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What Arts Graduates Tell Us About Their Lives and Careers

Sally Gaskill

At the end of September, over 300,000 arts graduates across the U.S. and Canada will be eligible to complete the 2011 SNAAP survey.

SNAAP is the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project – an annual survey and data collection project that investigates both the educational experiences and career paths of arts graduates. The project–the biggest of its kind ever attempted–is based at Indiana University in collaboration with the Curb Center at Vanderbilt, and I serve as project manager.

The arts graduates who will be surveyed this fall come from 67 varied institutions, including specialized art schools, liberal arts colleges, large research universities, and even arts high schools.

Earlier this year, SNAAP released its first annual report, based on the responses of 13,500 arts alumni from all over the country who responded to the 2010 survey. You can see some nifty graphics that summarize some of our more interesting findings – we call it the SnaapShot.

So, what do we know about arts alumni?  Here are some nuggets gleaned from SNAAP 2010:

•    Arts graduates aren’t starving and bitter. They are in fact largely employed, satisfied with their careers, and would go to arts school again if they had it to do over.

•    Arts alumni aren’t all waiting tables to make ends meet. Those who work in the arts frequently have multiple jobs at a time, and may balance a portfolio that includes arts teaching and arts management, as well as creating or performing. And only 3% currently work in food service.

•    Working artists aren’t terribly happy with their income. This is probably not a surprise, but all categories of artists–from dancers to fine artists, architects to musicians, actors to designers–expressed dissatisfaction with their income.

Given these findings, what might be done to help better prepare artists for their future careers? The SNAAP results suggest a few areas to strengthen.

•    Teach artists about finances and running a business. While 63% of alumni have been self-employed at some time in their lives, a majority reported that their institution provided little or no help in acquiring or developing business skills.

•    Expand alumni networking opportunities. For most of us in the arts, networking is a critical part of job searches. Although 51% of undergraduate alumni said that they are satisfied with the opportunities to network with alumni and others while they were students, only 20% of the alumni are satisfied with the networking opportunities provided by their institution since they graduated.

•    Develop career services and advising opportunities. More than half of undergraduate alumni were dissatisfied with the career development services offered by their institution.

Did you graduate with an arts degree at least one or more years ago from one of the 67 institutions participating in SNAAP 2011 (see

If so, be sure that your alma mater has your current e-mail address on file. If you don’t receive an invitation by early October, you can go directly to the SNAAP website to take the survey. By participating, you will provide valuable feedback to your institution on your experiences both during and since your arts school days.

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