Resilient and Adaptable, Arts Grads Could Still Use More Career Training

The Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) just released a special report that focused on how alumni of creative arts programs across different graduate cohorts felt about the education they received.  Since I am interested in the conversation about artist as entrepreneur and career preparation, I gravitated toward those findings.

All cohorts from pre-1985 through 2015 felt they could have used more education in career preparation.

In the module, alumni are asked whether they would have benefited from more knowledge on:

a. developing a three- to five-year strategic plan to realize their goals;
b. marketing and promoting their work and talents;
c. communicating through and about their art through engaging with the community, speaking in public, and receiving feedback;
d. managing finances through things like developing budgets, raising money for projects, and saving for the future;
e. and monitoring legal and tax issues like copyright, trademarks, sales, and income tax.

Most alumni agreed they could have benefited from more knowledge in all of these areas (Table 3), with at least 80% of all alumni cohorts saying they would have benefited from more knowledge in each area.

Furthermore, alumni in each cohort reported about the same level of agreement (“Somewhat” or “Strongly”) when asked whether their education prepared them for work in many different jobs and roles. These reports ranged from a low of 65% in the 2006–2010 cohort to a high of 69% for the earliest two cohorts, leaving about one third of alumni in each cohort feeling their education did not prepare them for work in many different jobs and roles.

What really brought the perceived lack of preparation by alumni into focus was this next chart which reflects the degree to which career preparation was integrated into their education. Exposure to a network of professionals is relatively high. However, other aspects of career development and discussion of careers outside the arts are depressingly low for some disciplines.

The SNAAP report observes:

Institutions may need to further explore ways to provide career services across different major fields in the arts. Solitary fields, where art is less likely to be created or performed in groups, may not be getting the same quality of exposure.

Long time readers may recall that when I attended the Society for Arts Entrepreneurship Education conference last October, there was discussion about how university career services weren’t really well calibrated for arts careers.

One more chart I wanted to point out. After the reading the other content in this post, it probably won’t surprise you to see only 18% of respondents Strongly Agreed they were confident about financially managing their career. Also not surprising, confidence went down the more debt a person was carrying.

However, I was really encouraged by the resilience, adaptability and opportunity recognition numbers. Even if people don’t necessarily feel like got enough education in career planning, feeling capable in these three ability areas ain’t nothing to sneeze at. I am really curious about how those numbers compare to graduates from other degree disciplines.

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.


4 thoughts on “Resilient and Adaptable, Arts Grads Could Still Use More Career Training”

  1. I was interested by your comment that “university career services weren’t really well calibrated for arts careers”, because there has recently been discussion that career services at our institution is basically useless for the science and engineering students (other than a resume-review service that gets a “does-no-harm” rating).

    If career services aren’t helping the art students either, who are they helping. Humanities? Social Science?

    • The observation that was made at the conference I attended was that career services departments are oriented on 20th century notions of workplace. They teach you to interview for a job rather than plan for a career. When you might expect to work at one place for many years, an interview might be the only thing you needed to start your career. Now you basically have to always have an eye out for the next thing.

      I suspect this is the issue for all majors, not just arts students whose career paths have always been a bit more itinerant.

  2. One issue that never seems to get talked about is how all these points made, the entirely *practical* side of making a living as an artist, can be accommodated in people for whom it is a *calling* and not merely a job. If you treat a calling as a job you will at some point undermine what you are doing, and that is directly a result of treating as practical an issue that is fundamentally value oriented. It is, once again, the difference between intrinsic and instrumental. And if we downplay or ignore the features which operate non-instrumentally we are almost always eventually threatening our intrinsic value for the sake of something instrumental. A basic fact of human psychology is that our intrinsic motivations suffer at the hands of extrinsic or instrumental motivations. We let the urgent crowd out the important.

    Career planning has instrumental practical significance, but we mistake what we are doing when we pretend that it is the only or even the primary thing that matters. When a calling becomes a job we may have gained in practical ability, but what we have sometimes lost is a thing not counted by the metrics of career pathways. We need to better understand human psychology before we commit wholeheartedly to making artists better business people.

    Here is an easy example: When medical practice became more about doing better business just look what happened. Doctors being paid by the services rendered becomes a reason to overprescribe treatment. When it becomes less about medicine, or art, and more about the ability to get paid, it is not always a good thing…..

    • Carter–I’ve read some things you’ve written about this topic before and I appreciate your commitment to keeping this element (intrinsic vs. instrumental) a point of focus. While I am happy to see that more of a focus is being placed on career training for those interested in the arts, I am also concerned that much of what is being taught in this area can shift a student’s mindset from one of giving or serving (“how can my art make the world better?”) to one of taking (“how can I make the most money possible?”). Of course, this assumes that one enters the arts field because of those more intrinsic motivations. I’d like to think that this the case, but everyone is different. In any event, I very much agree with your thoughts on this.

      I say all this as an instructor of a course in arts entrepreneurship at a school that has many, many students interested in the arts, but as a general rule does not train them to be professionals in that field. Most of my students over the years have been very passionate, not to mention talented, and I suspect that many of them would have pursued careers in the field if not for their parents insisting that they study something more practical. My approach with them is to try to instill a mindset that encourages them to take those intrinsic motivations and seek out ways in which their art can have the greatest possible impact for whomever it is meant to benefit. I am very careful to point out that art doesn’t need to be created with a particular audience or market in mind (the creator is actually the his/her own first “market” that needs to be satisfied), but once it has been made, someone else may be able to benefit from experiencing it.

      I don’t know if this is the perfect approach for a course like this, but the bottom line is that there are indeed some who not only agree with your views but are also working to achieve a balance of some kind so that the intrinsic elements are not lost in an effort to help students navigate the non-artistic elements of a career in this field.


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