Do You Need a Degree to Be in the Arts?

Thinking about grad school? If you’re getting into work to provide good for the world, you also have to provide that good for yourself. Find out the minimum requirements, the hugely important question you’ll need to ask yourself, dangers to avoid, and the valuable skills you’ll need to pick up, no matter what your title. Consider this post part of your continuing education. Hit the PLAY button above and/or read the transcript below.

Hi everyone, this is Anthem Salgado representing ArtofHustle.com Where Art Meets Entrepreneurship. Today I’m going to be answering the following question, which was raised on Twitter by @SheaBoogie_, so shout out to @SheaBoogie_. Thank you for asking. Does one need to go to school to be an effective or a successful artist/leader? Within that question, there are many, many other questions. We’re going to unpack all of that, and I’m going to do it as best as I can in the short time that we have together.

First, I’m going to assume that by school, you mean grad school. As far as getting your Bachelor’s degree, I think everybody should get that. That is sort of like the new minimum requirement these days. It’s kind of like what the high school degree was back in the day. Now it’s what everyone should have, a Bachelors degree. As far as going to grad school though, I first have to ask this, do you have to borrow money to go to grad school? Hugely important question. And if you have to borrow money to go to grad school, then I would go ahead and say, no, you do not have to go to school to be a successful artist and/or community leader in the field. I know my educator friends aren’t going to be thrilled about that answer. But really, we have to be serious about how dangerous student loan debt is to the average artist and/or community leader. It’s dangerous, it’s no joke, and it could really enslave you.

So if you’re getting into the work to provide good for the world, you also have to provide that good for yourself, and recognize that you have to play smart financially and otherwise. So don’t get into student loan debt, do not get into student loan debt. I actually saw recently in this documentary, there’s a woman, she’s in her 50s. Right, so you figure she’s in her 50s, potentially thinking about retirement at some point. She took out $30,000.00 when she was in her 20s and she had been paying pretty consistently as best as she could. She’s in her 50s, and she still owes $50,000.00 today. So the damage is real, the interest is no joke, and we need to take it seriously. So that’s why I would say don’t do it. I mean, really, if you’re going to end up racking that type of bill, my philosophy is you’re going to get more experience in the field anyways. If you’re going to owe $80,000.00, spend $80,000.00 in the field. Start a business, get an internship; those things are going to be way more practical, invaluable in that sense anyways especially if you’re going to be looking at nonprofit work. You don’t need specialized college education to be in arts and nonprofit work, you just need to be in there. But that’s where I have to stop myself.

This is where you might need specialized education. The things that would be really valuable for you to have no matter what title you end up taking, math skills, business skills, accounting skills; these things are desperately needed in the field, these things would make you more valuable in whatever role you end up taking on. But also this is where it gets interesting, you don’t necessarily need to enter a program to get those skills. There are books, there are classes. I mean, I graduated 14 years ago, and I’ve never stopped taking classes, and workshops. Just because you’re not in a program, it doesn’t mean you should stop learning; continue to learn. So that would be greatest advice.

And the other thing to consider that I would add to all of this is, what if money isn’t a barrier or obstacle? Then I would say, yes, go ahead and get your education as an artist. And this is something that Barbara Jane Reyes, I have to credit her for having put this into my mind to think about it more clearly is she’s a literary artist, and as an artist, you should think about bettering your craft. And if you have the opportunity to better your craft in a for real deal program, then go ahead and challenge yourself to do that. Am I contradicting myself? Not yet. And I would say no. Because I did pose the question to Barbara during our podcast interview about the money equation, and she said, “You know what? School is really what you make of it. You don’t have to go to a super expensive school to give yourself a quality education.” The key would be to give yourself a quality education. It is what you make it. So she specifically said, “Look, I went to San Francisco State University, I got a quality education because that’s what I wanted to get out of it, that’s what I gave myself”. And she kept her day gig. She has a career as a writer, but it’s not necessarily her main moneymaker. So she was very fiscally smart about it, and now she has the best of multiple worlds because of that. She’s flourishing artistically, she gets to also flourish financially, and she’s giving in multiple ways.

So that would be my long, long answer to that question. Do you have the money; do you not have the money? Ask yourself that. If you don’t have the money, still give yourself that education. You don’t necessarily need to go into a program. If you do have the money, and by having the money I mean you don’t need to take out a loan, then go ahead and go for it, but still remember, the program isn’t what makes you. It’s you, and what you put into the program that makes you a better leader, and/or artist.

So there you have it, I hope you guys have enjoyed that answer. Mull it over; ask other people what they think. That’s my opinion, and work out what works best for you. But recognize that I do have your financial interests in mind being somebody that’s been in the arts and nonprofit field for about 15 years. There are other people you can ask, and you should ask them. But that is one person’s opinion, and I do believe that I’m looking out for your best interest when I give you that long winded, and hopefully well-rounded answer. Thank you.

A few final thoughts:

  • Something I didn’t mention that I wanted to – SCHOLARSHIPS! Get ’em if you wanna go to school. And be prepared… Sometimes the cost of a free ride is going somewhere that might be unfamiliar or not exactly your ideal location.
  • To hear the interview I had with Barbara Jane Reyes and many more professionals in the art field, visit the ART OF HUSTLE PODCAST SERIES.
  • Do we spend too much on education? Find out what PayPal co-founder, Peter Thiel, has to say about it at The Opinion Pages of the New York Times.
  • And yes… that is my dog you hear drinking water in the background towards the end of the video 🙂
  • Lastly, of course, please feel free to hit the [share] buttons below to pass this on to your friends that are contemplating grad school. THANK YOU.

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One response to “Do You Need a Degree to Be in the Arts?”

  1. it was brought to my attention I should reference the doc film I mention in this post. here it is! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1463LHDLGvQ

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