Innovating Through Artistry

Facing The Facts: Arts Education Must Be Overhauled

In Creative Support, WEBSITES & BLOGS on June 18, 2008 at 8:42 pm

While I don’t like the reality of the condition of the 21st century “working” artist, the realities that face those who currently are studying any form of art must begin to sink in to those who are teaching you. There is such a huge opportunity to transform arts education into something creative and entrepreneurial so that we can use our passions to emerge in new innovative ways and better ourselves and society.

Last week, in Denver Colorado, performers, students and educators, from around the world, showed up for the NPAC‘s ( The National Performing Arts Conference).

Colin Holter, from New Music Box, an online web magazine from the American Music Center‘s, wrote about the conference and specifically about a session he attended titled “Higher Education and the Real World of Practice”.

Given by recognized experts who are focused on training university, and especially conservatory graduates, who have built some business acumen, administrative skills, and other “peripheral” skills besides playing technique, theory, and music history, statistics emerged from this session that 85 percent of music majors end up working “in the field,” although fewer than five percent are full-time professional performers.

In Colin’s blog post titled: Can You Balance a Checkbook? he says “These are some pretty telling figures: Most music students will be doing something in music—teaching, administration, and so forth—but not what they went to college to do.”

If these percentages are reflective of all segments in the arts- which I personally believe they are- then why exactly are we pursuing degrees that do not teach us skills to survive and thrive using the art forms we are being so highly trained to do? Can any one of us afford to spend $100,000, and many of us graduating with debt we may have for more than half our life time to not build valuable skills to thrive inside our field of study?

Collin goes on in his post with this- which I could not have said better myself: “Practicing eight hours a day is a great way to become a virtuoso, but it’s also a great way to develop an eating disorder, and apparently it makes you only incrementally more likely to sustain a career as a full-time soloist or orchestral player than someone who only put in four hours per day. Conservatory training continues to carry a great deal of prestige among musicians; however, if most conservatory graduates (like most other music graduates) aren’t putting food on the table by playing three hundred nights a year, maybe their curricula should be reevaluated accordingly.”

Halelluija! Praise the Lord. Amen.

Entrepreneurship and Art training IS the answer. You love what you do enough to sacrifice for it, do it for free, on weekends, evenings and for little or no pay- that is a sign of love. Now let’s get our schools of higher education to understand that your paying them to help you cultivate your love into income. Those institutions certainly are profiting from the love you bring to your art form- It is TIME for arts education to accept the need for universal reform and ‘roll with the times’ and change.

  1. Lisa,

    Excellent post – I have mixed feelings about what you are recommending.

    Yes, there’s no question that arts training often prepares students for careers that they may not come close to devoting the time and energy that they’d like – the exact same thing happens in the dance world.

    But at the same time, students don’t seek out these programs for the practical, real-world skills that they might acquire in such programs – they do it to pursue their art, their passion.

    Doug, Thank you for your comment. I agree with you that student’s don’t seek out arts programs for practical, real-world skills, but it is the responsibility of those who design coursework for fields of study to teach them what they need to know to sustain in them. I agree with you that students should pursue their passion WHOLE HEARTEDLY.

    I simply think to do that for a lifetime, and not simply intensely for four years in college, requires training in entrepreneurship to advance artistically, creatively and financially in the world of art. Having hired, observed, taught, and coached artists for over twenty years, I know teaching entrepreneurial behavior alongside artistry would allow artists to continue doing what they love most forever and be paid for it…. Lisa Canning

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