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Forks in the Road: The Many Paths of Arts Alumni

Strategic National Arts Alumni Project

November 21, 201121 November 2011

Situation of artists

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With approximately 120,000 visual and performing arts degrees granted each year in the United States, the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project provides an important exploration of the situation of graduates of arts-related programs. Based on a survey of “13,581 alumni of 154 arts high schools, art colleges and conservatories, and arts schools and departments within universities”, this report argues that “the majority of arts graduates find satisfying work”. More specifically, 92% of graduates who wish to work are indeed working, and two-thirds of respondents indicated that “their first job was a close match for the kind of work they wanted”.

In general, the survey found that “arts graduates are happy with their training and have few regrets” about their educational choices. However, the survey results also indicate that, “although the majority of arts graduates work in non-traditional ways (contingent and contract employment), many do not feel they were taught important business and management skills in their training programs”.

Among those arts graduates who intended to become professional artists, 53% are currently working as professional artists, and another 21% worked as a professional artist in the past but are not currently doing so. About one-quarter (26%) of those who intended to become professional artists never did so. For those who either stopped working as a professional artist or intended to become a professional artist but did not, the main reasons for not working as a professional artist are the higher rates of pay or steadier income in other fields and the lack of available work as an artist.

Of those respondents “who currently only work outside the arts, 54% said their arts training is relevant to the job in which they spend the majority of their time”. Given this finding, the report argues that “the skills and competencies attained in an arts education program have value beyond producing art”.

A majority of arts graduates (52%) “have taught at some point in their careers”, but the report questions whether arts training institutions “are adequately preparing their graduates for this important work”.

Among arts graduates who are working as professional artists, few are very satisfied with their income. Satisfaction with income is particularly low for craft artists (none of whom are “very satisfied” with their income), visual artists and musicians. On the other hand, satisfaction with income is relatively high for art directors, multi-media artists or animators, and web designers. Still, only about one-quarter of respondents in these occupations indicated that there are very satisfied with their income.

Arts graduates enjoy opportunities to be creative in their work. Among arts occupations, visual artists and photographers are most satisfied with the opportunities to be creative in their work. Web designers, architects and graphic designers are least satisfied with their opportunities to be creative in their work.

In terms of the opportunities “to do work that reflects their personality, interests, and values”, satisfaction is highest for visual artists, dancers or choreographers, and musicians. On this scale, satisfaction is lowest among graphic designers or illustrators, art directors and web designers.

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