Despite popular notions of the reclusive artist who isolates themselves to achieve creative inspiration, in practice artmaking is deeply collaborative. Furthermore, social capital – that is, who one knows and how one leverages these connections in their career – certainly plays an important role in the arts. Previous research highlights how forms of social capital help artists establish and sustain careers, find jobs, keep up with current trends, and generate attention and influence (Lingo & Tepper, 2013). Yet relatively few studies to date have explored the role of college networks in shaping future employment and work experiences.

In a recent article published in Poetics, Nathan Martin (Arizona State University), Alexandre Frenette (Vanderbilt University) and Gillian Gualtieri (Barnard College) used SNAAP data to examine how social capital developed during the college years is connected to subsequent career outcomes. The authors analyzed data collected as part of the 2011 – 13 SNAAP administrations (n = 25,460 undergraduate-level arts alumni from 132 postsecondary institutions) to better understand what predicts whether arts graduates develop college social capital and how this social capital might affect their first job search and other career outcomes. The 2011 – 13 SNAAP survey included a unique set of questions on the degree to which networks of classmates, faculty, staff, guest artists, and fellow alumni have a major or minor career influence, which was then used to construct a scale of social capital. The statistical analyses assessed which background (e.g., gender) and institutional characteristics (e.g., major field of study) were associated with college social capital, and how social capital in turn was associated with artistic and career outcomes.

The results showed that college social capital is associated with a more seamless school-to-work transition as well as persistence in artistic careers. Arts alumni with higher levels of college social capital were more likely to have a shorter initial job search after graduation, to find employment in positions that closely matched their college arts training, and to maintain careers in the arts. Additionally, college social capital was associated with more frequent use of a range of campus support services in the years after graduation, such as access to mentors and teachers, career services, and networking opportunities.

At the same time, the study revealed significant disparities between men and women in terms of access to social capital and the impacts of social capital. Not only did women report fewer and less influential connections to college social networks, but also high levels of social capital were more strongly linked to career advantages for men than for women. In this way, the study adds to research showing that gender inequalities pervasive in the broader labor market are present in the arts as well. Although women are a numerical majority of postsecondary arts graduates and are more active in the arts community overall in comparison to men, artistic work is characterized by clear and enduring gender inequalities, including in the ability to access and mobilize social capital.

Overall, this study further points to the need for concerted effort to increase opportunities for women in the arts to expand networks and develop social capital. Extensive social networks can provide novel information and influence to support future career success. However, past studies (e.g., Grugulis & Stoyanova, 2012; Lutter, 2015) have consistently shown that women face obstacles in accessing and mobilizing resources contained in broad, diverse networks. In recent years, nonprofit organizations and occupational groups committed to advancing the status of women artists have worked to expand networking and professional development opportunities (e.g., ArtTable, National League of American Pen Women, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Women’s Caucus for Art). On college campuses, some career centers and individual departments in the arts have tailored programming, networking opportunities, and mentoring programs to meet the needs of historically marginalized groups. This research underscores the importance of these efforts and the potential role of postsecondary institutions in addressing inequalities in artistic careers. It is essential to continue addressing these questions with ongoing data collection efforts, replicating, and expanding our knowledge of artists’ working conditions and needed resources.

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Figure 1. Share of alumni reporting major career influences, by gender and college networks.

Note: Displaying predictive margins (95% CIs).

This DataBrief was prepared by Nathan D. Martin, Alexandre Frenette, and Gillian Gualtieri.

Full article citation:
Martin, N. D., Frenette, A., & Gualtieri. G. (2023). Campus connections and creative careers: Social capital, gender inequality, and artistic work. Poetics, 96(101763), 1 – 13.