"There's a reason for the severity of these numbers," Mr. Iyengar said, referring to the NEA report as a whole. "Artists are entrepreneurs in terms of their employment character. They're the equivalent of small businesses – they require a lot more investment up front. They're already in a pretty precarious situation. And in a market like this, artists are really hit pretty hard."
Meanwhile, arts institutions across the country are struggling to stay afloat. According to USA Today, theaters from Utah to Kentucky are resorting to public pleas for financial assistance. In January, the Los Angeles Opera laid off 17 employees; that same month, the city's Museum of Contemporary Art announced plans to reduce staff by 20 percent. Here in New York, the world-renowned Carnegie Hall sliced its performance schedule by 10 percent.
"It's getting really tough for everyone now," says Richard Burrows, the director of Arts Education for the Los Angeles Unified School District, which is fighting against looming budget cuts. Complicating the situation is the widespread and often drastic winnowing of grants and fellowships – long the life raft of many a starving artist. In Michigan, for instance, the state has announced plans to eliminate almost all the arts and culture grants for 2010.