Steven Tepper, Rick Lowe, and some great news for creative workers

BSA had the honor to host a wonderful thinker and researcher who studies the professional lives of young creative workers last week. Steven Tepper, a sociologist by training, is the Dean of the Herberger School of Art & Design at Arizona State University.

Steven’s talk highlighted the many advantages of training in the arts – for a host of careers. Among his many pursuits, he plays a major role in the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project, a survey of graduates of college and high school arts programs.

Woven through his presentation was the sense that employers value creative people, artists are generally much more happy with their lives than the general workforce and students who train as artists work in their fields at higher rates than most professionals.

Among the many fascinating findings he shared with us – a poll of the top 500 U.S. CEOs stated the most valued characteristic in employees is creativity. It would seem that students of the arts should have some real value in that dimension.

It was also interesting to learn that graduates of university arts programs pursued artistic careers in greater percentages than most STEM degree holders. The mythical outcome of arts programs, the food service industry, is home to only 3% of arts graduates.

In terms of employment/unemployment artists fare pretty well too. When you ask if artists are making their living in artistic pursuits, the unemployment level is well below the national average. Only when you pose the question as the U.S. Dept of Labor does (have you made money at this profession in the last week?) do you find higher than average unemployment numbers. Most artists are project-based so income arrives in clumps rather than in a weekly paycheck. I was fascinated to learn that even in the depths of the 2008 recession artists experienced lower unemployment than the nation at large.

Lastly, Steven shared the very high level of reported job satisfaction for artists, a level that’s double many “financially safe” professions. Surely the joy one feels in your professional career is worth noting, particularly if unemployment is less than national averages.

Steven was in town to participate in a convening of local and national figures to consider how the arts can contribute to a more equitable, diverse and socially cohesive community in Baltimore (see my recent blog about this conference here).

At this meeting, I had the pleasure to meet a professional artist with an interesting story that connects to Steven’s talk. Rick Lowe, trained as a painter, has shifted his work to engage in public art that focuses on community revitalization. Rick told me that he was from Houston, Texas and we talked about that region (See more about his ProjectRowHouses).

He also told me about a current project in Dallas, Trans.Lation in the Vickery Meadow neighborhood, which I had a chance to visit this past weekend. Rick’s work there is designed to celebrate the incredible diversity of the neighborhood and provide resources to allow its residents to flower. On Saturday, the Trans.Lation crew was at the Oak Cliff Community Center in South Dallas (for history buffs, it is next to the Texas Theatre, the site of Lee Harvey Oswald’s arrest after assassinating President Kennedy). The project provided food-handling courses for some wonderful Middle Eastern chefs. These ladies were dishing out some great food and making some money along the way.

I find it fascinating that Rick’s work as an artist is dedicated to bringing a better life to people in communities rich in possibility but poor in some of the things we all prize. Vickery Meadow might ring a bell with you. It is a neighborhood with many recent immigrants with minimal resources. If it rings a bell, it may be because the first U.S. Ebola case came from that neighborhood.

What an interesting outcome for an artist! Apparently others think so too, as Rick is the recipient of a MacArthur Genius Award.

So many possibilities are out there for our young people! As a school we are dedicated to developing the strongest imaginable preparation for them.


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