Does passion pay off? The socio-economic position of performing artists

In this file we report on the research findings of the artist study conducted in 2016 into performing artists and we integrate the relevant results from the actor study conducted in 2014.

1. Profile


The performing artists constitute the youngest group in this study. 70% of the respondents are younger than 45 years of age. Over a third are younger than 35 years of age.


Broadly speaking the gender ratio in the performing arts is 50/50. If we examine the gender ratio according to age we see that the percentage of women decreases significantly with age. Among the youngest age group of performing artists, 35 years and younger, the share of women is 58%. However, in the group aged 65 and older this is just 13.3%. The decrease is not as great among actors. In the actor study conducted in 2014, the percentage of women decreased from approximately two thirds to one third. (The representation of the more physical disciplines of dance with an early drop in numbers and the overrepresentation of women in dance may explain the low percentage of women in the oldest age group in the artist study conducted in 2016).


The performing artists are highly educated, as are the other artists. 85% obtained a higher education qualification. A quarter obtained a master’s degree at university, a fifth a master’s degree at a college of higher education. 56% of the performing artists obtained an artistic qualification.


Approximately a quarter of the performing artists considered themselves to be an up-and-coming artist and just under half as a recognised artist. Consequently they more or less reflect the average of all the groups of artists surveyed.


Theatre and performance is cited by respectively 60% and 56% of the performing artist respondents as genres they practised in 2014. This was followed by contemporary dance with 39% and musical theatre with 31%. 4% practised classical ballet and 9% opera. A quarter of the performing artist respondents practiced a single genre, a quarter two genres and another quarter four genres.

2. Activities, remuneration and time allocation

Artistic work within the performing arts (type 1)

Taking part in performances or presentations is the most common activity among the performing artists. Around 77% took part in one or more performances in 2014. In almost 90% of cases these activities were also remunerated. Three-quarters of the respondents also created their own work, but this activity was not remunerated in almost half of these cases. The activity that can least count on remuneration is that of research or reflection.

In 2014, over half of the performing artists were involved in four or more productions. 70% of the performing artists in three or more productions.


Giving lessons and workshops (65%) and coaching (50%) are the most commonly reported activities within the performing arts that are not strictly artistic. Performing artists represent the group of artists that are most likely to give lessons or workshops (in their own discipline). These are more likely to be private lessons and workshops than among the other groups. Higher art education and the socio-cultural professional field were both cited as contexts for lessons by approximately a quarter of the respondents concerned. Teaching was generally paid, coaching was remunerated in 70% of cases. Over 40% of the respondents cited production and business-related work. These are often non-remunerated activities.


Three quarters of the performing artists also stated that they were active in other art disciplines. They differ considerably in this respect from all the other disciplines. Over half the performing artists also performed paid activities within other disciplines. The most common include activities (in order of importance) as a visual artist, those involving music and film.


Performing artists are the group least likely to perform a paid job outside the arts sector. This applies to 25% of the respondents. These jobs are mainly found in (non-artistic) education and in the art, amusement and recreation sector.


On average the performing artists spent 60% of their time on their activities as a performing artist (type 1). They allocated 78% of their time to the arts sector (types 1, 2 and 3). This distribution is equal to that of the writers and illustrators.

Respondents who performed activities without remuneration and could fall back on an unemployment benefit via the artist status could spend 66% of their time on performing activities. Those to whom this did not apply could spend 47% of their time on performing activities.

3. Income profile


In their artistic work, performing artists mainly worked in paid employment (56.8%) or via a Social Agency for Artists (SBK) or employment agency (50.8%) They worked least under the (main or secondary occupation) self-employed status. Along with the musicians they made most use of the Small Fees Scheme (KVR) (41% stated they used the KVR in 2014).


The 41 respondents that worked under a self-employed status in 2014 earned a median net annual income of €20,000 and an average of €39,400 (which indicates a number of high earners). Performing artists who worked under the secondary occupation self-employed status earned a median income of €8,500 from billed activities and €17,500 from paid employment. These figures are in line with the other disciplines with a relatively high income for billed activities and the lowest income from paid employment. Half of the performing artists that only worked as paid employees earned €17,000 or less. The average was also approximately €17,000. Only the visual artists earned less. The income earned (as paid employees) by actors is slightly higher: for the actors the median and average amounted to €19,000.


What stands out among the performing artists is that the average income no longer increases as of the 35-44 age category. At €18,400, the average net income of the 55-64 age group is half that earned by musicians of the same age. Film-makers in the study earned over three times as much. Among the performing artists the gender gap is greatest among those aged 35 or younger (with a difference in income of around €6,000). This gap is smaller in the subsequent age groups.


The percentage of income the performing artists earned from their activities as performing artists (type 1) is the highest of all the artists at 47%. This is from spending 60% of their time on these activities. On average 64% of their income originated from art-related activities (types 1, 2 and 3). The performing artists are most likely to turn to unemployment benefits (which, on average, accounts for 20% of their income) and least likely of all the artists to perform paid work outside the arts.

The percentage of performing artists that only received income from their activities as a performing artist is 10%. For actors this percentage was 8% (type 1). If we look at the artists that earned all their income from art-related activities the figure is 27% (types 1, 2 and 3). These are the lowest percentages of all the artists.


47% of the respondents stated they could fall back on benefits via the artist status – a high percentage compared with the other groups. 7.6% could fall back on a different unemployment benefit.


Performing artists reported professional expenses amounting to an average of €13,700 a year. The main cost item concerns remuneration for third parties. Most of all the artists, they also spend a substantial sum on training, workshops or residences (on average around €1,200). Costs for materials and equipment and for a workplace each fluctuated around an average of €1,700.

4. Job satisfaction

90% of the performing artists and actors are satisfied with the content-related and artistic aspects of the job. 85% are satisfied with the possibility for personal development and developing their activities as an artist.

Around 45% of the performing artists and actors are satisfied with their remuneration from performances, while a quarter is dissatisfied. Approximately half indicated they are dissatisfied with the level of their total income.

Actors and (other) performing artists score very high in terms of satisfaction with regard to the recognition they receive from the public. Around 90% is positive. Opinions are more divided when it comes to dealings with critics, the media and journalists. Just over 50% of performing artists and 30% of actors were satisfied with feedback they received from the media, critics and journalists.

One in five performing artists finds it difficult to combine their work as a performing artist with a family.

Actors and performing artists are more likely to consider giving up their career as a performing artist than artists from the other disciplines. 50% of the performing artists consider doing so sometimes, 9% often.

5. Support

Performing artists first turn to colleagues for information and advice (82% stated they consulted colleagues). Employers or commissioning parties represent the next source of advice (for 65% of the respondents). Kunstenloket is consulted by half of the respondents, trade unions and Social Agencies for Artists (SBKs) by 40%.

45% of the performing artists are members of a trade union – a high percentage compared with the other groups. 40% is affiliated to a management company.

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