Leveraging the power of arts, culture, and the creative industries to frame, seed, and scale innovation in health and wellbeing.


The WORK of Art

Artists' Liberation

Click image above to visit BFAMFAPhD.

Click image above to visit BFAMFAPhD.

As IDEAS xLab approaches the October 2015 launch of our new business model, we will be sharing "News from the Field" to help provide context for the work we are doing. 

By Theo Edmonds & Josh Miller

The group BFAMFAPhD asks the question... What is a work of art in the age of $120,000 art degrees?

[IDEAS would reframe the question as what is THE WORK of art?]

Concerned about the impact of debt, rent, and precarity on the lives of creative people, the BFAMFAPhD group is doing important work making media and connecting viewers to existing organizing work. 

Some of BFAMHAPhD's recent findings:

Of arts graduates in The United States who reported Visual & Performing Arts as their degree ... Only 7% make a living as artists... 24% are educators, 17% work in sales and other office occupations, 11% work in service jobs, 10% work in various professional fields, 10% have not worked in the last five years, 8% are managers, 4% now work in medicine, 3% are working in business and finance, 3% work in various blue collar occupations, and 3% work in a variety of other fields."

How should this data be viewed?  Here's IDEAS take on it.

According to the data, artists are already everywhere in our economy. Let's find new ways to more fully use their skills.  

How do we make this happen?  


There are no easy answers. But, here are a few of our IDEAS to kickstart your thinking.

  • A different training/education model is needed. The current, prevailing model of educating artists can't get the job done. The higher education system is incentivized to keep current operations in place. The new buildings being built on campuses are primarily financed by rising student enrollment and student tuition. The easiest way for higher education administrators (or hospital administrators) to outwardly show "success" is to build new buildings. Shouldn't we be measuring success differently?  

Because we live in an increasingly digital society, this old model of growth no longer makes sense. And, it takes money away from true innovation in artist education.  The finance industry has caught onto this evolutionary trend.  Every year, brick and mortar branch banks are disappearing as online banking experiences exponential growth.  Higher education art schools are not immune. The point is not to replace one thing with another entirely.  The point is that we need to rethink EVERYTHING and create a holistic new model for educating artists. 

  • Complex relationships will need to be forged between artists and industry. This is not just a matter of deploying "design thinking" and turning artists into designers. Because, quite frankly, industrial designers are probably better equipped to facilitate that process than are most artists with MFAs.  Furthermore, if you look at the design business these days, its not doing so hot either - the market seems oversaturated.  We need sustained, open partnerships and action-research that creates radical new career paths for good artists in industry.

  • Arts philanthropy will need to be disrupted.  Current models do not, by and large, encourage and invest in innovative artists. Arts philanthropy is mostly designed to shore up arts institutions who depend upon the work of the artists without the responsibility for providing those artists a living wage, healthcare insurance or any of the other benefits that are part and parcel of our modern financial system. New business models are needed that provide financial independence for artists. This will not be easy for everybody. But, it is already underway.  

Ultimately, here is the lesson from the startup business world to the arts, education and philanthropy establishment. If you are not going to disrupt yourself, you can be sure that someone else will. Technology has provided democratizing tools that are bringing with them a new era of artist empowerment.

We are at the beginning of a radical new time in which artists are taking control of their financial and artistic lives. IDEAS joins our fellow artists in saying... Hallelujah!