Happy New Year from the Guild of Scenic Artists!  

You may remember that the Guild sent out a demographic survey for our members to fill out in November.  Our goal was to understand better what you, our membership, identify as, what industry you work in, your years of experience, and, most importantly, how hard the COVID-19 related shutdowns have hit you.  The results were fascinating, and we decided that it may be interesting to share our findings, so let’s dive in!

Perhaps unsurprisingly to anyone who has worked in a shop in the last 20 years, we found that 80% of the respondents identify as Female.  Scenic Art used to be a profession only held by men with rarely a woman in sight, so it is nice to see the industry come a long way in this area.

Where we need to put in the most effort, which was illuminated by this survey, is absolutely in our racial and ethnic diversity.  With 88% of respondents identifying as White, the numbers show an enormous need for more outreach within this industry.  For some context, let’s take a look at census data from the U.S:

Compare these numbers with the ones taken from our survey, and it is clear that there is much work to be done.  Black people make up 13.4% of the population in America, yet they only compromise .5% of our survey respondents.  Notice where that decimal is. That is not a typo.  We made this survey anonymous so that people would feel comfortable answering questions about themselves fully and not have any chance of their information used in any way other than informational.  For myself only, I can break that for just one moment to tell you that I, the author of both the survey and this blog post you’re reading, am that one-half percent.  Alone. 

As the Director of Diversity and Inclusion, especially when it comes to racial and ethnic diversity, my goal is to have our group represent the areas it serves.  Looking at the United States in the big picture would mean having representation that more closely matches census data.  Those goals would move if you were to zoom into a specific city and state.  For example, let’s take Atlanta, Georgia.  Census data shows that Atlanta is 51.8% Black, 40.3% White, 4.3% Hispanic or Latino, and 4.2% Asian.¹  If we are striving for racial equity, the percentage of Black Scenic Artists in Atlanta should be around that 51%.  Or for another example, let’s look at Laredo, Texas.  Data shows that Laredo is 95.4% Hispanic or Latino, 3.6% White, .5% Asian, and .5% Black.²  With numbers like that, it would stand to reason that you may have a shop with a majority of Hispanic or Latino workers. 

I bring up these cities to show that their shop demographics should match their local populations more closely if hiring managers pick from their local talent pool.  So if you live in a place that isn’t majority White, like Atlanta or Laredo, and yet your staff is 100% White, it may be time to reevaluate the way you find new hires.  We should all be striving to build more diverse and inclusive work environments.  Scenic Artists everywhere should start to better understand how diverse perspectives (and staff) can help any project.  Let’s be honest about what that means, though. It means it will take some hard work.  Part of that work has to involve going outside of your comfort zones.  Looking for talent in places you’ve never tried before and even keeping an open call for new people all year long.

Now, of course, this survey does not represent the full picture of our industry.  Because we are sometimes multi-hyphenate workers (having multiple jobs or wearing multiple hats on the same job), it can be hard to find accurate information about the number of people who actually work as Scenic Artists.  This survey has helped take some anecdotal stories and turned them into a small amount of data-driven proof.

We found that 78% of respondents say they direct or manage the work of others.  This number says a lot about our industry.  Scenic Artists tend to be working managers, people who manage others while also working on their own projects.  It goes to the multitasking nature of this career.  Every production has many moving parts, and Scenic Artists have to have a good sense of managing people and especially time.  It may also be a nod to the number of Scenics out there managing their team of one.  61% of respondents said they work in Theater and 20% in Education, which means over 80% of our survey-takers work in the Theater in some way.  

We have a healthy mix when it comes to years of experience.  Variety can be a great thing when you’re building a community of Scenic Artists.  It provides the opportunity for some mentorship with the 28% who have 20+ years of experience and 16% who have 1-4 years.  Our industry relies on the passing down of historical techniques and discovering new technological advances.  Having this assortment of experiences ensures that we can all help each other no matter how far into our careers.  

This survey answered a few questions about breaking into the industry;  Do you need a college degree?  Over 73% of the respondents have completed some sort of degree or certificate program.  Bachelors Degree being the most popular at 45%. 

And now, for the grimmest stats from our survey.  We all knew that the pandemic had decimated our industry and that the lockdowns had canceled productions and seasons and closed down shops. Unfortunately, the arts never seem to be considered “essential” and were therefore left once again underfunded.  We sought to find out just how bad it was, and the results were devastating.  Before the shutdowns, 48% of respondents said they were working Full-Time as Scenic Artists.  That same number now say they are unemployed.


We asked two similar questions in different ways because we wanted to clarify the state of our industry.  Asking about employment status is different from asking how many hours worked because we thought there may be a group of Scenics who have not been laid off officially but are still not working any hours.  We were able to get a clearer picture by splitting the two, as you can see.  48% say they are now unemployed, which is a large number and causes consternation.  But a whopping 64% said they are currently working zero hours.  The damage of 2020 and 2021 will have long-lasting effects on our industry.  Many Scenics no longer have a job to go back to once it is safe because they have closed their doors for good.  Our industry may end up being one of the first to close and the last to open.

With this section of questions, we wanted to get a sense of Scenic Artists’ specific concerns in these troubling times.  Personal health and safety and loss of income were two obvious areas where respondents were very concerned.  We were surprised to see that more Scenics rated themselves as “very concerned” about their workplace’s survival during this time than safety and income.  It speaks to a level of unselfishness our respondents showed.  A realization that the institutions where we work are not just a job we clock in and out of.  We worry that if those places shut down, a community loses out.

Before the pandemic, most of us would consider Scenic Artists to be very resourceful by nature.  With limited budgets, time, and hustling to try to find the next job, this is a skill that has been ingrained in us.  There may not be much we can do to get back to work faster.  But it has been encouraging to watch our community strengthen in this time.  We watched educators get together and share ideas for moving to remote learning.  Scenics shared projects we could do from home to keep our skills sharp.  Some sold their art, and some committed to supporting local artists.  We’ve had Zoom happy hours to reconnect or to make new friends.  We’ve shared memes, jokes, and stories.  We’ve given each other encouragement and shoulders to cry on (virtually, of course).  Our community has been dealt a devastating blow that isn’t quite over yet.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and we just have to keep moving forward and building up our community so that we can get there.

Here are some resources you can find with the Guild:

Check out some of our upcoming web events here.  

We have a Scenic Social Happy Hour coming up on January 24th.

 

Look at this Scenic Route Blog Post from last year.

7 Scenic Art Projects to Try at Home

 

Join the Guild of Scenic Artists Facebook group here to connect with our community.

Other Resources

  • If you are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255)
  • If you’re uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can also text NAMI to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.

Nicole Ford
Director of Diversity & Inclusion
Editor of the Scenic Route Blog

Nicole has been a Scenic Artist since 2013 working in a variety of industries from New York to Los Angeles including; movies, theme parks, theater, residential art, commercials, and trade shows. Her education includes studying Set and Exhibit Design, Fine Arts, and attending Cobalt Studios as part of their Scenic Artist Training Program. For the last 3 years, she has had the pleasure of working at Mattel, building, and painting sets for their various brands.
Her portfolio and resume can be found at her website nicolefordscenic.com


  1.  United States Census Bureau. “Quick Facts Atlanta city Georgia” census.gov. 1 July 2019.  Web.  Accessed 16 Jan. 2021. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/atlantacitygeorgia/PST045219
  2. United States Census Bureau.  “Quick Facts Laredo city Texas” census.gov.  1 July 2019.  Web.  Accessed 16 Jan 2021. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/laredocitytexas



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