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New Study Confirms Chicago is a Hub for Creative Professionals

Press Release

​Chicago is relatively rich in working artists, according to a new report from the Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago, while the city’s concentration of creative workers is on par with the U.S. as a whole. Artists make up 2.2% of Chicago’s labor force, as compared to 1.35% for the nation.

In addition to nationwide comparisons, the report also compares Chicago to eight peer cities. In these comparisons Chicago tops the charts in terms of raw numbers of creative workers, but after adjusting for population size it ranks in the middle of the cities studied according to most measures.

For example, Chicago’s concentration of creative workers is lower than that of San Francisco, Denver and Boston, but higher than Cleveland, Philadelphia, Houston, Baltimore and Phoenix.
Jennifer Novak-Leonard, a researcher at the Cultural Policy Center and author of the report, explained that having this data “is integral to current efforts to grow and strengthen the city’s creative workforce. The report provides an objective benchmark for Chicago to see how it currently compares with other cities and to monitor the robustness of its creative and artist workforces going forward.”

The report, titled Measuring Chicago’s (Artistically) Creative Economy, reveals that:
• Creative workers, a group which includes professionals such as scientists and programmers as well as artists, make up almost 21% of Chicago’s civilian labor force, which approximates the portion of creative workers in the US labor force.
• However, if one looks at artists specifically, Chicago rises above the national baseline: the portion of Chicago’s labor force made up of artists is 1.6 times that of the US.
• An estimated 63,008 artists work in Chicago. Designers represent the largest share of the artist workforce in Chicago, at 36.3 percent.
• Fifty-seven percent of Chicago’s artist labor force is employed in the for-profit sector. Among the cities studied, only Houston and Philadelphia employ barely larger proportions of their artist labor force in the for-profit sector.
• Chicago’s artist workforce is less diverse than its total population in terms of race and ethnicity. Seventy-four percent of Chicago’s artist workforce is White (non-Hispanic), compared with a total population that is 32 percent White (non-Hispanic).
• Among Chicago artists, writers/authors and architects are most highly concentrated compared to the U.S.  as a whole. Chicago also has higher concentrations of designers, musicians, photographers, actors, and dancers compared to the national baseline, but fell below the nation in its concentration “fine artists, art directors, and animators.”

“This study provides an important baseline for the city of Chicago, with information that is needed for building on the Cultural Plan and for developing new strategies and programs to ensure Chicago’s position as a global cultural city of the future,” said Betty Farrell, Executive Director of the Cultural Policy Center, which is a joint venture of the Harris School of Public Policy and NORC at the University of Chicago. The Chicago Cultural Plan, released in 2012, articulated goals of attracting and retaining creative professionals and measuring the size and strength of the cultural sector.

A second report measuring public funding for the arts in Chicago compared with peer cities is forthcoming from the Cultural Policy Center. Both projects were supported in part by Arts Alliance Illinois and The Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust.

About NORC at the University of Chicago

NORC at the University of Chicago conducts research and analysis that decision-makers trust. As a nonpartisan research organization and a pioneer in measuring and understanding the world, we have studied almost every aspect of the human experience and every major news event for more than eight decades. Today, we partner with government, corporate, and nonprofit clients around the world to provide the objectivity and expertise necessary to inform the critical decisions facing society.

Contact: For more information, please contact Eric Young at NORC at or (703) 217-6814 (cell).