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What Can You Do With an Arts Major?

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Most people have heard the term "starving artist." It's someone who has sacrificed financial security and regular employment to pursue their creative dreams, right? Wrong.

The truth is, there are plenty of jobs to be found in the arts industry, no starving required. According to the nonprofit organization Americans for the Arts, the arts and culture industry creates about 5.7 million full-time jobs every year, nationwide!

Beatrice Mady, who teaches graphic arts at Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City, New Jersey, says art students go into fields like book design, advertising, art law, and medical illustration. Leah Frelinghuysen, Director of Public Affairs for the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, says some of her classmates from The Julliard School in New York City became professional performers. Others work in politics and medicine. She and Mady say arts majors develop self-discipline and a strong work ethic. Each summer the Arts & Business Council of New York places interns in behind-the-scenes areas of arts organizations, like fundraising and communications. Many work in the field after college. Will Maitland Weiss, the Council’s Executive Director, says arts majors possess skills business leaders need: creativity and the ability to communicate.

Take a look at these arts majors to see where their degrees took them.

Matthew Kilareski

Exhibit Designer, Hands-on House; Lancaster, Pennsylvania

  • Bachelor of Fine Arts, industrial design; Rhode Island School of Design

Kilareski wanted to design toys, so he wrote to 10 toy companies and asked what college major would lead to his dream job. About half wrote back, suggesting industrial design. After attending the Rhode Island School of Design, Kilareski decided to use his major for a different purpose. Upon graduation, he worked for a company that designed children’s furniture, made technical drawings, and designed industrial products. Now he is responsible for designing and maintaining exhibits at a children’s museum in Pennsylvania. One includes a make-believe corn field where kids pick plastic corn covered with husks Kilareski sewed on. He also found foam that could be cut into parts for kids to assemble toy airplanes. “You have to think like a kid, so you have to think of how a kid’s going to interact with something,” he says.

Durell Comedy

Dancer, Limón Dance Company; New York, New York

  • Bachelor of Fine Arts, dance performance; George Mason University

“My mom says I came out of the womb dancing,” Comedy says. Now he’s making a living with the company named after modern dance pioneer José Limón. While working on his dance performance degree, he learned about choreography, rhythm, the history of dance, different styles of dance, and how bones and muscles move. With Limón, Comedy has performed in Italy and China. The company also performs shows in New York City and teaches schoolchildren about dance. Most days start with warm-ups, followed by rehearsals for upcoming shows or learning new or reworked routines. Besides providing an outlet to do what he loves, Comedy says his work with Limón helps him develop as a performer.

Haley Roberts

Assistant Director, David Klein Gallery; Birmingham, Michigan

  • Bachelor of Arts, art; Wayne State University

After the final exam in a community college art history class, Roberts asked her instructor about jobs in the local art scene. He pointed her to the David Klein Gallery, where Roberts still works today. She worked her way up from an entry-level secretarial job to become Assistant Director, doing everything from shipping artwork to designing the gallery website. The gallery focuses on post-war and contemporary works by American artists, but Roberts has also handled original pieces by famous names like Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Her art history classes gave her a deeper appreciation for art, which she shares with clients. “It’s kind of fun to see people’s faces light up when you tell them about a piece of art,” Roberts says.

Marc Taro Holmes

Marc Taro HolmesVideo Game Art Director; Montreal, Quebec

  • Bachelor of Fine Arts, illustration and graphic design; Alberta College of Art and Design

Holmes’ résumé includes the video games Halo Wars and Neverwinter Nights, in addition to some animated movies. He says video games offer many opportunities for graphic artists—sometimes, as many as 300 people work on a single project—although most projects end after a few years. He works with the games’ writers and designers to get a sense of the story and sketch the background and characters. Other artists fill in the details. “In a video game, nothing exists until you make it,” he says. Holmes uses a lot of what he learned in college, like human anatomy, costume design, and how to develop characters players can identify with.

Whitney Wilson

In-Game Entertainment Coordinator, Richmond Flying Squirrels; Richmond, Virginia

  • Bachelor of Arts, media arts and design; James Madison University

Minor-league baseball games are as much about entertainment as the sport itself. During each Richmond Flying Squirrels home game, Wilson is in charge of adding some production value to the bases, keeping fans entertained. “It’s basically a big show every night,” Wilson says. She picks songs for when players step up to bat, makes animated vignettes for the stadium video board, and edits videos of game highlights, later setting them to music for the team website. Wilson wanted to work in entertainment ever since she worked on her high school’s TV announcements, but she preferred being behind the camera. She worked on a similar program in college, and even got class credit for an internship assisting the director of the soap opera Days of Our Lives. She’s glad she also learned skills like photo editing, studio production, and Web design.

Steve Danyew

Composer; Westminster, Massachusetts

  • Bachelor of Music, music composition and economics; University of Miami
  • Master of Music, music composition; Eastman School of Music

The first time Danyew heard his music performed live, it was by a group of high school friends who got together after school to play a brass ensemble piece he wrote. “It’s just an incredible feeling to hear a piece that you wrote realized,” says Danyew, a self-employed composer. Danyew credits his college education for teaching the skills working musicians need. He would perform, compose, and take private lessons, and he also went to lectures on entrepreneurship, recording techniques, and the importance of musicians marketing themselves. (He points to his personal website as an example of that.)  Danyew writes choral pieces, songs for wind ensembles, and other groups and works for companies that ask him to set videos to music. Starting this fall he’ll edit Polyphonic on Campus (www.polyphonic.org), a forum for young musicians.

Nicole LaBonde

Executive Director, Indigenous Pitch Dance Collective; Ardmore, Pennsylvania

  • Bachelor of Arts, dance and general music, Eastern University

After graduation, LaBonde taught dance classes, conducted recreational therapy at a facility for people with disabilities, and worked as an account manager for an insurance office. Then, the founder of Indigenous Pitch, a dance company, recruited LaBonde to be its Executive Director. She says the position uses the artistic and administrative skills she picked up in her other jobs. LaBonde makes the organization’s ideas a reality. Among other things, that means seeking grants and donations, and getting media attention for Indigenous Pitch. In addition to performing, the Collective’s dancers host children’s camps in New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Haiti. Campers learn about dance, theater, creative writing, and other art forms.

Studying the arts doesn’t mean you’ll turn into a starving artist. Actually, it opens up a wide world of careers. “Artists can have very secure incomes,” Mady says. “They can lead happy, productive lives."

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