Who Stays and Who Leaves the Arts: Understanding the Career Trajectories of Arts Alumni in America

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The Challenge

The Challenge: 

Career success for arts alumni can take on an assortment of forms, including the success associated with maintaining a desired career in the arts. However, there is little research focusing on the career patterns of arts alumni who stay in the arts after graduation compared to arts alumni who leave. We thus attempt to shed some light on important yet understudied questions: how do experiences during the postsecondary education of arts alumni combine with their early experiences working in arts-related industries to shape the decision to leave or stay in a career devoted to artistic work? For all those that ever embarked upon arts-based employment, what factors allow some to remain in that work while others exit it and turn to work outside of the arts?

The Approach

The Approach: 

To answer these questions, we analyze the responses of arts alumni to the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project survey (collected between 2011 and 2013). Given our interests in career trajectories, we turn to a subset of survey respondents (some 52,000 of them) who are 30 years of age and older, who ever worked in an arts-related occupation, and who are still active in the labor force. We use logistic regression to discern how a range of factors combine to shape the likelihood that respondents stay in arts-based careers rather than leave them, namely: inequality stemming from gender, race and class background; the formative impact of the higher education experience (including curricular and extra-curricular aspects of that experience, such as completing a particular arts major); and the skills and experiences acquired after graduation.

Findings and Impact

Findings and Impact: 

We find that students who complete their degrees in a timely fashion; those who go on to graduate school; and those who broaden their networks and pursue internships are more likely to stay working in the arts.  There is also pronounced inequality -- men are more likely than women to stay in the arts; whites more than nonwhites; and those with less student debt.  We also find that "generalists" -- those who work in a number of different arts occupations -- are more likely to stay employed in the arts.

The research resulted in a paper published by the National Endowment for the Arts as well as an article for Culture Trends: “Oscillate wildly: the under-acknowledged prevalence, predictors, and outcomes of multidisciplinary arts practice” Steven Tepper, Alexandre Frenette and Nathan Martin. Cultural Trends 27:5.

Areas of Impact

Areas of Impact: 
  • Creative youth development and arts education
  • Creative careers