Saturday, September 2, 2017

Where is the HIRE AN ARTIST Campaign?

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on.................."

Enrollment at, and graduation from, arts schools and university arts curriculum programs has been growing dramatically over the past decade; testimony to the vitality of the arts, and the level of interest in arts education at an advanced level.

We, of course, have long championed arts eduction as preparing students for a wide variety of careers; imparting knowledge and skills that are valuable and applicable to a host of pursuits and enterprises - beyond those who want to be practicing artists.  We believe that majoring in the arts, getting a Masters in Fine Arts, ought to be rightly seen as a skill set that qualifies graduates to succeed in a wide variety jobs and professions.  We argue that the arts teach creative innovation, which business now recognizes as one of the most important skills it needs to competitively succeed.

Some students who major in the arts, do so to become practicing artists.  Others may gravitate to different professions and occupations.  And while their prospects, either as artists or using their arts training and education in other fields, have improved somewhat, we are still in a situation where a too high percentage of working artists have trouble earning a living as working artists, and those educated in the arts find that prospective employers still don't really fully appreciate that an arts education offers business and industry a unique pool of candidates that might bring their creative and innovative skills to the workplace.

Indeed, corporate America, while it consistently verifies that what it most needs is creative thinkers, innovative people, and those who question the usual way of doing things and who bring a wider perspective to doing business, still clings to the default position that if someone with an arts degree applies for a job, they need to think in terms of the Design or Art Department.  Rarely to they make the quite logical jump to looking at our graduates as potentially valuable additions to product innovation, marketing, finance, corporate strategy, human resource or any of a half dozen other business areas where we might well bring a fresh way of doing things.

In an editorial in Artsy, Laura Callanan, argues that:

“While employers are seeking out more creative workers, they may be overlooking the more than 2 million working artists and 60,000 annual graduates of art schools in America today,” the report reads. “This large, skilled, and highly trained workforce represents a much needed, yet overlooked segment that can provide value to business, government, and the social sector.
“You especially want [artist employees] at the early stage of a new initiative, to ask the questions that aren’t obvious.  Companies shouldn’t be thinking about bringing artists to simply place them in traditional art-related roles (like Creative Director). Rather, artists should be recognized for their wide range of skills and integrated into a team looking to address a specific problem beyond the arts.

Partly that's because that's the way business has always thought about artists and the arts.  And despite great progress in getting them to understand the importance of creativity and innovation in the success of business in the marketplace, they still regard the arts as something they just can't quantify in a way that business likes to quantify things.  So we still have our work cut out for us if we are to help our working artist and graduates who may want a career in business somewhere.

What we need is a concerted campaign to Hire An Artist, or Hire An Arts Graduate.  Unfortunately, we do not have deep enough pockets to mount the kind of educational, public relations, advertising campaign that's needed.  One that repeats the message often and long enough for it to sink in.  But as with our other campaigns, we can begin that process, even if done on an ad hoc basis by all of us as individual entities.  Not ideal, but that's the reality.

What we need is to identify some of our best and brightest who might shepherd and organize the bare bones outline of how to proceed, and then provide them with some seed money to go and do it.  And do it in a way that provides the field with more than a report ending in a challenge.  What we need is, at the very least, a tool kit, and even better a well thought out strategy for mounting such a campaign given the disparate and decentralized nature of our sector.  This is precisely the kind of thing i believe the NEA ought to take a lead on, but the Endowment isn't really set up to tackle these kinds of challenges.  Partly that's because the grantee beneficiaries of the agency want to keep that funding stream alive and don't really want to see it diminished by a reallocation of funding to national sector challenges - other than research.  I understand that, I accept that, and I regret that reality.

But even if the NEA were to seed fund the effort, it will still likely take some additional support funding from another source - foundation, public agency or otherwise.  We're not taking about financing a Procter and Gamble launch of a new soap.  We're just talking about moving along the idea of a campaign that would instill in corporate America the idea that hiring artists and arts graduated makes sense.  That is a goal we should all have, and not much is likely to change until we do something to change it.  Maybe we could interest some major Search Firms to take up the mantle.  They, arguably, have something to gain.

As Callanan suggested in the editorial:

“If in 15 years from now you and I talk again, and the MFA programs are offering a different curriculum than what’s there today—one that talks about artists as innovators, the stages of innovation, how they’re the same or different from the creative process, how you engage with a community to understand their needs, how you talk to social investors, that to me is going to indicate this idea caught on.”

In the same painstaking way the sector succeeded in getting the media, public and elected officials to begin to understand the economic value of the arts, in the same way we have somewhat succeeded in establishing arts education as essential, we ought to be able to change the perspective of corporate America to embrace the idea that the arts are good for business and that they should HIRE AN ARTIST.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit