Melanie Shanahan

90 Percenter

Melanie Shanahan

Account Manager

The year was 2008, and it was a beautiful day in the month of May. Savannah, Georgia, is beautiful every day, but this day? This was extra special. It was graduation and the first day of my future! A fresh art school graduate, wearing some killer platform sandals and ready to pursue my passion with a paycheck, right? It was only six years later that I would learn from BFAMFAPhD, a collective of artists, educators and others, that only 10 percent of art school graduates go on to becoming working artists, meaning your primary income aligns with the degree that you graduated.

Hi, my name is Melanie, and I am a member of the other 90%.

Once the above statistic became my reality, I convinced myself I had two options. Option one, accept an entry-level position somewhere with future potential and work my way toward a more creative role. Option two, pursue a more well-paying position outside of my degree and talent and make time outside the 9-5 to keep the art alive!

Feeling the weight of my dreaded student loan debt, option two quickly became my only choice. The Strategic National Arts Alumni Project finds that 66 percent of recent art school graduates are carrying substantial debt. This alone forces many artists to pursue careers outside of their art.  Consequently, it is no surprise that BFAMFAphD would find that two years after graduation, ninety percent of art students are no longer working in their field. For me, this statistic brought years of embarrassment. Each day I carried around my degree from a well-respected program, along with the debt, while holding a position that had little to no opportunity to use my experience and training. Being an optimist, I convinced myself it would be temporary.

This attitude carried me for many years while I settled on a job for wages over following my bliss. When you have a steady income, it’s comfortable. I always meant to do more, but over time, it faded. I lost sight of all I was chasing and dreaming. 

Year after year, I would find another reason to distract myself from pursuing creative and fulfilling work. Despite my best efforts to push it aside, that flame never died. There came a time when everything shifted, and magically, those years serving in roles I thought were just passing the time became my strengths! And once I paused to recognize this, I realized that not only was it all worth it, but each one was my inspiration.

Today, I am surrounded by creatives, using my experiences to be innovative both personally and professionally. So while I might be one of those ninety percenters, I still shine.

To hear more about Melanie’s journey into marketing, check out episode four of the First Flight Podcast.