Quick Study: May 16, 2024

Jo Reed: Welcome to Quick Study. I'm Josephine Reed. This is the monthly podcast from the National Endowment for the Arts, where we'll share stats and stories to help us better understand the value of art in everyday life. Sunil Iyengar’s the pilot of Quick Study, and he's the Director of Research and Analysis here at the Arts Endowment. Good morning, Sunil.

Sunil Iyengar: Good morning, Jo.

Jo Reed: How's your spring?

Sunil Iyengar: Oh, it's going pretty well. You know what they say, tis the season for pomp and circumstance, I mean. There are plenty of commencement speeches going on right now. Lots of tasseled caps flying in the air. So I thought we could look at a report about arts and design in higher ed, or specifically how graduates from those programs have been doing. This report I'm going to be talking about is based on a periodic survey called the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project. Quick, Jo, what's the acronym?

Jo Reed: Damned if I know.

Sunil Iyengar: Oh, SNAAP. SNAAP is the acronym.

Jo Reed: Oh, that is such a dad joke!

Sunil Iyengar: <laughs> Yeah, I'm told that. For this episode, we're considering how arts and design alumni in 2022 reported through this survey about their current careers, their work history, and whether they feel they got the training they needed for the jobs they ended up taking.

Jo Reed: Oh, that seems really interesting. Go ahead, I'm waiting.

Sunil Iyengar: So the study, which was supported by an NEA research grant to University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, explored employment outcomes and perceptions among alumni from post-secondary arts and design programs. That's bachelors, master's and doctoral degree holders, but also graduates from certificate programs.

Jo Reed: This looks at graduates of arts programs throughout all different artistic fields. What are the breakdowns here? 

Sunil Iyengar: Yes. So, 10% of arts alumni were musicians. Roughly the same percent were designers, illustrators or art directors. Nine percent taught art and design in higher education, while another nine percent were arts administrators or managers. Between 6 and 7%, meanwhile, were each in the following occupations: writer, author or editor, K-through-12 arts educator, video artist or fine artist.

Jo Reed: Can we imagine most graduates wound up with jobs in the arts?

Sunil Iyengar: To me, that's one of the interesting things about the study. While it's true that the majority of the survey respondents, really 56% of all arts alumni reported having an arts or design occupation, they were thinly distributed across all the various types of arts jobs listed on the survey. Guess which occupation makes up the largest percentage of all arts alumni? That's 12%.

Jo Reed: I have no idea.

Sunil Iyengar: So, 12% of the respondents said they were in an arts occupation not listed on the survey at all.

Jo Reed: Not listed?

Sunil Iyengar: <laughs> Yeah, and believe me, it's quite a generous list of options you're given in the survey. So I'm sure the folks at SNAAP are plenty curious to know what those other arts jobs are. Another surprising tidbit is that roughly half of the alumni who identified themselves as having an arts or design occupation chose two or more occupations to describe their work. We already know from our research on artists, for example, that people who work as artists frequently hold multiple jobs and they also have a high rate of being self-employed. By the way, Jo, speaking of self-employment, it turns out that a whopping 75% of arts and design alumni reported having been self-employed at one time or other in their careers. Specifically, 39% were currently self-employed at the time of the survey and 36% had previously been self-employed.

Jo Reed: And  we talked about this. We used the NEA's own research about artists in the workforce. We used, I think, the Census Bureau numbers, and artists are often self-employed.

Sunil Iyengar: Yes. At the NEA, we regularly produce research reports on artists in the workforce, and that's one of the things we found consistently.

Jo Reed: Okay, so I get that with the report we're discussing today, we're not only talking about artists, but about graduates from arts and design programs in higher education. So how do those results compare with our research, NEA research on artists?

Sunil Iyengar: Yeah, I'll tell you. Most of the time when we apply government stats to study artists, or artists and cultural workers more generally, we look at occupation or industry codes. The 2022 SNAAP survey, however, asks not only about arts and design occupations using some of the same descriptors we do, but it also gets at, quote, “Job duties” that may involve arts and design. So, for instance, while 56% of arts alumni said they worked in an arts or design occupation, 75% said they had arts or design related job duties, regardless what their occupation or job title was. Just to give you some idea, 44% said they brought artistic design, architectural, or creative writing techniques to their arts or non-arts jobs. Thirty-three percent said they managed or administered programs somehow relevant to arts, design, or creative writing. Thirty-two percent said they taught visual or performing arts or design or creative writing. Thirty-two percent were involved in showing, planning, or creating visual artwork, while thirty-one percent were involved in managing artists, designers, and other creative workers. Again, this wasn't necessarily their job title or occupation, but they found themselves doing this as part of their job.

Jo Reed: I'm curious, what kind of non-arts occupations do these arts alumni have?

Sunil Iyengar: So some of the top jobs there are, are in education, training, or library services. Communications, such as journalism, marketing, public relations, or advertising. Or management jobs.

Jo Reed: Okay, that makes sense. That makes perfect sense. I would figure there'd be a lot of former art majors in those kinds of jobs. What about unexpected findings?

Sunil Iyengar: So, there are some. It turns out that arts and design alumni who actually ended up in occupations where they performed arts-related job duties were, on the whole, more likely to report being very satisfied with the level of creativity required of their work, and the opportunity to be intellectually challenged. Sixty percent of arts alumni in general said they were very satisfied with the level of independence permitted in their work. So actually, maybe that part's not so surprising, but then when you start to wonder how they feel their post-secondary training set them up for such careers, and whether these alumni feel they've been adequately prepared, that gets very interesting.

Jo Reed: So what does the study say about it?

Sunil Iyengar: So it says that, well, while 47% of arts alumni said their ultimate career was closely related to their field of study, 29% said it was only somewhat related, and 23% said it was not related at all. Indeed, 29% of alumni said a degree in arts and design was only slightly or not at all important to advancing a career in arts and design.

Jo Reed: To me, that seems high. Do they talk about the reason, or are you able to suss out what the reason is for this?

Sunil Iyengar: Yeah, it's hard to say, but let me end with a finding that will give administrators of arts programs in higher ed some food for thought as they revisit their curricular offerings. So first, 65% of arts alumni said they believed business, financial, or entrepreneurial skills were important in order to perform effectively in any current paid work. Yet only 33% of arts alumni said they'd received that training. So again, 65% versus 33% that actually said they received that training. So this was by far the largest gap between the perceived needs of alumni and the training they reported receiving. For other skills, such as project management, technology, and networking or relationship building, there was a 17-point gap between the percent of alumni who said the skill was needed in the current work environment, on the one hand, and the percent who said they’d acquired that skill at their higher ed institution.

Jo Reed: Wow. So I can see how this survey really can help inform colleges and universities, think about enriching their programs to make them more relevant to today's arts graduates--

Sunil Iyengar: Yeah, and I think-many of them are doing that, but I think this is definitely going to give them some more kind of justification for thinking about incorporating those kinds of offerings into their curriculum.

Jo Reed: Is it kind of a sticky wicket, though? Because, on one hand, so many people in the arts are self-employed, so courses in business and entrepreneurial skills might be appropriate. But then you enter that intersection of art and commerce, which can really take some navigating.

Sunil Iyengar: Yeah, I mean, one of the things we've seen over the years is that so much of artists' work is-- or arts work, I should say, in general, is project-based. In other words, as you know, and we've talked about this, again, when we talked about self-employed artists in the so-called gig economy, so much of it hinges on a particular project for a specific period of time. Sometimes a temporary project and multiple jobs that somebody might hold to kind of keep a portfolio going of their work. Again, this applies not only for artists, but I believe for arts workers more generally, too. So I think it is, I would say, a very moving target for college and university administrators to try to plan for, to provide the type of training that can not only provide the deep skills needed for those projects, say those artistic or arts-related projects, but also the skills that will give them the ability to sustain employment over the long term. Which may indeed require knowing more about navigating, as you say, the business of the arts, and also shifting across different sectors even, in being agile in that way, which requires entrepreneurial training.

Jo Reed: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think of artwork as the home of the 1099.

Sunil Iyengar: <laughs> Yeah, right.

Jo Reed: I really look forward to see where this leads and I hope we talk about it again.

Sunil Iyengar: Thank you, Jo.

Jo Reed: Thank you, Sunil. Have a good month.

Sunil Iyengar: You too.

Jo Reed: That was Sunil Iyengar. He's the Director of Research and Analysis here at the National Endowment for the Arts. You've been listening to Quick Study. The music is “We Are One” from Scott Holmes Music. It's licensed through Creative Commons. Until next month, I'm Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening.

In today's episode of Quick Study, in this graduation season, we review findings from a study of postsecondary degree-holders in the arts, focused on their career outcomes, including satisfaction with jobs and training.