Arts And The Four Year Career

An article recently posted on the Fast Company website talks about how transitory people’s jobs, and increasingly, career paths, are.

“According to recent statistics, the median number of years a U.S. worker has been in his or her current job is just 4.4, down sharply since the 1970s…Statistically, the shortening of the job cycle has been driven by two factors. The first is a marked decline in the “long job”–that is, the traditional 20-year capstone to a career. Simultaneously, there’s been an increase in “churning”– workers well into their thirties who have been at their current job for less than a year. “For some reason I don’t understand, employers seem to value having long-term employees less than they used to,” says Henry Farber, an economist at Princeton”

Given the idea that arts organizations need to be more nimble in the current fast changing environment and that corporate CEOs value creativity in leadership, it made me wonder if arts organizations might not be able to take advantage of this trend by creating mutually beneficial employment situations.

Essentially, if there is going to be a lot of employment churn, the arts might be able to benefit in both the short and long term by making sure a jaunt in the arts is included in a person’s itinerant career path.

Arts organizations experience a fair bit of turn over in their employees. (In fact, I will bet that is what you thought the title of the entry referenced.) It may be worthwhile to hire people without backgrounds specifically in the arts into positions. Since you are probably just as likely to have to replace a person with arts background as someone who doesn’t, you aren’t overly wasting time and resources by hiring and training someone without industry experience.

The potential benefit to the arts organization is introducing some new ideas and practices to the organization. The employee gets a broader experience to add to their hodgepodge resume which may make them more marketable. (Needless to say, the work environment must be such that it accepts the former and confers the latter.)

Of course, as the article mentions, the trick is to separate those who are really driven in their pursuits from the dilettantes. Arts organizations in general aren’t particularly well skilled in those type of human resource practices. It would be worthwhile to have someone on the board with the ability to provide those services in some form, even if you have no intention of ever hiring a person without an arts background.

In the long term it could be helpful if businesses started to identify arts organizations as a good training ground for the skills they seek in employees to the point where it was as de rigueur on a resume as extra curricular activities are on a college application. It also wouldn’t hurt if the experience engendered an appreciation in the arts in the transitory employee that they will carry on to positions creating business or government policy.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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