Sketching Australia’s Artistic Landscape

By Ashton De Silva, Sveta Angelopoulos and Jonathan Boymal.

Planners and policy makers worldwide have long been focussed on the concept of creativity and its contributions to local economic development. It is widely accepted that creativity is a driver of innovation and entrepreneurship. Notably, creative activity (of which Artistic production is one special type) is believed to contribute to more than just economic output; providing valuable social benefits resulting, in part, from its role in establishing local identity and character.

Recently, we set about to sketch the Australian artistic landscape, in particular, we set ourselves the task to unveil the distribution of artists across the nation. We used 2016 census data to identify each person who declared themselves as working in one of eleven types of artistic occupations as defined in the 2016 census:

1. Actors, Dancers and Other Entertainers
2. Music Professionals
3. Photographers
4. Visual Arts and Crafts Professionals
5. Art Directors, Media Producers & Presenters
6. Film, TV, Radio & Stage Directors
7. Authors, Book & Script Editors
8. Journalists & Other Writers
9. Fashion, Industrial & Jewellery Designers
10. Graphic, Web Designers, & Illustrators
11. Interior Designers

This analysis provides insight into the character of the distribution artists residential choices (as a proxy for artistic human capital) at the local government level (LGA), beyond the traditionally known hubs of creative economic activity.


Many academic studies indicate that the presence of creative human capital impacts local prosperity, promotes community cohesion, wellbeing, and has the potential to attract industries of all types. To get an in depth understanding of the distribution and density of creative capacity in Australia we require specificity and attention to the uniqueness of the type of art and the place itself which can shed light on common assumptions about artistic location patterns. This analysis helps inform arts policy makers about the appropriate mix between targeted place-specific programs and broader initiatives.


To do this we first employed a well-known statistical grouping procedure called Hierarchical Cluster Analysis where LGAs were grouped together according to the degree of their similarity. The process essentially forms groups by collecting together LGAs that are most similar (in terms of artists living in the area) whilst simultaneously maximising the differences between groups. Interestingly this procedure did not identify patterns of artists concentrating together across regions. In other words no conclusive results emerged in this stage.

The results however did lead us to construct our own grouping algorithm. In contrast to the formal clustering approach which attempted to group LGAs according to the type of artist, we constructed a simple mathematical stratification classification system based on the presence of the relative extent to which the number of types of artists residing in an area. The analysis, in both applications were performed on what economists refer to as location quotients – these can be defined as the share residing artists in an area relative to the national average.

Our constructed stratification of LGAs are based on five classifications:

1. No residing artists
2. Negligible levels of residing artists
3. Some types of artists residing en masse in the local community.
4. A majority number of types of artists are residing in the local community.
5. All artist types on mass are residing in the local community


Australia has a large number of LGAs with all forms of artists living in their areas although many are below the national average. This implies that within the LGAs the individuals that self-identify themselves as an artist tend to co-reside with individuals of similar and/or same traits, albeit not necessarily at relative levels of critical mass. Our results also showed there are 138 LGAs (from a sample of 545) across all states that have no
(self-identified) artists living in their area. This implies that at least one-quarter of LGA are likely to be importers of artistic production (if indeed it is occurring at all).

Importantly, nearly 75% of LGAs across Australia have artists living within their constituency. However, where they locate is distinct according to the numerical size of the concentrations and the number of types of artistic occupations that are co-locating. Some LGAs are characterised by a small number of artist types co-locating en-masse. That is, they have a few types of artists residing in proportions above the national average. A handful of LGAs are notable for their high concentration of (nearly) all artist types.


Not surprisingly, when we examine state level data, similarities between the states were evident. Amalgamating the above five classifications, we redefine areas to be disadvantaged in terms of artistic capital (combined group one and two), advantaged (combined three and four) and leaders. The charts below presents the percentage each state (as well as the Northern Territory) has of the three reclassifications.

From these charts we identify four distinct groupings. These groupings reflect (albeit imperfectively) the environmental, population and industry characterisations at the state level. Specifically, the New South Wales and Victoria artistic distribution is similar. Both economies are dominated by the service-based industries such as education and also have relatively high population densities. The states of Queensland and Western Australia are characterised by the natural resource sector forming the second group. The third group comprises Tasmania and Northern Territory. We suggest South Australia is unique to itself.

In short, the charts reveal that the states of Victoria and NSW have richer endowments of artists with a noticeable percentage of its LGAs with concentrations of residing artists above the national average. The charts also reveal that Western Australia and Queensland have the highest proportion of LGAs with zero or negligible artists concentrations and are thus artistically / creatively disadvantaged. In comparison the Northern Territory and Tasmania have relatively high percentages of advantaged LGAs (some and many groups). In South Australia the distribution is approximately  a 60%/40% split between advantaged and disadvantaged LGAs respectively.

Australian LGAs 2016
Lightest to Darkest:
No Artists to Concentrations of All Artist Types


Using ABS geographic classifications we analysed the profile of residing artists utilising our five classifications. Not surprisingly Major Cities contain the highest percentage of leaders. This, combined with the fact that they have the lowest percentage of disadvantaged LGAs, reinforces the urban-regional dichotomy, specifically, regional areas have lower  (relative) concentrations of artists. However, we noted that Very Remote areas have relatively high proportion of LGAs that are recognised to have some form(s) of artists residing en masse – we believe this may be capturing the indigenous artist population.


In the figure above a spatial map of the national artistic landscape is provided based on the five classifications originally constructed. In general the percentage of LGAs with zero or negligible artists (disadvantaged) increases when moving from major cities to remote areas, reinforcing the urban-regional dichotomy referred to above.

More generally, the figure demonstrates that there are a large number of LGA’s in Australia with relatively high percentages of resident artists. Some LGA’s have unique characteristics that likely draw artists to those areas -whether economic, social or aesthetic or some combination of all.

The national chart combined with the state profiles6 support the view that inner cities tend to have higher endowments of residing artists. However they show a number of notable exceptions include Mt Alexander (Central Victoria) and Byron (North NSW).

A deeper dive in our analysis revealed that remote areas in NSW have significant proportions of residing artists such as dancers and entertainers, musicians and visual artists and craft professionals. On the other hand, remote areas of Queensland and Western Australia exhibit LGAs that had little or no artistic populations. Notably there are a few exceptions such as Long Reach and Mareeba in Queensland and Carnarvon, Exmouth, Broome, and Ngaanyatjarrahu.


We note that creative endeavour is an important driver of innovation, with the potential to enhance economic and social wellbeing.
Our analysis shows that whilst NSW and Victoria have a higher endowment of LGAs with relatively large proportion of artists they do not have a monopoly. Further, there are large parts of  both states where the local artistic population is relatively low (or unobservable). In particular, our analysis suggests that inner cities tend to have higher endowments of residing artists than outer metropolitan areas that are dominated by relatively lower distribution of artists.

The distribution of residing artists across States and the Northern Territory can therefore generally be grouped according to their broader economic and community profiles. At the same time, when looking at the distribution across areas of remoteness we note that very remote areas are not necessarily void of artistic communities, with some areas well above the national average (having a relatively large endowment of artists living within their constituency). Further, the maps showed that there was a general pattern extending out from the inner-cities but this was not uniform and there were notable exceptions.

The analysis suggests that some mix between targeted place-specific initiatives and broader initiatives are appropriate in the arts policy space.


  1. This article draws on research that has recently been published: de Silva, S., Angelopoulos, S., and Boymal, B. (2018) The Distribution of Artistic Human Capital-A Typology Building Approach. Economic Papers: A journal of applied economics and policy the details of which can be found here:
  3. de Silva, S., Angelopoulos, S., and Boymal, B. (2018) The Distribution of Artistic Human Capital-A Typology Building Approach. Economic Papers: A journal of applied economics and policy
  4. de Silva, S., Angelopoulos, S., and Boymal, B. (2018) The Distribution of Artistic Human Capital-A Typology Building Approach. Economic Papers: A journal of applied economics and policy
  5. de Silva, S., Angelopoulos, S., and Boymal, B. (2018) The Distribution of Artistic Human Capital-A Typology Building Approach. Economic Papers: A journal of applied economics and policy
  6. de Silva, S., Angelopoulos, S., and Boymal, B. (2018) The Distribution of Artistic Human Capital-A Typology Building Approach. Economic Papers: A journal of applied economics and policy


Dr Sveta Angelopoulos
Dr Angelopoulos is an applied economist and lecturer in the school of Economics, Finance and Marketing. Her PhD focused on the spatial distribution of creativity and diversity across Australian regions. This is now being extended into a housing, household and policy environment, with a continued focus on spatial modelling. Sveta is an early career researcher who has started to develop her profile by publishing in reputable academic journals in her field and presenting her work in conferences. Her research contributes to a field that is becoming increasingly relevant to policy makers seeking to improve the competitive advantage of regions.

Associate Professor Jonathan Boymal
Dr Boymal is an applied economist, specialising in the areas of housing and urban economics, cultural economics, population economics, evaluation, economic psychology, health economics, cost-benefit analysis, and technology diffusion. He has published papers in leading journals, and has undertaken commercial policy research for the Victorian and Federal Government, as well as refereed publications in these areas. In addition to his research Dr Boymal has extensive experience in designing and delivering courses, and establishing and managing programs, across a range of business disciplines, both in Australia and overseas.

Associate Professor Ashton de Silva
Dr de Silva is an applied economist/econometrician specialising in the analysis of the housing sector, household credit & financial markets, regional (including cultural) economies  as well as government policy. He has published papers in leading international and domestic academic journals. Ashton has a strong record of engagement which includes conducting research in partnership with industry as well as being commissioned by private and public sector entities to lead specialised investigations. Previously he has had several leadership roles at RMIT University including the College of Business Excellence Research Australia Leader. Currently, he is the Discipline Head of Economics.