As published in the Providence Journal
Your Turn By Randall Rosenbaum Guest columnist
We’ve all heard stories about parents urging their children to pursue careers in business or medicine. “Anything but the arts!” is a common refrain.
That is such 20th century thinking. Today, lots of high paying jobs go to creative thinkers and doers, many of them artists or people with some arts education in school. Studies prove that arts education provides the skills critical to 21st century success. According to The Conference Board, eighty-five percent of business leaders say they can’t find enough job applicants with creativity and innovation skills. The best paying jobs require workers with creativity and higher order thinking and communication skills. Employers are increasingly looking for these qualities in the workers they recruit. Arts education, pre-K-12 and beyond, is part of the solution to this challenge.
What about our students looking for a career in an arts-related field? Opportunities abound that are high wage and high demand. Research by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) shows that in Rhode Island the arts and culture annually contribute over $2.0 billion annually to our economy and employ 17,700 with compensation over $1.1 billion. The opportunities are there. So why is there resistance to promoting the arts as a viable career path for young people?
We believe that the arts will never become a viable employment sector until we start to promote arts careers during a student’s time in school. Young people need to understand that what they love in school can also be what they love as a career. Arts education in our state is facing the same challenges it faced in the 20th century. Arts educators, guidance counselors and others in career and technical education should be in a position to help guide students toward careers in the arts, just as they would in any other discipline, but they are not equipped or charged to do so.
We need to develop the infrastructure and support mechanisms to broaden – not limit – what the Rhode Island workforce can become. As important as the manufacturing sector has been in Rhode Island’s past, the arts, tourism, 21st century technology and other pursuits can be in our present and future.
In California, career and technical educators see careers in what they call the “Arts, Media, and Entertainment” sector falling into four general areas: Design, Visual, and Media Arts; Performing Arts; Production and Managerial Arts; and Game Design and Integration. These are all viable areas in Rhode Island, but we can add a few more. In our state, the arts are uniquely situated to train the next generation of artists and craftspeople through internships and apprenticeships. This is particularly important for those young people who do not see college as their path. The work that is being done by The Steel Yard in Providence, for example, helps to provide both traditional and non-traditional training programs for artists and craftspeople.
Now is the time for our government, education and business leaders to be forward thinking about career education in Rhode Island. We don’t know what the workforce will look like in 15-20 years, but we do know that visual literacy, media arts and design will be key components of industry. Our state’s Commerce Corporation, in commissioning “Rhode Island Innovates 2.0” from the Brookings Institution, identifies the arts as an “opportunity area”. We encourage the State’s Career and Technical Education and the Governor’s Workforce Boards to embrace this finding. The arts ARE a legitimate career path for our young people. Schools should be encouraged to formalize the arts as part of the education all students receive, including career and technical education programs.
Randall Rosenbaum is the Executive Director of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts.