I received my BFA in Painting and Printmaking from VCU in Richmond, Va. in 1992 and my MIS degree from VCU in 2008. Virginia Commonwealth University is rated as the #1 Graduate School for Sculpture in the US and #2 in the country for Fine Arts in general (according to US News & World Report. You can see that report here.) I was really blessed to go there and it was a great experience. Today, I received an email from my alma mater, asking me to participate in a yearly survey they conduct regarding my experience at VCU and how it affected (or didn’t affect) my career and future decisions with my work. Here is an excerpt of the email:
“SNAAP—the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project—is an innovative study of arts graduates from across the United States and Canada. Virginia Commonwealth University wants to know: Looking back, how do you feel about your arts education? What paths have you taken in your career? The information you provide will illuminate the national findings about the value of an arts education and will be used to strengthen our programs here and in many other institutions. The SNAAP survey is a rare opportunity to help shape the future of arts education and is offered only to participating institutions and their graduates.”
I’ve taken this survey in the past as I think they send it out every year or so. At the end of the survey they actually give you an infographic of all the results of those who have taken it thus far. I have to admit that it’s pretty interesting. SNAAP’s report found that:
- The unemployment rate for arts alumni is less than half the unemployment rate for all Americans, and about equivalent to the unemployment rate for college graduates.
- The overwhelming majority (92%) of SNAAP respondents reported either a “good” or “excellent” experience at their alumni institution and most would “do it all over again” if given the chance.
- More than three-quarters of currently employed arts alumni are “somewhat” or “very” satisfied with their primary job.
- More than two-thirds of arts alumni remain active in the arts community by creating, exhibiting and performing.
- Arts alumni are significantly more likely than the average American to have volunteered their time or donated money to an arts organization or artist in the past year.
When I was in undergrad art school, it was back in the late 80’s-early 90’s so it was more difficult to network with galleries, find jobs in our field, or interact within an arts community outside of where you lived. It helped if you knew someone who could set up introductions. I learned about what was going on in the art world by reading about in Art News or Art in America. To find out about what few art jobs there were, we looked in the newspaper (remember job-hunting in the “Want Ads?”) There were also good publications like Art Calendar which showcased exhibition opportunities, but I don’t remember that being too prevalent until later. There were no cell phones and no computers, so we typed out our artist statements and resumes on the typewriter and snail-mailed them. (Yes, I know I’m old, but no one can document all the stupid stuff I did back then either.)
So in art school itself, they weren’t really focused on teaching us about marketing your work, pricing your work, negotiating (or sales in general,) copyright laws and its application to our work, contracts, etc. You get the picture. I remember there was an Art Law class they offered for one semester to see how it would fly and they never offered it again while I was there. So much has changed over the years in most art schools. There are, of course, schools like Pratt Institute which offers programs like the Master of Professional Studies in Arts and Cultural Management program (their arts version of an MBA) or their Advanced Certificate in Museum Studies. University of New Orleans has an MA in Arts Administration program that I almost applied for, but I decided to live closer to family. As far as being one of the top art schools in the country, I’m surprised that VCU hasn’t branched out in these arenas. Here is the infographic I spoke of.
One of the questions the survey asked was if my experience in art school affected my current job and I answered a hearty “Heck yes!” As a blogger and artist, I believe that just about every experience you have leads you to where you’re supposed to be in Life. I use my creativity all the time in my household. I have a studio that was converted from an unfinished attic, and is a great place for painting, sewing…there’s a miter saw for making frames, jewelry-making station, and so on. I learned most of those fun things in art school, and if I’m using it today then it was a good investment. It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, (especially since blogging didn’t exist back then!) I spent years in the wrong professions, existing in Cubicle Farms or punching a clock because I didn’t know what else to do with two degrees in Art! I am finally in a comfortable place professionally, and am grateful to my alma mater for not necessarily teaching me how to be successful… but teaching me to be a good artist and define success on my own terms.