John M. Eger – Huffington Post

Lionel Van Deerlin Professor of Communications and Public Policy, San Diego State University

Posted: 09/28/11

The myth of the starving artist is just that, a myth, according to a recent report of the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP).

“Arts graduates are finding ways to put together careers and be employed — and many of them are satisfied with their work,” said Steven J. Tepper, associate director of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy, assistant professor in the department of sociology at Vanderbilt University and senior scholar of SNAAP.

The study found:

  • Ninety-two percent of arts alumni who wish to work currently are, with most finding employment soon after graduating.
  • Two-thirds said their first job was a close match for the kind of work they wanted.
  • More than half (57%) are currently working as professional artists.
  • More than six in ten (63%) were self-employed since graduating.

But over half hold at least two jobs concurrently; 18% are working three or more jobs, and few had the business or marketing skills they needed to start their own business or even to launch their careers.

A panel that discussed these findings at the recent annual convention of the Americans for the Arts seemed satisfied — even pleased — with SNAAP’s report perhaps because they thought things were worse than they were.

Art leaders, educators and policymakers need to better understand that the status quo for arts education is missing a few things; specifically, the importance of business savvy and the increasing demand for arts trained executives.

At the Institute For Arts Entrepreneurship in Chicago there is clearly recognition that the artist in society can and must play a larger role in societal and economic affairs. They believe that, “Artistic training … should be viewed as a high level educational pursuit similar to the training of a doctor or lawyer. And because most artists are intelligent enough to have become a doctor or lawyer, there is simply no reason they cannot become vibrant, relevant, and meaningful contributors to society if offered the rest of the training they need to do so.”

A minor in art and entrepreneurship is offered in the Department of Art Education at Ohio State University. And at The University of Texas in Austin, Columbia College in Chicago, The Meadows School of the Arts at SMU in Dallas Texas, and Millikin University in Decatur Illinois, those skills are woven into the fabric of the arts degree.

Something else is happening in business and engineering schools alike, i.e., they are integrating arts and sciences to create a more well rounded curriculum but also, laying the foundation for the workforce most corporate executives say will be most in demand in the so-called new economy. The U.S. based Conference Board, a global research organization representing businesses worldwide, found that “U.S. employers rate creativity and innovation among the top five skills that will increase in importance over the next five years, and stimulating innovation and creativity and enabling entrepreneurship is among the top 10 challenges of U.S. CEOs.”

Importantly, they also found that that “arts-training — and, to a lesser degree, communications studies — are crucial to developing creativity.” There should be no doubt that arts education is crucial to the future of America.