Artists Finding Jobs and Career Satisfaction

Many people still perceive an education in the arts as preparation for living a bohemian life — a life without concern for financial security or other seemingly mundane measures of success. The media sometimes perpetuate that stereotype. Television commercials that invite viewers to come to a “starving artists” sale only encourage the general public to misperceive artists as a group of individuals who are not making enough money to feed themselves.

With that kind of publicity, why would parents want their students to major in the arts? But as former National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Dana Gioia has said, “Such caricatures misrepresent American artists and even contribute to their marginalization in society.” Not only do artists find employment or become entrepreneurs, but, according to the 2011 Strategic National Arts Alumni Project survey, those educated in the arts find employment and, over the course of their careers, tend to find more satisfaction in their jobs than many others.

According to the survey, which collected information from more than 13,000 arts graduates of 154 arts programs, 92 percent of arts graduates who want to work are indeed employed. More than half are working as professional artists or have done so in the past.

Two-thirds of arts graduates said their first job was a close match for the kind of work they wanted. Even arts graduates who do not practice full time the craft for which they were initially trained make use of the critical thinking skills, manual dexterity and mental agility they honed in art school. Some 60 percent of artists who participated in the survey have been self-employed at some point, and 14 percent had founded their own companies. These results appear to confirm the link that has long been suspected between the arts and entrepreneurship.

It comes as no surprise that larger concentrations of artists are generally found in America’s biggest cities. But other, smaller cities, such as Kansas City, also hold much promise for artists. The creative economy in Kansas City is thriving, particularly in the visual arts. With world-class art museums, an abundance of nonprofit arts organizations, a four-year college of art and design that dates to 1885, and foundations, patrons and collectors who support artistic endeavors, Kansas City has become a magnet for artists.

More than 6,000 artists live in Greater Kansas City, with a combined household income of more than $400 million, according to “The Status of Artists in Kansas City,” from a draft report dated January 2008 and published by the Arts Council of Metropolitan Kansas City and the Charlotte Street Foundation of Kansas City.

Each year, the Kansas City Art Institute graduates about 130 visual artists, many of whom remain in Kansas City because so many opportunities exist to show their work in the dozens of galleries located here and to work in arts-related industries. In many ways, Kansas City is a friendlier base for emerging artists than are larger cities, where competition is much more intense for coveted opportunities to show work. While Kansas City ranks 29th in size among metropolitan areas, it ranked seventh in the nation in the Year 2000 for its concentration of visual artists per capita, according to the Arts Council of Metropolitan Kansas City. The Kansas City area has the highest concentration of visual artists per capita of any non-coastal city.

Job prospects for artists today are encouraging, according to a recent National Endowment for the Arts study entitled “Artist Employment Projections through 2018.” Artist occupations are forecast to increase by 11 percent in this timeframe, compared with an overall increase in the labor force of 10 percent. Arts workers are twice as likely as other U.S. workers to have college degrees, a trend that may provide some advantage to artists in the U.S. economy, which increasingly requires workers to have at least some college-level education.

Artist occupations with some of the highest projected growth rates, according to the study, are museum technicians and conservators (26 percent); curators (23 percent); and multimedia artists and animators (14 percent). The study predicted a surge in demand for multimedia artists, animators and illustrators, especially those who are computer- and technology-savvy.

As the Kansas City Area Development Council continues to roll out its national branding concept for Kansas City as “America’s Creative Crossroads,” the Kansas City Art Institute stands ready to serve as one of the campaign’s leading proof points.

–Jacqueline Chanda, reprinted with permission of The Kansas City Star

Jacqueline Chanda, Ph.D., of Kansas City, is president of the Kansas City Art Institute, the only private, independent, not-for-profit, four-year college of art and design in the six-state region.

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