If your child is interested in the arts, the term “starving artist” might come to mind. But that tired trope is far from the truth. For many art school graduates, an arts degree leads them far from a stage or canvas, and into lucrative careers in surprising fields.
Jaden Nethercott, who’s set to graduate from Cornish College of the Arts this May, is one example: He’s long had his sights set on the tech sector. “I am obsessed with companies like Apple and designers like [Apple design chief] Jony Ive and [industrial designer] Yves Behar,” says Nethercott. “I just want to create beautiful things that have a purpose and be able to create positive change in the world.“
Of course, many Cornish alums go on to have successful careers in the traditional arts, such as Courtney Sale, a theater major and Artistic Director at Seattle Children's Theatre, or Corri Beffort, who teaches dance classes for people with Parkinson's disease. It’s just not the only option.
Brian Schilling-George is the director of executive productions at Microsoft, where he uses his performance production, stage management and production management degree to run the company’s corporate events. During his time at Cornish, Schilling-George secured a corporate event production internship. “I caught the bug for corporate events and I never stopped,” he recalls. He stayed on part-time at Microsoft as he finished degree, then stuck around full-time for 10 years. Now, he can’t picture doing anything else.
UX designer Jerusha Johnson, by contrast, wasn’t so sure when she graduated with her visual communication degree. Her introduction to tech came along a year later with a job at educational startup CreativeLive, and it just clicked: “The pride I took in my work and the nervousness I felt when walking into my six-month review convinced me this was my career.”
They’re not alone in their surprising careers after art school. Imelda Loei, a design graduate, is now a "design and engineering problem-solver" at NBCUniversal Media. Other Cornish alums have gone on to work at tech giants like Google.
For Nethercott, it was art school that was the surprise. Art was a big part of his life, “but I only really saw it as a hobby,” he says. Then at the suggestion of a teacher, Nethercott began exploring art schools. “It was a perfect fit due to it being an amalgamation of critical, analytical and creative thinking,” explains Nethercott.
Cornish’s location near Seattle’s booming tech sector appealed to him. “I knew that if I wanted to work for a big tech company like all of my design role models, I needed to position myself strategically, and Cornish gave me both the placement and flexibility to do that.”
Through his coursework, Nethercott built a portfolio designed with tech companies in mind, then worked with Cornish professors on building connections in the field. It paid off with a design internship at Amazon.
“His portfolio spoke for itself,” explains Anthony Attwood, who supervised Nethercott during the internship. “It was forward thinking within the tech space but really well thought out for the ‘what’ and ‘why’ perspective when we looked at the work.”
An arts education gives a well-rounded background to a number of careers.
An arts education, no matter where a graduate heads afterwards, gives a well-rounded background to a number of careers. “I studied all of the disciplines within performance production so that I would have the vision to see potential problems,” says Schilling-George. “In my current job, I surround myself with amazingly smart people with deep expertise from many disciplines so when something doesn’t pass the sniff test, I can reach out to the team to help figure out how to make things right.”
UX designer Johnson, who now works on the product team for an office productivity app in the Bay Area, says she uses her visual design background make sure the app’s features are “strongly designed.”
“Cornish taught me the power of solving the problem three times fast,” Johnson adds.
As for Nethercott: His internship at Amazon, which he secured with help from his professors at Cornish, led to full-time job waiting for him. “[Nethercott] applies research, design and motion to develop beautiful product features,” raves Attwood. “Jaden is what I’d describe to be the perfect example of what a student graduating as a designer should be.”
Editor's note: This article was sponsored by Cornish College of the Arts.