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Why Continue a Career in the Arts? (Part 2)

Jessica Wilt

In part 1 of my blog post, I started to talk about how the economy is affecting arts administrators. Specifically, how the financial and jobs crisis is weighing heavier on midcareer level individuals. Now, what we can do about it?

Here are three things I see happening today, mainly due to the economy:

#1 – Unpaid internships have now replaced what used to be the entry level job. Anyone can be an intern, no matter what age, and companies get by with more unpaid labor. Ultimately this helps with their bottom line, but in turn is destroying the pay scale. What used to be respectable manager/director pay is often times now entry level salary.

CBS Sunday Morning recently did a great story highlighting the new trend employers are quickly taking advantage of. Just get an intern! They can fix and solve all your problems…for FREE! I’ve watched job posting sites like NYFA.org and Idealist.org shift from a plethora of full-time job listings to include more internship posts.

#2 – Due to budget cuts and downsizing, full-time jobs are being given part-time titles with no benefits. Or, full-time employees are asked to take on even more responsibility with less staff, give up percentages of their pay, watch benefits disappear, and participate in work furloughs.

#3 – Those at the top who would normally be nearing retirement are holding onto their jobs for dear life, which in turn, hinders midcareer level folks like me any chance for “moving up the ladder.” Not that I blame them for staying, it’s just become the new reality. (And honestly, a few really do need to retire).

What do I see are the options?

1.    While we make do with our current situation, we can go through extensive and time-consuming job searches that take months, or in some cases years. This is what happened to me. Stressful and beyond frustrating, yes. But the pay off for practicing patience has been rewarding.

2.    We can accept positions that require us to uproot and relocate, or worse, move back home with Mom and Dad. Once I was open to look outside of New York, ironically more job options both out of state and locally came my way. It’s all about the energy you put out into the world.

3.    We can change fields completely or go back to school as John Abodeely talks about in his recent post on ARTSblog. I asked myself, do I really need a MBA or PhD?  And then, do I simply want to escape reality for a few years and dig myself into a deeper hole with mounds of student loan debt waiting for me later? No, not really.

4.    Whine and complain – The easy and less productive option. Yes, I am guilty. A big thank you goes out to the colleagues, family, and friends who have supported me with your patience through difficult times.

5.    Or, what I ultimately would recommend and finally chose to do: be the change you seek.

After working in an environment surrounded by financial uncertainty, chaos, and borderline employer abuse, I resigned from a job where I truly loved the work. In my last post, I mention the four core needs that Ted Schwartz speaks of – physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual (I would add a fifth: financial). When all of these needs were balancing out to a big fat zero in my life, I recognized, despite my emotional ties to the work that it was time to go.

Now, I’m not in any way suggesting you quit your job! However, I will say that sometimes the only way you can get the “powers that be” to listen is when you hold the power by speaking up for yourself and present realistic solutions to your concerns. If a compromise cannot be made, at least you can say you tried.

I’m happy to report that after another extensive search, I’ve accepted a position that puts me back in the arts education field. The job’s salary, still below where it should be, is far better than before. Benefits such as transportation reimbursement, central and accessible office location, and paid professional development related to my position’s responsibilities also made the decision more enticing.

Most of all, I feel appreciated and respected for the experience I’m bringing to the organization and see room for personal growth as an arts administrator. How cool is that?

For better or worse, the past few years have forced me to reevaluate my profession not once, but twice. Constantly I’m second-guessing whether I’m doing the right thing by digging in my heels and putting up with the craziness for the sake of being an artist.

But then again, if I chose a life working in the government or corporate sector, and instead lived my passion for the arts through volunteer service, would things be any different? I’m not so sure.

So, “Why continue a career in the arts?”

People may say I care a little too much about work, but I often put up with the nonsense because I know my involvement in the arts education field changes children’s lives for the better. And for that, I can’t imagine living my life any other way.

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