May 5, 2011
Some good news for parents who have paid to put a child through art school: Fine-arts grads may not end up waiting tables or living in their parents’ basement. A new national survey by the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) at Indiana University looked at 13,000 alumni at 154 schools and found that graduates of arts programs are much more likely than you’d think to find jobs in their field.
Of respondents who want to work, 92 percent say they have a job and 57 percent are working as a professional artist or have done so at some point since graduation. Not bad in a sluggish economy with an 8.8 percent unemployment rate. “We’re not at all surprised by the results of the survey,” says Aaron Goldweber, the director of communications at the College of Architecture, Art and Planning at Cornell University, a program that costs $57,000 a year including room and board.
“It’s a tough market, but I think art graduates are pretty well positioned,” says Steven Tepper, a senior scholar at SNAAP who helped conduct the survey. Tepper says the study was conducted in part because of pressure from parents and students who wanted to know more about the value of an arts degree. Even through art-school enrollment is rising, some arts schools worry there is a growing disconnect between their curriculum and the workforce that graduates are entering.
In 2009, 127,557 visual and performing arts degrees were granted, according to Americans for the Arts, a number that has grown steadily from 120,561 in 2007. Two-thirds of professional artists hold at least a bachelor’s degree, nearly twice the levels of other U.S. workers, according to a 2009 study from Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC).
The survey’s results suggest that an arts degree can be useful as web-based industries grow and jobs are created in arts, design and media. It’s what Daniel Pink, author of the best-selling book A Whole New Mind, has been preaching for years. Pink, who has said ”the M.F.A is the new M.B.A,” argues the current “creative economy” requires graduates to develop the right, more artistic side of their brain to stay competitive in the job market as “information age” jobs like computer programming increasingly move overseas.
There’s a big difference, however, between finding a job and earning a decent wage as an artist. The study found that stable, salaried jobs in the arts are rare — 63 percent of arts alumni were self-employed. Nearly 60 percent of working artists said they hold at least two jobs; 18 percent are working three or more jobs. Very few of those surveyed were satisfied with the income they were making: only 12 percent of graphic designers or illustrators said they were happy with their pay, while 13 percent of writers, authors or editors were content. Even for web designers, which are in high demand, only 24 percent said they were satisfied. The survey found that 60 percent of working artists made less than $40,000 in 2008.
The average U.S. student graduating in 2009 had loans of $24,000, according to the Project on Student Debt. Arts students, with limited their earning power, may especially suffer under student debt loads. One out of three former professional artists who wanted to be an artist pointed to high debt was the reason they left the arts. “There is a significant minority of students who have trouble pursuing their artistic career because of levels of debt,” Says Tepper.
Kyrre (pronounced Chira) Mogster, a 26-year-old graduate who majored in illustration at Pratt University in Brooklyn, N.Y. ($53,000 a year for the undergraduate program), says he’s finding sporadic work. He estimates he earned only $20,000 last year, but recently he says he’s made enough to rent an studio space in addition to the room he lives in. “It’s a hustle,” he says. “I’m jumping all over the place and it’s not paying me as much as I’d like, but somehow it’s been working for me.”
In fact, 76 percent of the art grads surveyed said were happy with their education and would attend the same institution again, although 53 percent said they wished they had gotten more financial and business training. Mogster says that if he could do it over again he would have taken more classes in web design or animation — skills he believes would help him get work. Adds Tepper: “The reality of the kind of work artists do suggests that schools have to provide a broader education.”
Student Debt: Heavier Burdens, Narrower Career Choices (The Fiscal Times)
The Myth of the Starving Artist (Inside Higher Ed)