Arts education in our society sometimes gets a bad rap. When I’m speaking with potential students and their families I’m frequently asked questions such as: What do people actually do with a degree from the College of Fine Arts? What kind of jobs do they get? How much money do they make?
These are all valid questions, but the answers are often more complicated than the inquirers desire. I often wonder whether or not these are the most important questions for people who are passionate about studying and creating art.
The Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) is an organization designed to enhance the impact of arts-school education. To do this, SNAAP partners with degree-granting institutions to administer an annual online survey to their arts alumni. The information from the survey provides important insight as to how artists develop in this country, help identify the factors needed to better connect arts training to artistic careers and allow education institutions, researchers and arts leaders to look at the systemic factors that helped or hindered the career paths of alumni.
SNAAP defines “the arts” and “the arts alumni” broadly, to include the fields of performance, design, architecture, creative writing, film, media arts, illustration, and the fine arts. The survey population includes alumni from undergraduate programs, graduate programs, and arts-focused high schools.
SNAAP launched its first national survey in 2011–12 and, for the first time, alumni of all ages were surveyed and over 36,000 arts alumni from 66 institutions in the U.S. and Canada responded. The population of respondents graduated from schools or programs within the last 20 years and tracked such information as jobs and livelihoods, self-reported satisfaction with their training, how their jobs may or may not invoke their arts training, and what kinds of additional skills or knowledge would have proved useful to them as arts alumni.
Among the topics surveyed, arts alumni are asked about current and past education and employment, relevance of arts training to work and further education and satisfaction with curricular and extracurricular experiences. There were 33,801 alumni who responded to the survey. Seventy-two percent of the respondent reported that they continue to practice art separate from work, while 77% reported artistic technique as being important to their work. It is interesting that 75% of these alumni have been self-employed at some point in their career.
It is safe to conclude that artistic skills and competencies were gained during matriculation. The respondents, however, identified as “important skills and competencies” acquired during their studies in the arts are critical thinking, creativity, listening and revising, teamwork, broad knowledge, leadership, project management, networking, research, technology, entrepreneurial, and writing skills. Each skill is applicable for any vocation and often provide opportunities for arts majors to be major contributors in any environment.
The alumni provided an impressive array of occupations that arts graduates hold with their fine arts degrees. Of course, the jobs within the arts are not surprising, such as design, fine artist, musician, film/TV/video artist, arts administrator, arts education, curator/museum, dancers/choreographers, writer/editor, and so forth.
On the other hand, outside of the arts, alumni are employed in a variety of fields, such as the legal profession, management, financial advising, computer/mathematical, communication, engineering/science, and transportation.
A truly amazing statistic is that 29,406 (87%) arts alumni said that they were satisfied with their primary job. Also, 28,392 (84%) indicated that their current job included creative work opportunities and 27,378 (81%) had opportunity to create work for the greater good. SNAAP respondents confirm that arts schooling is a good economic investment as well as a meaningful ladder to meaningful work.
All in all, college students who major in the fine and performing arts acquire skill sets that serve graduates in a myriad of ways and opportunities. Significant percentages of responding alums in the 2011 SNAAP Survey indicated that they were gainfully employed and content with their lives as contributors to the public good.
The important fact is that most alumni with a fine arts degree do not consider that they are without options and opportunities. It is inherent that artists can create for themselves and others through the power of their imagination, creativity, and innovation. In other words, artists are alchemists.