By David Cheshier, Director, Creative Media Industries Institute, Georgia State University
The myth that artists starting careers in the media and entertainment industries face a future of Ramen noodles and “would you like fries with that?” can persist despite pretty good evidence to the contrary.
It’s not true, for instance, that earning an arts degree fails to connect graduates with arts employment. A report by the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project found 80 percent of recent grads said their first job was “closely” or “somewhat closely” related to their field of training. And research reported by the Center for Cultural Innovation confirms more than 2.3 million Americans work full time as artists, a stable percentage of the total workforce. As many as 10 million adults earn income from doing creative work.
In Georgia, the creative industries generate $62.5 billion in annual economic impact, employing 200,000 of our neighbors. Those numbers will only increase given booming growth in film and television production, and strong prospects for growth in Georgia’s music, social media and game design sectors.
What has unmistakably changed, however, is the nature of creative work. The number of people who will work long term for a single creative or media firm is slipping, while the number working project-to-project (in the so-called “gig economy”) continues to grow. Creative workers are more likely today to work in teams and across sectors. They’re also more likely to rely on skills that connect artistic practice to technology software platforms.
The media industries are changing fast given demographic changes and economic disruptions. Since the 1980s, American news organizations have let 39 percent of their workforce go. And even where demand remains strong, such as for quality music, digital disruption complicates career prospects.
If Atlanta is to achieve its aspirations as a global digital content creation hub, and local artists their creative ambitions, we must better connect creative industry students with entrepreneurship. If Atlanta wants to employ another 100,000 workers in the creative industries by 2025, those jobs are less likely to come from new position postings at CNN or Pinewood than from a new generation’s Ted Turner or Tyler Perry, and a vision for entertainment and information that carries forward Atlanta’s history as a communication capital in ways as yet unimagined.
Providing quality media and arts entrepreneurial training is hard but essential work. The typical eight-course undergraduate arts major can leave little room for intensive business training, given the goal of perfecting, say, one’s musical proficiency.
At Georgia State University, thanks in part to support from the Woodruff Foundation and the Georgia Research Alliance, new programs to train arts and media students to think entrepreneurially are underway to tackle these challenges. Working with Georgia State’s new College of the Arts and with students from computer science and social entrepreneurship and other majors, the most promising creative start-up concepts will receive mentoring support, access to the newest media production technology and an incubation zone designed for creative collaboration. A new interdisciplinary media entrepreneurship degree concentration encourages each student to design an individualized program of study blending an artistic interest with project-based entrepreneurship classes.
When media artists control their own time and effort they also control their financial destiny and artistic integrity. Not every artist will start a company, and not every company will succeed, but everyone benefits when new firms take flight – only 10 percent of Americans are self-employed but they hold 37 percent of U.S. wealth. A new creative economy demands new models for arts and media education.
David Cheshier is Director of the Creative Media Industries Institute at Georgia State University. Established in 2014, the CMII builds on the university’s strengths in media production, research, design, the arts, music management and digital publishing by preparing students for careers that transcend traditional degree programs.