The collective found some rather alarming data; the art community (consisting of working artists and persons with art degrees) is 200% whiter than New York’s general population. Art appears to have a very extreme diversity problem. BFAMFAPhD - which stands for Bachelor’s in Fine Arts, Master’s in Fine Arts and Doctorate of Philosophy - is a collective of artists, designer, technologists, curators, architects, educators and analysts with the goal of figuring out how much an art degree is actually worth. By analyzing the debt, rent and other financial pressures of artists – particularly the financial pressure of recieving a college degree in art - “Census Report” was intended to answer their query. But what their research found spurred a more interesting conversation concerning race in the art world. Only thirty three percent of New York City’s population is white but they make up seventy four percent of New Yorkers with art degrees and seventy four percent of people who make a living as artists in the city. In New York it appears only white non- Hispanic persons can live off of being an artist. I had some fun exploring all the data with all the filters and did some of my own research. According to “Census Report,” I was also right about assuming the New York artist to be male. The project found that fifty five percent of persons who classified themselves as full-time artists were male. In a typical art museum, ninety five percent of the artwork displayed will be created by a male and only five percent of the space will be given to women. The report also found that female artists make eighty one cents for every one dollar a male artist makes – the wage gap even exists in the art world’s supposed liberalness. Through the “Census Report” project I, also discovered that being an artist doesn’t mean you’ll starve… but only if you’re white. According to the project, if you’re white, being an artist has little to no impact on whether or not you are rent burdened. In fact, white non-artists are more likely to be severely rent burdened than white artists. The same could not be said for artists of color who not only were more likely to be severely rent burdened than their white colleagues, but also were more likely to be severely rent burdened than non- artists of the same ethnicity. It appears that the only persons who can receive art degrees or make any sort of living off of being an artist are rich white males. A community of artists and thinkers that all have the same background, experiences and outlook will create a homogeneous culture. In order to support artists of color, alternative educational institutions must be provided for free or at a low cost. Perhaps more scholarships could be made for student artists of color. BFAMFAPhD also encourages other creators to “resist, rethink, and reform the dominant, inequitable art/world” that oppresses women and persons of color. They must resist promoting the elite racist and sexist institutions that promote exclusion and oppression. Change has to happen within the art community. Art dealers, critics and curators have to be aware of the influence they have over the community and use it to their advantage. The fact that persons of color have such a disadvantage even in the art community is very telling of the systematic obstacles that have been put in their way in all aspects of society.