Creative industry jobs report released

Press release from the Asheville Area Arts Council:

Asheville Area Arts Council has released a new Creative Jobs Report, which provides an in-depth look at Buncombe County’s creative economy leading up to the pandemic. 

Arts council Executive Director Katie Cornell says the report is the first step in understanding the real impacts of the past year. “We have to know where we were and what trends were developing before we can truly grasp the full impact of the pandemic on our local creative industries and occupations.”

This comprehensive 40+ page report looks at creative jobs over a five-year period from 2015-2019 by industry, occupation, race, Hispanic ethnicity, gender, and age.

Creative industry jobs in Buncombe County grew 24% during this period— reaching over 14,000. And, by 2019, creative industry sales had reached $1.6 billion, representing 44% growth since 2015. The creative economy spans 8 major industries or supersectors, including Leisure and Hospitality, Manufacturing, Professional and Business Services, Information, Trade, Education and Health Services, Construction, and Other Services.

Within these supersectors are 9 creative sectors and 74 creative industries. The top creative sector is Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation which grew 53%— double the growth rate of Buncombe County’s Construction industry over the same time period. The top creative industry both in earnings and sales was Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers.

“Data has long supported the arts as an impressive presence across sectors, sustaining considerable economic contribution, job creation, and a culture that distinguishes the Asheville area,” said Clark Duncan, Senior Vice President, Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. “From Arts, Entertainment and Recreation to Manufacturing, Professional and Business Services, Leisure and Hospitality and more – we are very fortunate to have such a notable presence of arts and the gifted artists who established the creative economy.”

Creative industry jobs include all jobs, whether they are creative occupations or not, and paint a more comprehensive picture of the creative economy. On the other hand, narrowing in on just creative occupations provides additional insight into the creative workforce. By 2019, there were an estimated 9,700 creative occupations. Top occupations include Photographers, Musicians and Singers, Writers and Authors, Fine Artists, and Graphic Designers.

The report looks at occupations across four classes of workers, QCEW or salaried with benefits, Non-QCEW or salaried without benefits, self-employed, and extended proprietors whose creative occupation is not their primary source of income. A growing number of creative occupation jobs are extended proprietors or “gig” workers— 66% in 2019. It is less certain whether or not these workers have access to various benefits through unemployment insurance, health insurance, paid leave, retirement savings, and others.

Cost of living and wage discrepancies are also highlighted in the report. In 2019, the cost of living in Buncombe County was 1% above the national average and the second-highest in the state, and by 2020, it had changed to 6% above the national average and the highest in the state, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research as reported by the Asheville Chamber of Commerce. Wages on average were also 16% below state averages and 30% below national averages. These discrepancies are even higher when looking at most of the top creative occupations.

On top of these growing concerns, the full impact of the coronavirus virus is still unclear. According to Americans for the Arts, creative economy businesses in North Carolina lost $3.4 billion in revenue in 2020, and 66% of these businesses were severely impacted by COVID-19. Creative workers also faced devastating impacts with 65% experiencing unemployment. In Buncombe County, independent artists, the performing arts, museums, historic sites, and motion pictures were identified by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce as being among the most negatively impacted industries.

With $1.6 billion in creative industry sales in 2019 and 24% growth from 2015-2019, there is no doubt that the creative sector plays a key role in Buncombe County’s economy. But, it remains to be seen how long it will take the sector to bounce back from these unfortunate setbacks.

The arts council says it plans to follow up this report with a post-pandemic analysis early next year.

To read the full report, visit


Founded in 1952, the Asheville Area Arts Council (AAAC) is the designated arts agency for Buncombe County. Their mission is to keep the arts at the heart of our community. AAAC fulfills this mission by supporting arts organizations and artists in Buncombe County through advocacy, public art, and services for creatives. Visit the arts council’s website to learn more:

About Community Bulletin
Mountain Xpress posts selected news and information of local interest as a public service for our readers. To submit press releases and other community material for possible publication, email

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.