Arizona fine artists have higher annual income than other states

Curt Mattson said he focuses on art that defines the relationship between humans and horses. He’s showing his work at the Scottsdale Celebration of Fine Art. (Special to the Independent/Chloe Nordquist)

Curt Mattson said he focuses on art that defines the relationship between humans and horses. He’s showing his work at the Scottsdale Celebration of Fine Art. (Special to the Independent/Chloe Nordquist)

Fine artists in Arizona on average make more money annually than artists in any other state, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Arizona sculptors, painters and illustrators made an annual average salary of $95,600 in 2014, making the state the highest paying for that occupation, followed by New York at $75,940. The annual average salary for fine artists in the United States is $51,120.

Arizona State University professor James White, who has created art for the past 50 years, said he thinks the reason Arizona artists came out on top has to do with the kind of people who reside in the state.

“There are a lot of people with disposable incomes in Scottsdale, and it’s the people with disposable income that collect art,” said Mr. White, a sculptor and neon artist.

However, the labor statistics only tell part of the story. The data compiled only accounts for 110 fine artists who reside in Arizona, and this figure leaves out the majority of self-employed artists, one expert said.

Steve Wilcox, communications and research director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, said in an e-mail that Arizona has many more artists than the Bureau of Labor Statistics counted under its definition of “fine artist.”

Mr. Wilcox said the data fails to include art directors, writers, crafters, animators, designers, entertainers, dancers and musicians.

A snapshot of the highest paying states for fine artists. (special to the Independent)

A snapshot of the highest paying states for fine artists. (special to the Independent)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the relative standard error of their surveying at 25.7 percent. The smaller the percentage, the more precise the statistic, according to the bureau’s website.

Although experts may debate on the reliability of the statistics, several fine artists who have traveled to Scottsdale for the Celebration of Fine Art said they find Arizona to be a profitable state.

Mark Goodson, 57, an artist from Huntsville, Utah, said he thinks the weather attracts people – and their money – to Arizona, resulting in more sales.

“I think it has a lot to do with the fact that Arizona has a lot of sunshine to offer,” he said.

Mr. Goodson is among the 100 artists selling their pieces at the annual event, which showcases pop-up studios of fine artists. The daily event began on Jan. 16 and runs through March 27.

Mr. Goodson, who has painted for 10 years, sells his pieces for $10,000 to $15,000. Larger paintings can take Mr. Goodson 175 hours to complete.

Mr. Goodson sells his pieces online, in his own studio in Utah and at events like the Celebration of Fine Art.

“In the short term, I can sell more paintings at an event like this than in my studio,” Mr. Goodson said.

Cary Henrie, 55, from Bountiful, Utah, also traveled to Phoenix to sell at the event. He said selling art requires more than just a creative mind.

“You need to be both artistic and have a business mindset: That is the key to success,” Mr. Henrie said.

Scottsdale sculptor Gedion Nyanhongo with his artwork in at the Celebration of Fine Art in Scottsdale. (Special to the Independent/Kaitlyn Thompson)

Scottsdale sculptor Gedion Nyanhongo with his artwork in at the Celebration of Fine Art in Scottsdale. (Special to the Independent/Kaitlyn Thompson)

Mr. Henrie has made a living on his art alone from the first time he sold a painting when he was 16.

“I’ve never had an employer. I’ve always been my own boss,” Mr. Henrie said. “I think that’s pretty unique.”

Mr. Henrie takes about a week to complete each piece, and he uses a multitude of media, including wood, plaster and canvas. He sells prints of his work starting at $50, and his original pieces are priced up to $10,000.

“This is my biggest show of the year for selling pieces,” Mr. Henrie said. “This place takes 20 percent of the profit, which is better than other festivals that can take up to 50 percent. There was a lot of advertising, so there is a good amount of people here.”

Scottsdale sculptor Gedion Nyanhongo, 48, who has showcased his work in countries around the world, said he believes winter visitors lead to the high salary of Arizona artists.

“The people run from the cold weather to the warm,” Mr. Nyanhongo said. “Wherever there is people, there is art.”

Using only hand tools, Mr. Nyanhongo creates sculptures from stone that take him up to three years to complete. His pieces sell for $25,000 to $54,000, with his most expensive commission selling at $125,000.

“I’ve been making art since I was age 9, when my father and I worked a gallery together in Zimbabwe,” Mr. Nyanhongo said.

The Celebration of Art in Scottsdale runs daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Loop 101 and Hayden Road.

Editor's Note: Ms. Thompson is a student reporter with the Cronkite News at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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