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Wolniak Reappraises the Value of Artistic Opportunity in Society

Wolniak Review of Research in Education

by Larissa Lozano

In their article for Review of Research in Education, Amy Whitaker (NYU) and Greg Wolniak argue that “dealing with social and racial/ethnic exclusion is a systemic problem that requires consideration of the many intertwined contributory factors.”

Based on a SNAAP DataBrief about socioeconomic & racial/ethnic exclusion in the arts written by them earlier this year, Wolniak and Whitaker analyze inequities in the arts, such as racial/ethnic disparities and social inequalities, through two lenses: the economics of art labor and the career and economic outcomes of college.

They highlight that “being an artist has long been modeled as an economically precarious career marked by lower earnings,” and that the level of economic hardship varies across art-related industries, racial/ethnic groups, and social/economic class, with Black and low-income students being the most disadvantaged. Additionally, the burden of student debt impacts whether students choose art as a major and the length of a student’s art career.

"Histories of privilege in the arts workforce and of structural racism and elitism in arts organizations contribute to complex patterns of exclusion," Wolniak and Whitaker claim.

Building upon their argument of increasing entrepreneurial thinking among art professionals for the SNAAP DataBrief, Wolniak and Whitaker claim that, although absent from art higher education, these skills are essential for artists to build “economically sustainable careers in the art” and to navigate “structural challenges in arts employment."

The implications of their work extend beyond arts careers as they envision a future that "places a premium on the open-ended and independent forms of thinking instilled in the arts." The social barriers and debt strains associated with arts degrees reduce student exposure to the very innovative problem-solving and re-envisioning of the world needed for cultural and societal advancements.

Democratization of the arts professions is not a challenge for certain disciplines. They write, "Inclusive creativity benefits everyone."

Gregory Wolniak is an associate professor at the McBee Institute of Higher Education. Amy Whitaker is an assistant professor of visual art representation at NYU Steinhardt.

Read the full article, "Social Exclusion in the Arts: The Dynamics of Social and Economic Mobility Across Three Decades of Undergraduate Arts Alumni in the United States."

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