Small, but Mighty: Workforce Development in the Arts

By Hannah Grannemann

In this blog post, I’ll address Strategies F, G, I and J in the Opportunity Task Force report, addressing career pathways outside of college, especially apprenticeships and workplace-based learning.

How many jobs in the arts can you name? Actor, painter, dancer, musician, filmmaker… hmmm…

How about computer programmer, software developer, database designers? How about human resources manager, marketing manager or finance director? What about carpenter, costume stitcher, electrician, customer service representative?

Yes, all of these jobs, and many more exist in the arts. The average person doesn’t fully understand all the hundreds of people it takes to produce the professional art that we see on stage or see in a museum or gallery. Workforce development programs, guidance counselors, and adults planning career days also aren’t aware. Students are missing out on learning about career paths that might interest them.

Which students might be a good fit for a career in the arts? Simply put: ALL OF THEM. Look at the list of jobs above – it’s a list that fits all kinds of skills, personalities and interests.  It’s been well proven that participation in the arts help keep at risk students on the path to graduation.  Let’s work on transitioning these students to careers that will similarly keep them invested in their own career trajectory and meet their financial needs.

Changing Public Perception

The arts don’t come top of mind when students, parents, teachers and guidance counselors are thinking about career paths because of a perception that the arts only employ artists, that it doesn’t pay well and that it’s unstable. These perceptions may also push arts out of the picture when public officials are thinking about workforce development programs. Also, workforce development programs may not think of the arts because they think the sector is too small to be worthy of investment.

The Opportunity Task Force report encourages employers of all sizes to invest in workplace-based learning. No, the arts isn’t the largest sector in North Carolina, but the creative industries (a broader definition of the arts industry) are 3% of the workforce – a big enough size to get some scale going for workforce development programs. No, you may not earn a living as a painter, but expand what you think of as a “job in the arts” to include administrators, technicians, IT and others, and there is full time and part time work in the arts. Will you get rich? Probably not, but most jobs pay more than $15 per hour, and many pay $50,000 or more, a solid middle to upper-middle class income.

Arts organizations would be fantastic places to expand apprenticeship and workplace-based learning. From what I know from my time in the Charlotte cultural community, organizations are eager for it – if support and resources are available. Arts organizations are stretched very thin and human resource capacity is what they need most. Training programs that help expand their capacity and increase and diversify the talent pool entering the industry would be welcomed.

Overcoming Obstacles

There are some systemic issues that would have to be considered when developing an apprenticeship or workplace-based training program. Arts organizations don’t often hire people with only a high school diploma. This is because organizations don’t typically have in-depth onboarding or training programs that you might find at a larger business. Instead they rely on colleges to train their entry level employees in whatever area they are going into, even if the job doesn’t *really* need a college degree.

Take an entry level carpenter position at a theatre, which would pay between $15 and $18 per hour for part-time work, or $24,000-35,000 annually (with benefits) for full time. The job doesn’t actually need the person to have a college degree, but a theater who knows that a person went to college and did a certain amount of technical theater in their department at college will have the basic carpentry skills they need. They don’t have to train this person – the job applicant paid for the training themselves! Does it really matter that they also have four semesters of play analysis and theatre history? No, but that came along with the carpentry skills that they did get that they need for the carpenter position. A college degree is actually too much education for this position. The same could be said about many technical and even administrative positions in arts organizations.

Imagine a 6-week program that pays its participants and gives them these entry-level technical, customer service, or administrative skills. (I’ve asked this question of people in the field before, and they think getting basic training would take about 6 weeks.) It could serve people who have or are nearing getting their high school diploma. They receive a certificate at the end and – if there’s not a job at the organization where they did the training – take that to any organization nationwide along with their instructors’ offer to serve as references (incredibly helpful in our industry). It would help our field, which often struggles to find entry level employees (especially in technical areas) and give social capital and geographic mobility to people who need it. This kind of program would also position someone who completes it very well for college or a more in depth technical field, studying the arts, engineering, business, or anything else.

Funding needs to come along with this kind of program. Since organizations don’t currently have robust training programs as part of their operations, without funding that will cover pay for the trainees and compensation for the staff members doing the training.

Additional systemic issues need to be addressed by the arts organizations. It will be new for them to proactively develop talent in this way, and working with trainees that don’t have college degrees. Support and guidance from other companies or workforce development programs will be needed to make it successful. It is well recognized (and a point of embarrassment in the field) that staffs of arts organizations are not very diverse; people who work in arts organizations are mostly white and college educated. Organizations would need to undergo a cultural change – and a sorely needed one – to successfully welcome, develop and retain a more diverse staff.

There might not be thousands of jobs in the arts or creative industries, but there are probably hundreds in North Carolina. We are a small but mighty industry well positioned to continue to need to employ people as automation takes over other fields. (The famous saying is that “You’ll always need four people to play a string quartet live.”) Investing in workforce development in the arts would help the field become more diverse and sustainable, could be just the right fit for a person looking to find an interesting career – with or without college.


HannahHannah Grannemann is an arts administrator based in Charlotte, NC. She has worked in theatre and the arts for 17 years, including with Yale Repertory Theatre, the Guthrie Theater, PlayMakers Repertory Company, Children’s Theatre of Charlotte and as a fundraising and strategic planning consultant. She is a Board member of Arts NC, the statewide advocacy group and Theatre for Young Audiences/USA and serves on an advisory council for the Arts and Science Council of Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Hannah holds an MFA in Theater Management from Yale School of Drama and an MBA from Yale School of Management.

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