What Do We Really Know About People Who Get Arts Degrees?
As it turns out, quite a bit.
Since 2008, the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) has surveyed graduates of arts training programs—people who received undergraduate and/or graduate arts degrees from colleges and universities as well as diplomas from arts high schools...people who majored in architecture, arts education, creative writing, dance, design, film, fine arts, media arts, music, theater, and more.
To date, SNAAP has collected data from over 50,000 arts graduates of all ages and nationalities. These respondents, as we call them in the survey world, graduated from nearly 250 different educational institutions in the U.S. and Canada.
In a few short years, SNAAP has become what is believed to be the largest database ever assembled about the arts and arts education, as well as the most comprehensive alumni survey conducted in any field.
Recently, we published our latest findings: A Diverse Palette: What Arts Graduates Say About Their Education and Careers. The report provides findings from over 33,000 arts graduates who responded to the online survey last fall.
Our report has attracted media coverage from the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Inside Higher Ed and—we were gawked on gawker.com! My favorite may be Forbes, which compares getting an arts degree with getting a law degree—and recommends that prospective law students consider an arts career instead.
Here are some of the big questions that SNAAP data begin to answer.
1. Where do arts graduates go?
- First, they are largely employed. Only 4% of SNAAP respondents are unemployed and looking for work, as opposed to the national average of 8.9%.
- 72% have worked as professional artist at some point in their career, and just over half (51%) do so currently.
- Dance, music performance, and theater majors are the most likely to work as professional artists at some point in their careers (all at 82%). Design comes in at 81%. The lowest, not surprisingly, are arts administration (42%) and art history (30%) majors.
- Between 10–20% of students in most arts disciplines never intended to become professional artists.
2. What does a successful career look like? Is it all about income?
The more we learn about arts graduates, the more we confirm that there is little correlation between income satisfaction and overall job satisfaction. Sure, most of us in the arts would like to earn more, but the same can be said of doctors, lawyers, and shoe salesmen.
SNAAP data provide strong evidence that income is not the primary driver for job satisfaction for arts graduates.
- Nine of ten (87%) arts graduates responding to the survey who are currently employed are satisfied with the job in which they spend the majority of their work time.
- 82% are satisfied with their ability to be creative in their current job, whether working in the arts or in other fields.
- 84% of employed respondents agree that their current primary job reflects their personalities, interests and values, whether their work is in the arts or other fields.
3. How do outcomes differ for graduates from different arts disciplines?
One could write many blogs on this subject, so here are a few tidbits that have to do with earnings.
- Dancers and choreographers earn the least but are most satisfied with their arts-related jobs: 97% of dancers and choreographers are satisfied with their incomes but only 9% earned more than $50,000.
- Those graduating with a degree in architecture have the highest median income (at $55,000) while those majoring in art history, creative and other writing, dance, fine and studio art, theater, and “other” arts fields have the lowest ($35,000).
- Sound and lighting engineers or technicians (79%) and K–12 arts educators (72%) are the most satisfied with their income while fine artists report the lowest rate of satisfaction (38%).
These findings represent the tip of the iceberg. We ask arts alumni lots of questions about the skills they developed in school, how they use those skills in the workplace, and about their educational experiences. The vast majority would ‘do it again.’
Having said all that, we know that it’s essential to put our findings in context and dangerous to paint too rosy a picture. Of course, some arts graduates are employed in jobs that don’t adequately use their arts education, some suffer from heavy student debt, and some regret getting an arts degree. Many wish they had had a better education on the business of being an artist. But it’s still true that the majority are generally satisfied and happy with their life choices.
SNAAP’s primary purpose is to collect alumni data and report it back to each participating institution so they can assess and improve their curriculum, programs, and services. The deadline for institutions to participate in the 2012 survey is TODAY, July 2 (we can be somewhat flexible).
SNAAP is a big, collaborative project based at Indiana University and the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy at Vanderbilt. We are advised by a terrific National Advisory Board. Everything we have accomplished to date is thanks to generous funding from Surdna Foundation, Houston Endowment, National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and others. Our first-rate team, including Steven Tepper and Danielle Lindemann, is currently busy writing a report on the cultural workforce funded by our most recent NEA grant. (Thank you, taxpayers.)
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Did you get an arts degree? How does your experience fit in with our findings? If you are interested in digging in to the data, read our 2012 annual report. Play with our interactive SnaapShot. Encourage your institution to participate, so that your story can be added to those of your fellow arts graduates.