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Sally Gaskill
Strategic National Arts Alumni Project

Last modified: Tuesday, June 19, 2012

SNAAP report: Arts graduates find their way to jobs and satisfying lives

June 19, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Findings from a national study released this week show that Americans with arts degrees are generally satisfied with their educational and career experiences. For example, nearly nine out of 10 employed arts graduates responding to the survey are satisfied with the job they spend the majority of their work time in. Of those employed alumni, 82 percent were satisfied with their ability to be creative in their current work, whether working in the arts or in other fields.

The report, "A Diverse Palette: What Arts Graduates Say About Their Education and Careers," details findings from more than 36,000 arts alumni of 66 institutions. Participating schools include research universities, independent colleges of art and design, conservatories, liberal arts colleges, and arts high schools. The results from the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project, based at the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research, provide insights into the lives and careers of arts graduates of all ages, including their satisfaction with their educational training and experiences, various employment paths, involvement in the arts outside work, and overall satisfaction with their jobs and income.

"Many think an arts career is an on-off switch, with graduates becoming professional artists or leaving the field to pursue a different path," said Steven Tepper, associate director of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University. "But there are many variations and hues. Many arts graduates work both in and outside of the arts simultaneously; most continue to make and perform art even when they work as lawyers or lab technicians; and they use their arts training in a variety of settings and careers. In a sense, then, arts graduates never really graduate from the arts. ... they stay involved."

Indeed, arts graduates are very involved in the arts and in arts organizations. For example, seven out of 10, or 72 percent, perform or make art during their non-work time. Almost half, 45 percent, of all respondents donated money to either an arts organization or an artist in the past 12 months, including 37 percent of those with household incomes under $100,000. Nationally, only 6 percent of all U.S. households earning under $100,000 contribute to the arts (Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, 2007).

According to Samuel Hoi, president of Otis College of Art and Design, "My college, which has been tracking alumni outcomes for some years, uses SNAAP so that we can better understand our work in the context of nationally comparative data."

Other noteworthy findings from the 2011 SNAAP survey include:

  • Only 4 percent of SNAAP respondents report being unemployed and looking for work -- less than half the national rate of 8.9 percent (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011).
  • 84 percent of employed alumni agree that their current primary job reflects their personalities, interests and values, whether their work is in the arts or other fields.
  • Those with degrees in the performing arts and design are the most likely to be employed as professional artists, with 82 percent of dance, theater and music performance majors and 81 percent of design majors working as professional artists at some point.
  • Degree level matters in terms of whether an arts graduate works as a professional artist. Eighty-six percent of those with a master's degree in the arts have worked as professional artists, compared to 71 percent whose highest degree is a bachelor's.
  • 57 percent of all arts alumni have at some point worked as teachers of the arts, and 27 percent do this currently.
  • Aspects of their institution with which alumni are least satisfied include career advising, opportunities for degree-related internships or work, and opportunities to network with alumni and others.

According to Sarah Bainter Cunningham, executive director of research at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, "SNAAP makes it possible to imagine a future where schooling, public policy and data merge to form new ideas about igniting the passion and creativity of the next generation of artists."

SNAAP is a collaboration between the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research and the Vanderbilt University Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy. Participation in the annual survey is open to all degree-granting colleges and universities as well as arts high schools. The registration deadline for this year's national administration is July 2, 2012.

SNAAP was launched with support from the Surdna Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Houston Endowment and other funders. The project is based at the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research, School of Education, 1900 E. 10th St., Suite 419, Bloomington IN 47406. More information, including a copy of the annual report and an interactive SnaapShot based on the findings, is available on the SNAAP website.