Commentary: Are we training too many arts graduate students?  

Nancy Villa Bryk, Museum Magazine, May/June 2013 issue [article starts on p. 31 of PDF]

I am the product of a museum studies certificate program, a museum professional for many years and a relatively new professor of graduate museum studies. I understand museum studies programs can enable students to learn theory and best practices, acquire significant hands-on experience and ease the "fitting-in" period for new museum positions. I am increasingly concerned, however, that our museum studies programs today are producing more graduates than the profession can handle. Particularly alarming is the growing number of colleges beginning new museum studies programs as an "applied" offering, particularly in history or anthropology departments. I am curious why these administrators believe the profession, or the students, may need these programs. Are we doing any museum studies students a favor by churning out so many graduates? Do these college leaders truly understand the employment situation for these emerging professionals? These graduates will be competing with hundreds of peers, as well as with highly qualified mid-level professionals fighting for jobs after the brutal rounds of downsizings of the past three years. Departments must consider that many of our students graduate with $50,000 (or more) in student loan debt. If they get jobs, they are often dismayed at their inability to repay their loans due to meager pay. Many graduates find that positions are primarily part-time or contract with little assurance of long-range employment.  Museum studies administrators might want to consider following the model of the American Bar Association, which requires the law schools it accredits to track all of their graduates' placement in the field of law (not as baristas, for example) and then in categories (types of firms, companies or law schools) within several months of graduation. The schools must post this information for prospective students' review. Many museum studies programs list the positions that recent graduates have obtained. But they do not generally share how long after graduation alumni secured these jobs. Prospective applicants could make more informed decisions about if or where they want to learn about museums if they knew how all of a program's alumni have fared since graduation.


Commentary: Don't go to art school.

Artist Noah Bradley on, 6/26/13

I've had it. I will no longer encourage aspiring artists to attend art school. Unless you're given a full ride scholarship (or have parents with money to burn), attending art school is a waste of your money.  I have a diploma from the best public art school in the nation. Prior to that I attended the best private art school in the nation. I'm not some flaky, disgruntled art graduate, either. I have a quite successful career. But I am saddened and ashamed at art schools and their blatant exploitation of students. Graduates are woefully ill-prepared for the realities of being professional artists and racked with obscene amounts of debt. By their own estimation, the cost of a four year education at RISD is $245,816.As way of comparison, the cost of a diploma from Harvard Law School is a mere $236,100.  That any art school should deceive its students into believing that this is a smart decision is cruel and unusual.  Artists are neither doctors nor lawyers. We do not, on average, make huge six-figure salaries. We can make livable salaries, certainly. Even comfortable salaries. But we ain't usually making a quarter mil a year. Hate to break it to you. An online debt repayment calculator recommended a salary exceeding $400,000 in order to pay off a RISD education within 10 years.  Think long and hard whether you're willing to pay student loan companies $3,000 every single month for the next 10 years.  You don't have to go to college to be an artist. Not once have I needed my diploma to get a job. Nobody cares. The education is all that matters. The work that you produce should be your sole concern.  There are excellent atelier schools all over the world that offer superior education for a mere fraction of the price. And there are online options. Sitting at a computer I have direct access to artists all over the world. I have the combined wisdom of the artistic community to pull from at my leisure. For less than a few grand a year I can view more educational material than I would see at any art school. With all of these options it can be a little daunting. So you know what? I've come up with a plan for you. Do this: The $10k Ultimate Art Education.


FROM TC: A number of comments were posted in response to Mr. Bradley's post, including these from


Richard Skoonberg, 8/6/13: State University art programs are often highly-rated and can be reasonable. My daughter completed her BFA on a scholarship at the University of Georgia and is currently finishing her MFA at University of Tennessee Knoxville [with] assistance. My daughter will graduate with about $3,000 in debt next May. Without the scholarships, it would have cost about $130,000.  Going to art school can be done on the cheap. But whether or not you get a job, that has never been guaranteed for art students. I know, I have a degree in Theater -- thank God it is not poetry or dance. But our society would be greatly enriched if there were a few more Shakespeares and Martha Grahams.


Kristy, 8/6/13:

I attended school for photography and owe $280,000!! Yes, it was a nice education, and I walked away confident in my ability and my voice...I might be confident as a good photographer, but if [you're] not that person that was in the right place at the right time, [you're] left with...debt till [you] die. I wish there was some sort of relief with this, for the ones that didn't make it that far, and had to turn to something else to make money.

Craig, 8/7/13: The US Gov has various programs that forgive [federal student] loans in exchange for public service. You might look and see if you qualify.

Kristy, 8/8/13: Unfortunately you can't be in default. :(


Commentary: Valuing the MFA degree

Shoshana Greenberg,, 7/25/13

Our culture often has a negative view of the MFA degree. With no guaranteed return on investment and a high cost, many see it as a waste of time and money. One can write, act, direct, or dramaturge without a degree. As evidenced by the recent MFA series on HowlRound, even among artists the value of this degree is not quite clear. This negativity and confusion must filter down into the decision-making process. Some people know exactly what kind of art or writing they want to do and pursue the degree to hone their craft, but there are others for whom the MFA is a gateway to their artistry. They need the discipline and focus, as well as the exploration, to help them grow into the artist they will become. I was one of those people, and I worry that MFA programs and therefore the larger theater community could lose valuable artists because potential students are at risk of simply dismissing the degree.  I heard friends and professors say that one should not go to graduate school unless it is completely paid for. For MFAs, especially programs that do not have a teaching component, those scholarships can be difficult to find. Thankfully, I ignored the negativity and attended the two-year graduate program in musical theater writing at NYU's Tisch School for the Arts. It was two of the most challenging, stimulating, and fruitful years of my life. If I had decided to dismiss the MFA because I was not sure about it, or because it would not be paid in full, I most likely would not be a lyricist or book writer. More importantly, I would not be the writer I am now. My hope is that our culture will view the MFA degree as a way to both nurture and create artists, and that there will be more affordable ways for these degrees to be obtained. Not everyone is sure of what he or she wants to do and what kind of writer he or she wants to be. The MFA degree can help artists figure that out.

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