Employment in the Arts: Recent Perspectives
Is creative expression a one-way ticket to unemployment? That was the question asked by a recent opinion article in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), written by Jerry Cianciolo. He believes the artistic talents and passions of middle school and high school students – nurtured and celebrated by parents – are too often squelched when “real life” decisions about choosing colleges and careers are made.
Cianciolo cites studies to bolster his case that most arts graduates successfully find employment and – more importantly – higher levels of job satisfaction than average American workers. There are exceptions, of course, but he concludes by wondering why so many former artists sacrificed their passion at the altar of affluence:
“…How many mathematicians, engineers and scientists are…still gnawed, many years later, by the fact that they relinquished their first love [music, dance, art] for the sake of a big house, three cars and a flat-screen TV?”
Checking the Index. This opinion piece motivated us to take a closer look at education and arts employment data in the 2014 National Arts Index (NAI), released late last year. The NAI calls itself as “a tool to stimulate public dialogue about the value of the arts as well as improve policy and decision-making.” From the halls of high school to the real-world job market, here are three key NAI highlights we noticed:
High-School Arts Participation Falling. Recent trends show fewer college-bound high school seniors have four years of arts and music preparation, which NAI authors attribute to cuts in arts education. We find it ironic that high-stakes testing in K-12 education often reduces arts education funding in favor of core academic subjects like language and mathematics, yet four years of high school arts participation is proven to boost both verbal and math SAT scores.
College Arts Degrees Increasing. It seems counterintuitive with fewer college-bound seniors taking art, but more college arts degrees were conferred annually from 1997 to 2012 – up more than 80%. This increase, partly attributed to more design degrees and double majors, is touted by NAI as “promising news for business leaders looking for an educated and creative workforce.”
Arts Employment Strong. NAI cites indicators showing steady levels of arts employment, such as a 14% increase in working artists from 1996 to 2012 (from 1.99 to 2.18 million). Artists remained a 1.5% of the civilian workforce. Self-employed “artist-entrepreneurs” – musicians, dancers, actors, poets, painters, etc. – increased every year but one between 2000 and 2012. Across all arts occupations, average earnings kept pace with inflation, increasing to $53,000. The diverse occupations of arts workers range from designers and crafts artists to performance professionals and artistic technicians.
Road(ie) to Riches. One type of artistic technician capitalizing on employment trends is the roadie who sets up stage equipment for live concerts. According to a cover story in the “Arena” section of WSJ on March 20, roadies are helping produce increasingly complex touring shows with sophisticated sound and lighting equipment. (The music industry relies more heavily on concert revenue since album sales have fallen 60% the past 20 years.) The average salary of a “sound engineering technician” is $57,000; road managers can earn double that.
Your Turn. It may be a cliché – Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life – but it contains a kernel of truth. What’s the best (or worst) career advice you have received?