A Message from Dean Kevin Hamilton
Among the questions raised by our moment’s many societal disruptions, one keeps returning for us here in FAA: are we balancing work and life appropriately, and ensuring conditions for others to do the same? Many of our college’s disciplines define excellence in ways that call on makers to give everything – to “leave it all on the floor” as it were – in pursuit of beauty and revelation that only comes from risk, vulnerability, and surrender. Indeed, careers in the arts drew many of us precisely for that reason; we saw in these paths not only an invitation but a mandate to live each day fully out of passionate love for what we do. That invitation also continues to draw students to our majors and programs, – especially students who transfer from other paths of study that asked them to leave parts of themselves “at the door,” instead of “on the floor.”
Unfortunately, excitement about a life lived without compromise can founder when it meets the common and pernicious lie that low wages or precarious working conditions are the justifiable price of holding a job you love. As dean, I’ve been learning from the growing number of students and other young creators rejecting that idea, rightly insisting on the importance of their craft – and indeed the importance of their personhood – through demanding equitable pay and working conditions. Like many institutions across the arts, we’re stretching here in FAA to meet those right calls through how we organize our time as well as our resources. Until we see broad structural changes in how states and corporations value and invest in the arts, we’ll be reliant on philanthropy and mutual aid to effect change at an economic level. In service of such change, we are also working to bring better data and case-making to those efforts, partnering with researchers in labor and education policy to tell challenging stories about the real and rewarding lives of creative workers in the world.
The results of alumni participation in the recent Strategic National Arts Alumni Project survey help us in that regard. For example, though only 45% of currently employed respondents report themselves as in an arts- or design-related profession, 88% of all respondents feel their career is closely related to the training they received in FAA at Illinois. That difference testifies to the essential role of arts knowledge far outside our fields. Meanwhile, though a majority of employed alumni report high satisfaction with how their current work aligns with their values and allows them to contribute to society, a lower percentage are strongly optimistic about their pay, benefits, and opportunities for advancement. These and other survey results testify to work needed in the college and with our external partners to better represent the value our graduates bring to society – toward improving their living and working conditions. They also affirm the work we knew was needed already to ensure that all students regardless of race, gender, ability, or economic background have an equal chance at a fulfilling vocation and life.
I invite you to read this issue of Dimension as a collection of stories of people who didn’t need data to send them to such work. You’ll see a beautiful collection of faculty, staff, and alumni who are moving to make the worlds they inhabit more reflective of what they want for themselves and others. In short, these are stories of people who want to be able to do what they love, and for others to have a chance to do the same. Indeed, you’ll read here of creators who believe that today’s broad societal disruptions call for nothing less than the proliferation of such opportunities. May we all be inspired in our own creative lives lived out of love, and especially a love that ensures that others can pursue paths like or even better than our own.