By Kendra Johnson, Arts Editor
Many fine arts students are used to seeing concerned looks when they say they are a fine arts major.
It is true that the arts fields have certainly gained a reputation for being difficult areas to maintain employment in, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), this reputation is well earned.
The BLS website states that the vast majority of actors, musicians, artists, producers and directors are usually employed part time, at best, and often have to work outside of their arts field as well.
However, employment prospects for arts students are not as bleak as they may seem. USA Today quoted a Georgetown University study that shows theatre and drama major’s unemployment rates (approx. 6.4 percent) were actually lower than the unemployment rates of computer science majors (approx. 9 percent) in 2013.
Also, according to the BLS, average wages per hour for most types of artists are higher than the national averages per hour.
So, the challenge for fine arts graduates is finding and maintaining steady work, post college.
Four things can help students gain this steady employment: preparation, planning, professionalism and persistence.
Preparing for a career in the arts has two parts: training in the skills needed, and then using these skills to build a résumé or portfolio.
A college degree can form an important part of both learning skills and building a portfolio.
“You can learn it without going to college, but sometimes when people are looking at jobs and their looking at applications, employers are looking at those applications, they see one that’s got the experience and one that’s got maybe some experience and a degree,” assistant professor of technical theatre and design, David Kenworthy said.
“And so, it may give them a step up having the degree. Having a degree, like in theatre from OBU, will train them in very specifics; they get more insight as opposed to having to learn it themselves.”
A degree also tells future employers about a student’s work ethic.
“It opens up doors just because people see that you’ve been dedicated enough to take the time to do that work,” Kenworthy said.
It also opens up opportunities both inside and outside of the arts fields.
“I’ve seen them [students] go on to do multiple things, some in the theatre world and some outside, because theatre trains you as a problem solver, so it’s a lot of practical applications for ‘real jobs,’ if you will,” he said.
However, particularly if a student intends to pursue an arts career, merely receiving a degree is not the only preparation that will be needed.
Next, students will need to begin planning ahead and seeking out summer positions that will allow them build their résumés and portfolios while still in college.
“I recommend from their freshman year on, so the summers in-between, to get internships; to find theatres, even if it’s not in Oklahoma or Texas or Kansas, where most of our students come from,” Kenworthy said.
“Because as you get to a place and they get to know you it’s very possible that they’ll have you come back the next year and the next year and then when you graduate you already kind of have a job in line.”
The next key ingredient to arts career success is professionalism.
In her book “The Actor’s Handbook, 3rd Edition” casting director Bonnie Gillespie estimates that about 40 percent of the Los Angeles community will “flake” on their commitments, to the extent that she will deliberately schedule more actors to audition than could possibly do so, knowing that at least a fifth of them will probably not show up.
Consistently keeping commitments in a professional manner is the absolute simplest way that students can put themselves ahead of other job candidates, whether they’re after a job interview, an internship or an audition.
“The more persistence, the more drive you have to work in an industry like that, it shows,” Kenworthy said.
“You tend to take more pride in your work, so it comes through in design work, it comes through in performance work. Those that just kind of sit back and only do it half way, and they’re not persistent, tend to not make it. Because there’s so many people that want to do it, that the ones that actually make it are the ones that are persistent; they don’t give up.”
The challenges of finding work in the arts are real, but they also make the reward of gaining the work even greater.
“It gives you that satisfaction that ‘Hey, I gave it all, I gave it my best and I love the product that I’ve seen’ and then other people tend to love the product that they see as well,” Kenworthy said.
For those OBU students who prepare, persist and plan professionally, the opportunities will be there.
According to Kenworthy, five-sevenths of OBU’s 2017 theatre graduates are currently working in professional theatre, and the OBU website says the university’s Bachelor of Music Education graduates show a job placement rate of nearly 100 percent.
“I have several students working professionally right now: one at Disney, one as a sound designer in Minneapolis getting ready to design the big musical ‘Chicago’; I have [students working] professional jobs in house management and stuff as well,” Kenworthy said.
“So, they’ve gone to a plethora [of jobs]. I have several students now living in the Los Angelos area, and working in theatres and audition, working way into the film industry to act. So, it’s just a matter of where you want to be and type of job you want pursue.”
Concerns about the difficulties of arts careers are understandable and should be taken seriously but they don’t necessarily have to stop students from pursuing their dreams.
“Keep applying, keep looking for those things,” Kenworthy said. “Because sometimes they [students] won’t know until May 20, two days after graduation that they have a job.”
When it comes down to it, the most important aspect of finding employment is trusting that God has a plan and has given students their passions for a purpose.
Kenworthy spoke of the Psalms, referencing Psalm 37:4 (NIV) which says: “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
“You have to have your own relationship with Christ and he’s going to lead you to where you need to be,” he said.
Through prayer, guidance and lots of focused effort, students can make their arts careers a success and experience the rewards of working in a field they love.
If you have an idea for an arts story or would like to submit original work, contact the arts editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.