Most of the working artists in Northwest Arkansas don't earn a living wage, according to the results of a recent survey.
The inaugural Creative Arkansas Community Hub and Exchange survey was conducted Jan. 21 through Feb. 10 to gain a better understanding of Northwest Arkansas' cultural resources, said Simone Cottrell, arts resource desk manager for the exchange.
The group is preparing to release a full report on the survey soon, Cottrell said, but made the preliminary results available online in July. The survey focused on regional economic trends and gaps, workforce development, minority hiring rates, creative regional resources and public art, she said.
The exchange is an arts services organization run by the Northwest Arkansas Council. It works to build systemwide capacity of the region's arts and culture organizations, professional development, convenings, small-scale grants and advocacy.
The online survey garnered responses from 354 of the group's 900 registered artists. About 73% reported an estimated annual income of $20,000 or less, Cottrell said.
The average per capita income for Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metropolitan statistical area residents was $65,306 in 2019, according to data compiled by the Northwest Arkansas Council. The National Endowment for the Arts released findings that same year noting the average income for full-time working artists was $52,800 nationally.
The exchange conducted and funded the survey, Cottrell said. She declined to say how much it cost.
Olivia Trimble, Fayetteville Arts Council vice chairwoman, participated in the survey as a self-taught muralist and sign painter.
Trimble has been a working artist for about nine years but said she's only recently started earning an income above $20,000.
Trimble, 35, said limited employment and performance opportunities for some mediums -- as well as a lack of information on how to collaborate with other artists, write grants or seek support from regional nonprofit organizations -- all pose challenges for regional artists trying to make a living.
"For some people, they look at their art maybe as their great passion, but it has to be a side hustle so that they can pay the bills," Trimble said. "That's a really challenging place to be in."
Megha Rao, 35, first started Dhirana Academy of Classical Dance in 2008 in Bangalore, India, she said. She opened an academy of the same name to teach traditional Indian dancing in Bentonville in 2018 after getting married and relocating to America in 2010, she said.
Rao earns less than $20,000 a year annually as a working artist and said she couldn't sustain her family with her income alone.
She is working toward building awareness and performance opportunities for her students so they can earn sustainable incomes, she said.
"It becomes my duty to provide those opportunities to my students," Rao said. "They don't have opportunities, so they don't want to perform."
The exchange thinks along the same lines, she said, making it a good resource for working artists. Rao said she participated in the survey to contribute to an environment in which her students can feel confident they can make a living as dancers.
"It's still there, but it's very grassroots, and we have to struggle a lot to be able to make ends meet," she said of regional performance opportunities.
Artist feedback to the survey reinforced how the exchange is planning to support the community, Cottrell said.
"Many artists conveyed the survey results and conversations with CACHE helped them no longer feel alone in the struggles that they were experiencing," she said. "Being an artist can often be a lonely experience because of the nature of creativity, which is also exacerbated by an ongoing pandemic."
The survey results were used to build a framework to connect artists and provide resources to help them develop their businesses through the group's arts resource desk, which was established in the spring, Cottrell said.
The online resources include digital directories for finding artists in specific fields, an online library with guides for organizational capacity building and a message board for sharing resources and expressing the need for volunteers, she said.
Rao said she's found the desk beneficial for finding collaborative opportunities.
"I've been searching for a lyricist and content writer," Rao said, adding the desk will provide an easy way to find someone to meet the need.
Cottrell said she likes to think of the desk as a first-line tool for artists and nonprofits seeking resources.
The desk even features a helpline from 9-11:30 a.m. Wednesdays to offer one-on-one consulting for artists on how to maximize their use of the desk's resources, she said.
"Since May, I've assisted a combination of 45 individuals and nonprofits through the helpline and one-on-one sessions," Cottrell said. "This doesn't include the many artists and nonprofits who reach out daily for assistance or consulting."
Trimble said the desk is a game changer for local artists.
"Until very recently, I haven't known who to call to help me with a grant," Trimble said. "We haven't had a resource like this."
The work ahead
The work won't end with the development of the resource desk, Cottrell said.
"We want CACHE Canvas to be an annual study to track the growth within our shared community and understand where additional programming is still needed to close gaps," Cottrell said.
The exchange also will research and develop programs geared toward creating living wages for artists, establishing financial support for nonprofits and increasing skill-building opportunities and resources for artists and creative organizations in the future, according to initial survey report.
"My next mission is to develop focus groups with individual artists and nonprofits to understand how they view themselves as part of the larger NWA picture," Cottrell said.
The focus groups are anticipated to begin in November, she said.
Information from the survey is also being incorporated into the group's strategic plan for the region, which will be released in the fall, Cottrell said.
"CACHE Canvas showed us that individuals, for profits and nonprofits said they wanted the same things: an active, engaged and accessible art marketplace, scaffolded and accessible career pathways and help with audience development," she said. "To know that similar obstacles and needs are being shared across many disciplines, lived experiences and business structures is telling."
Arts Resource Desk
The Creative Arkansas Community Hub and Exchange Arts Resource Desk can be accessed at https://cachecreate.org/arts-resource-desk/ .
Source: Creative Arkansas Community Hub and Exchange