The COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly devastating for artists and arts organizations. If there is a silver lining, it's that coordinated efforts by arts advocacy groups in cooperation with bipartisan Congressional leadership have reinvigorated public discussion of arts policies. December's omnibus COVID-19 relief bill included $15 billion in grants for certain types of performing arts venues. There has also been sustained discussion of how the arts may fit into a holistic recovery plan and how the Biden administration may overhaul and even reimagine how the federal government supports the arts.

Data and evidence are critical pieces of any rigorous policy discussion. But in the case of the arts—and specifically the labor market for artists—few data sources exist. And of the sources that do exist, each measures a different, partial piece of a larger puzzle. Researchers and practitioners studying the arts labor market will therefore have to grapple with two questions before undertaking any analysis: which data source should be used, and how should “the arts” be defined? Here's some guidance:

Two surveys frequently cited in research reports on the arts are: the Current Population Survey (CPS) and the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW), both of which are administered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Both provide regularly updated data collected via rigorous, documented methodologies, which has allowed for monitoring rapid changes in the labor market during the pandemic. Other data sources exist, but they are either released infrequently (for example, the Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account from the Bureau of Economic Analysis was last produced in 2017); are based on statistical projections (for example, the monthly Current Employment Statistics); or are proprietary (for example, Americans for the Arts' COVID-19 survey).

Read the full article about arts policy by James V Marrone and Susan A. Resetar at RAND Corporation.