Busted: The Myth of the Starving Artist

A primer for parents—learn the truth about the lives and careers from arts alumni


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You can learn more about the SNAAP study using their interactive info-graphic. Find out about what arts graduates studied in school; their satisfaction with their training and experiences; jobs they have held after graduation; their involvement in the arts outside of work; and personal and economic information. A breakdown of occupations also offers an extensive list of all the job types for which arts-trained individuals are eligible.

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• To learn more about artistic careers, visit the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics web pages about arts careers.
Higher education schools that confer arts degrees have banded together to make a point: There is a real success story to be told about graduates’ futures. So if you’re a parent whose high school student has just announced he wants to major in dance, or fine art, or music, or theater, you can relax.

How come?

Because across 40 states, over 150 colleges and universities (and soon to be more) that train students in the arts have created an annual survey to find out exactly what their alumni are doing with their arts degrees.

The results of the Strategic Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP), titled “Forks in the Road: The Many Paths of Arts Alumni,” were surprising. SNAAP surveyed more than 13,000 individuals that received either an undergraduate or graduate degree in an artistic field. According to George Kuh, Indiana University professor emeritus and SNAAP project director, “SNAAP represents the largest database available about the lives and careers of arts graduates.” It’s the first study of its kind; no one ever asked arts majors what they experienced after graduation. And the study provides real data into understanding whether the “starving artist” is fact or fiction.

To that end, there’s good news—arts students are gainfully employed. A whopping 92% of arts alumni who wish to work currently are, with 81% of them finding employment soon after graduating. (Let’s get this one out of the way: They aren’t waiters. Only 3% of the 13,581 respondents are working in food service. Sixty-five percent work within the arts and 43%—including those waiters—work outside of the arts.)

Here are a few other facts that may surprise you—and even make you glad that your child is interested in the arts:

Toiling is not required. Two-thirds said their first job was a close match for the kind of work they wanted.

Don’t take their interest lightly. Seventy-one percent of arts majors who are not professional artists continue to practice their art. So your child’s interests probably run deep and will last long. That’s nothing to minimize.

Arts training is good for the bottom line. Of those who currently work outside arts fields, 54% said their arts training is relevant to the job in which they spend the majority of their time. Eighty-eight percent believe thinking creatively is a key to being successful at work.

Some even become entrepreneurs. More than six in ten (63%) of respondents are self-employed since graduating, with 14% founding their own companies.

They’ll be glad they did it. Arts graduates are happy with their training, with 90% reporting their overall experience at their institution was either good or excellent. And 76% say they would make the same choice to study the arts at the same institution.

On the flip side…

Oh yes, the debt deterrent. Almost 30% of former professional artists and those who wanted to be an artist but did not do so pointed to debt, including student loan debt, as a reason to find other work. Keep in mind student loans are affecting today’s college graduates regardless of their declared major.

We never said it was easy. Fifty-seven percent of current professional artists hold at least two jobs concurrently.

Thanks to the survey, parents can learn what lies ahead for their children as they seek educational training and a career in the arts.




John Abodeely
Original Writer

Editors & Producers

Lisa Resnick
Content Editor

Tiffany Bryant
Assistant Manager, Audience Enrichment

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