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Only 20% of Illinois arts graduates work in arts jobs as their primary occupation.

CHICAGO – Creatively trained workers can be found in many professions outside the arts, with their unique skills and viewpoints ready to be tapped by willing employers, according to the first report of the Illinois Creative Workforce Partnership.

Focused on understanding and elevating the creative workforce in Illinois, the partnership is a collaboration between Arts Alliance Illinois and three entities within the University of Illinois System: Discovery Partners Institute, the College of Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and the College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts at the University of Illinois Chicago.

The report used data from the U.S. Census Bureau to map the careers of creative talent in the state’s workforce. Broadly, it found that arts graduates find pathways both within and outside arts disciplines, with many lending creative talents to professions outside the creative industries.

Key findings include:

  • Twenty-two percent of U.S. and 20% of Illinois arts graduates have primary occupations related to their field of study. Other arts graduates are applying their unique talents to other roles such as management, education, administration, and sales.
  • Architecture (40%) and graphic design (29%) graduates are most likely to have primary occupations in the arts, while drama (10%) and art history (6%) graduates are among the least likely.
  • More than one-quarter of music graduates (26%) end up working in education and one-fifth of art history graduates (20%) end up working in management occupations.
  • Arts graduates are more likely to work outside their field than graduates of other majors like health care, information technology and education.

“Understanding these trends is pivotal for shaping the future of arts education and career preparation,” said Aisha Motlani, the author of the study. “Artists aren’t only to be found on stage or in studios, but they are also in boardrooms, classrooms and a host of other places. This prompts a rethinking of how we prepare and guide arts alumni.”

This report, the first released by this partnership, is also a first step towards building a long-term partnership between universities, nonprofits and industry that will achieve nation-leading and transformative improvements in how Illinois identifies, prepares, supports, trains and employs creative workers. Immediate next steps include interviewing creative professionals across occupations.

The partnership was launched in September. Motlani, who serves as the Illinois Creative Workforce research specialist, is housed within the Illinois Workforce and Education Research Collaborative at DPI, which produces research on Illinois education and workforce issues for impact on state policy and practice.

“Creatives bring so much to the table,” says Claire Rice, executive director of Arts Alliance Illinois. “Having Dr. Motlani on board to track their impact, assess their realities and factor their talents into the larger picture of our workforce landscape is a critical step toward improving professional pathways for creative workers in Illinois.”

“We are delighted to have Dr. Motlani at IWERC. Her dedicated work on creative training and jobs is contributing to our research arm on the Illinois workforce,” said Meg Bates,  IWERC director. “Her creative perspective also informs all of our education research from cradle to career.”

The full report is available here. IWERC is hosting a webinar on May 2 at 1:30 p.m. CDT where audiences can learn more about the data. Please register to attend. For additional information on this research, contact Aisha Motlani at