Tepper: Bright future for creative careers.

By Emily Harrison Weir

There is good news for those planning careers in the arts and other creative fields, said Steven Tepper, a thought leader, writer, and presenter on creativity. He spoke at Mount Holyoke College October 2 on “The Future of Work and Creative Careers: How to Help Students Expand their Occupational Imaginations.”

Tepper shared myth-busting results from a survey of 100,000 arts graduates that he conducted as research director of the Strategic National Arts Alumnae Project. Arts graduates are just as likely as other graduates to find paid work in their major field within five years of graduation, the study found. In fact, the unemployment rate among arts graduates is about the same as that for other graduates.

It is true, Tepper acknowledged, that artists often make lower salaries than other professionals—about 12 percent less on average.

“But evidence from international surveys shows that artists are among the happiest of all professionals,” he said, adding, “Would you trade maybe $6,000 for a life of meaningful purpose and passionate happiness?”

A bright future.

Tepper, who is dean of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University, predicted a bright, if changing, future for creative workers. 

“We’re living in a world of protean careers that morph, shift, and stretch,” he noted. “That’s true in the arts, and true for everybody.”

The shapes careers take are shifting dramatically, but most evidence suggests that there are more opportunities now for creative types, according to Tepper.

That was encouraging news for Ellen Setchko Palmerlee ’16, who is a premed student with a dance minor.

“Tepper touched on ways I can use my art more in my career, instead of focusing solely on medicine,” she said. “I’d love to be able to incorporate art—such as dance therapy—into whatever I end up doing. My art can be part of my future.”

Creative and intellectual-property “products”—film, music, publishing, game design, and so on—are rising as a percent of America’s exports, Tepper said. It’s bigger already than the agricultural, auto, or chemical economic sectors.

“Increasingly, we’re living in an experience economy in which people will pay a premium for a deeply engaging, communal experience,” he said. “Artists provide those experiences. From an economic standpoint, opportunities are increasing for artists.”

Creativity: Crucial for all. 

Creativity isn’t just for artists, Tepper emphasized. He has spoken widely about developing a set of creative competencies that will serve all students well in many kinds of careers. Aspiring physics major Puyang Ma ’18, for example, attended the talk because she’s recently “become attentive to social sciences, humanities, and the arts.” Ma is hoping to develop creative skills that will help her expand a non-governmental organization (NGO) in China founded by her mother.

Tepper said he wants to “recalibrate the national conversation about creativity,” and that means having students expand their horizons about possible careers.

“We need to think about what a creative life looks like ... The reality is that they can do thousands of things.”

Create your future. Consider the possibilities.