In March 2013, over 250 people—arts deans, professors, researchers, artists, policy makers, funders, political advocates, and others—gathered at Vanderbilt University for the conference, “Three Million Stories: Understanding the Lives and Careers of America’s Arts Graduate.” Convened under the auspices of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy in cooperation with the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) and the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research, the symposium drew stakeholders and field leaders across many arts disciplines and functions—united by their sustained engagement with issues surrounding the training and career paths of artists. The Surdna Foundation provided leadership funding for the convening, as a component of its overall support of SNAAP.
Building upon cutting-edge research—much of it emerging from SNAAP as well as other sources— participants investigated such questions as: Where do artists work and how do they make a living? Is their training relevant? What do arts graduates, and those who train them, need to know about future trends in the artistic and creative labor market? What do we need to know to better serve students from less privileged backgrounds? What are the critical issues policy-makers and educational leaders must address to ensure the relevance and vitality of arts degrees, programs and schools in the future?
The meeting was fueled by a sense of urgency: the creative marketplace is undergoing rapid transformation, institutions of higher learner are facing escalating accountability standards, and issues of equity and access continue to plague the field. Within this context, meeting participants probed issues ranging from curricular reform to institutional transformation—along the way covering such themes as the social life of the artist, mission and marketplace, the artist’s “tool-kit” for a changing world, and the equity and access imperative.