And the Growing Value of an Arts Degree
Research shows rising to the top of your class is not necessarily the best way to find a job these days. A 2012 study by the Cambridge Journal of Economics found that those most economically valued are those who aren’t tied to job prospects by their degrees. Instead, these people are applying whatever education they may have – whether that’s a high school diploma or a graduate degree – into fields that require a high degree of knowledge and human judgment. These people are known as the creative class.
The creative class ranges in jobs from engineering, the sciences, arts, education, media and entertainment. What separates the creative class is that it’s becoming more and more defined by having a high degree of knowledge, or a hybrid skill set, and less about your formal education. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over the past half century the creative class has jumped from just 15 percent, to a third of the overall workforce in America.
In a projection done by the Martin Prosperity Institute, by 2022 the United States will add 15.6 million jobs across all classes: the service class (service sector jobs like restaurants or dry cleaners), working class (factory production, construction and transportation) and finally, the creative class. Of these, 5.6 million will be creative class jobs, a 12.5 percent jump from 2012, and by far the highest growth rate of all three classes.
The creative class separates itself from the other job classes through its innate ability to transcend the career ladder, the nine-to-five and the daily grind of other full-time positions. But in doing so, these people essentially alienate themselves from the post-recession career values we as a country have held onto like a security blanket. After the housing bubble burst and the economy plummeted, Americans, more than ever, wanted their twentieth-century, nine-to-five service and working class jobs back. This is not the case anymore.
The creative class is not only growing in the overall percentage of workers, but also in the types of jobs that encompass this class. Today it can include computer engineers to graphic designers, to a journalist who makes infographics, creates data-sets, and illustrates. The creative class is becoming exemplified by a individual employees who bring an array of skills, expertise, and interests to the employer.
So, when the mockery of an arts degree begins, as it often does on campuses, the statistics surrounding the creative class can shed light on the value of studying the arts in college.
Hofstra University Fine Arts Professor Thomas Klinkowstein has watched the evolution over the years and says today’s most successful art graduates aren’t getting caught in semantic traps: “Most successful students now, in the last 5 years, have hybrid careers. There were people like this before, but then there were not words to describe it. It was somewhat frowned upon to be doing three overlapping careers at the same time instead of saying, ‘Oh I’m an artist, or I’m a designer’. And now you have designers who do ethnographic research, and also do self-created projects which sometimes do get shown in the art context.”
The creative class is not about fitting into a mold, but creating one. Today Klinkowstein points out that the value of an art degree can go further than providing the classical and tangible skills most of us think about when we think of the arts.
Klinkowstein says, “It’s not about the tools of the formal historical legacy of a particular profession, including art. Employers are asking, ‘Can they give me an alternate scenario about wherever I am interested in going’? And artists at their best do that, they’re predictors in a poetic way; they lay out alternate scenarios.”
Recent Hofstra University graduate Emily Miethner, has done just that. A design major and startup founder, Miethner has combined her artistic creativity with her organizational and event planning skills to create a startup company that helps art students and recent graduates land jobs or internships in the creative sector.
“I was doing it on the side for a long time, trying to bring people together, until I realized there was something to this, it was filling a gap,” says Miethner. “People say, ‘I wish there was something like this when I was your age’.” Miethner’s company, FindSpark, focuses on helping young creators form a network of people and companies they are passionate about so that they never have to really search for a job.
“My biggest thing is people nowadays think, ‘I need a safe job, the nine-to-five at MTV’, but just because you have a job like that it does not mean it’s safe. You always want to be growing your network, working your skills, doing your side projects, so if you do get a bad break you don’t crumble.”
Today, an arts degree can allow flexibility in an economy where employers are hiring less, and asking employees to do more. “Employers want to know that you’re going to work hard, be proactive, and show initiative. And I think having these sort of side projects and going outside the nine-to-five is a good way to show employers that you’re that type of person,” says Miethner. She also adds that it’s important to know how to freelance; being able to pick up small clients and projects is what could save you if you get laid off, and will also help you continue to grow and learn as a professional.
Callie Donnelly, a recent Hofstra graduate in community health with a minor in fine arts, is passionate about helping the community through preventative health, which teaches people how to care for their bodies and have healthy lifestyles. Little did she realize that some of the skills she learned studying the arts would set her apart from others breaking into the industry: “Going into college everybody tells you to major in something practical like business or a hard science,” Donnelly says, “Since I graduated and began entering my field I learned being a graphic designer or knowing how to use Adobe design programs is a huge advantage. In the natural product industry, companies use Adobe Indesign to create labels and marketing materials. Understanding how to create and use these programs is a huge advantage.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest ten year projections released this January, show that lower paying service jobs now make up nearly half of all jobs in America and working class jobs which once made up half the workforce have declined to almost 20 percent. The Bureau’s statistics show that the creative class is growing and it also sheds light on the growing changes in our economy.
Professor Klinkowstein points out one of the most significant changes of it all: “It’s that kind of student (Emily Miethner) who’s doing the best. You don’t just go looking for XYZ jobs; yes, you respond to all types of jobs…but you’ll always have a side agenda of creating something that only you can do, or only a small number of people can do.”