houston artists report // Survey Launch

The Survey will be live on November 8, 2014.


The Compensation Foundation is an online platform for collecting, sharing, and analyzing how contingent workers are compensated.  The Houston Area Artists Report will focus on gathering anonymous compensation data directly from the individual visual artists that work here. It aims to make evident the current landscape of support for artists while the city of Houston embarks to determine the future of that support. 

The Compensation Foundation is a project of  The Present Group.  Run by Eleanor Hanson Wise and Oliver Wise, The Present Group is an arts based think-tank and creative studio, focusing on leveraging new technologies in support of the arts. Other projects of The Present Group include an art subscription service,  a web hosting service that funds an intermittent arts prize, Art Micro Patronage - an experimental exhibition platform showcasing and funding artwork online, and The People’s E-book - a free online tool to build e-books better.             

The Houston Area Compensation Survey was created by The Present Group’s Compensation Foundation originally as the Bay Area Artists Report, but adapted for use in Houston with support, in part, from Fresh Arts

Houston Area Artists Report aims to:

  • - make evident the current landscape of support for artists while the city of Houston is determining the  future of that support
  • - supplement data about artists with data by artists
  • - enable artists to access data outside their personal network
  • - enable artists to make more informed decisions about their careers
  • - provide artists a way to track the quality of their professional opportunities over time
  • - enable institutions to track their relevance and degree of reciprocity in the community
  • - empower artists and hosts to negotiate compensation agreements
  • - identify city-wide and organization-specific norms
  • - aid innovators as they develop new policies and tools to serve and present artists
  • - provide funders with reports from those who they intend to support but don’t usually hear from
  • - create a more competitive environment and a higher level of accountability for presenters
  • - create a more supporting and transparent field of opportunity for artists
  • - exhaust less creativity on exploitative gigs and foster more creativity with good opportunities
  • - platform and increase that which makes its viable for artists to stay here
  • - publicly visualize how the arts ecosystem works together here in our city

Advocacy for equitable compensation of artists and more effective and sustainable models in the arts is nothing new. As Houston’s arts funding policies are currently being rewritten and the city is undergoing a major cultural initiative, this survey, centered on and starting with the artists is vital in establishing equitable policies for the future.


What Will Be Done With the Data?

We will build visualizations once there is a significant data pool to draw from. Houston Area Artists Report is hosted by the Compensation Foundation platform, whose Bay Area Artists Report visualizations appear here.

All information is anonymous.

For a piece of data to be displayed on the website it will need 5 reports. So for example, no arts organization will appear until 5 interactions with it have been recorded. Information about a sub-category of artists (e.g. Mid-Career, Painters...) will only be presented after there are 5 artists within that sub-category. No individual paths will be able to be tracked from venue to venue.


In Our Own Backyard:

"According to a study by the Urban Institute, artists in the United States are often underpaid in relation to their education, skills, and societal contributions.i In the case of Houston, a high degree of wage disparity persists among artists, both in terms of geographic location and the different disciplines that make up a given artist occupation. Meager earnings are one of the chief reasons why increased funding remains such an enduring need for artists. Examining the earning levels for individuals whose primary source of income comes from arts-related occupations shows how viable it is for a person to pursue a career in the arts in the Houston region. As an indicator, income levels for artists can lend insight into how hospitable our region is for working artists, as well as better inform funding decisions." "Low wages often signify a lack of sufficient opportunity for workers with a certain skill set. When comparing how much money arts workers in Houston take home against their counterparts in competitor regions, the numbers initially seem to indicate that Houston is failing to keep up with its peers. In fact, Houston ranks last for mean hourly wages in arts occupations among the 13 other regions considered. Houston is distinguished, however, by the low cost of living its residents enjoy relative to other major U.S. cities – something that the arts community has benefitted from as well."
-Center for Houston's Future report: https://houstonindicators.com/testlevel1/arts-culture/people-and-jobs/artist-earnings/


The Big Picture

We believe it is essential to make visible the landscape of support for artists because it also matters in the wider economy.

The labor economy is changing. Experts predict that “contingent workers,”will reach 40% of the workforce by 2020. These workers, from artists to business consultants, cooks to interns, have been left out of labor policy  and are often unfairly compensated for the work and financial risks they assume.

As entities of all sizes turn to a more flexible, decentralized, on-demand workforce, we need ways to ensure that workers are getting a fair deal, that these new arrangements are sustainable.

>>Public, anonymous compensation data will prove invaluable for activists and organizers advocating for their own communities, but it will also be useful to anyone who cares about where the economy is going and how to make it just and equitable for the long term.