Art & Art History

5 Alternative Career Paths for Creative Professionals

5 Alternative Career Paths for Creative Professionals
Yet another bastion of culture that’s slowly declining in popularity. Image from Unsplash
Katherine J. Igoe profile
Katherine J. Igoe November 20, 2019

For those in creative industries, the job market can feel pretty bleak.

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As the world of digital communication expands ever larger, it renders certain skills and even entire professions obsolete. Print is fast becoming a thing of the past—the need for hard-copy publications continues to shrink, from magazines to books to advertisements. So for those who specialize in calligraphy, illustration, artwork, publishing, and even print journalism, the job market can feel pretty bleak.

As a person who earned a master’s degree in art business from the Sotheby’s Institute of Art (yes, Sotheby’s, the auction house for rare art and antiques), I feel this struggle. My hopes to pursue a career in communication and marketing for a museum or gallery were dashed with the 2008 recession—but that’s only part of the problem. Generally, arts and antiques that don’t classify as modern aren’t selling like they used to, and museum attendance has slowly declined for years. It’s another bastion of culture that’s slowly declining in popularity.

But there are still job opportunities within the evolution of these industries. Flexibility and a wealth of skills are critical for continued creative success, as well as the willingness to adapt to a new industry if you want the stability of a permanent job. Diversity is the name of the game here, and continuing education can be the best way to keep your skills marketable—while still doing what you love.

Freelancing and Entrepreneurship

Let’s get this out of the way first: I’m not suggesting you bail on your creative aspirations. All of these alternatives below can be pursued full-time or in a freelance capacity while you also take on more creative assignments. As a freelance writer/editor myself, I may not be able to rely on a steady 9-5 gig as a reporter or editor, but I’ve been able to flourish by pitching to publications and bringing on corporate clients. I joke that I have 17 jobs and also no job, but new revenue streams come from embracing different industries and searching for ways to apply my skill.

Take calligraphy as another example. While gorgeous scripted letters, signs, and labels may not necessarily be in the highest demand anymore, people still need wedding invitations. The wedding industry is flourishing, especially on sites like Etsy, so working as a freelancer for hire can let you practice your specialty in a way that gets you paid. Learning how to transfer your work to a digital medium (more on that below) can also mean using your skills for logos, websites, and all sorts of visual components online. So you don’t have to abandon your skill—just tailor it to new audiences.


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Marketing Specialist

Digital marketing and communications are booming. Companies have recognized the value of inbound marketing—attracting new customers with interesting content, then selling their service from there—and they need creative people to help them. If you’ve ever seen a corporate blog or a sponsored post, you’re looking at inbound marketing. PR and ad agencies also hire creatives, although note that in both cases, the work is fast-paced and may only be creative-ish.

In the same way, marketing can feel like drudgery unless you’re working for an organization that does interesting work and makes full use of your skills, so working for cool companies like Spotify or Google, or a startup doing cutting-edge work, can offer fun work environments. Those gigs are competitive, though. There are full MBA and MS degrees in Marketing online and in-person as well as certificates to help you bone up on the requisite skills, especially if you’re focusing on analytics. And you can absolutely sell yourself as a creative, artistic individual—companies thrive on ideas and innovation, and you have that in spades.

Design and Digital Media

The artists that I know have to be able to digitize their art. They have to be fluent in apps like ProCreate and PhotoShop so that they can either start their work on paper and edit it online or create it fully digitally. A Digital Media master’s program would enhance those skills, teaching (in the case of Northeastern) “3-D animation, game design, digital video, social media, digital media management, or one of two tracks in interactive design—visual design or usability and production.”

From there, there are all kinds of careers that could arise from the degree, from designing games or apps (also known as a web developer), to making videos, to exploring the virtual reality/augmented reality space, to pursuing a management track. But once you know how to create digitally, there are a ton of options to bring that energy to life. Case in point: museums, due to declining numbers, have created interactive exhibits to get more people interested. So if you love art and add digital know-how, you could combine the two.

Social Media Manager

Thanks to Instagram in particular, stunning visual content that tells a brand story is critical for professionals and companies alike. Even better for you, not everyone’s good at design, video, photography, animation, or the other creative ways to stand out there and on other social media platforms. That’s where you can come in. Instagram thrives on gorgeous content, and you undoubtedly have a good eye for that. Just as before, if you manage social media for someone else, you want to make sure you like the content. Don’t manage a restaurant’s social media if you hate taking pictures of food, for example.

Managing an account also means managing a brand story and talking to professionals about where to source interesting content, so there might be skills you need to develop. What’s nice is you probably don’t need a full degree, maybe just an online course to get the basics. Then it’s off to the races.

Web Designer

Like a specialty in digital media, a web designer needs to have concrete skills in the areas of both design and development, both visual style and HTML. You can do a degree or a certificate, in person or online, and it requires you to really dive into the backend of website creation. However, if you are technically minded in this way and you love creating a full site from scratch, this is a terrific fit—and it pays well.

Web designers are not only prized for efficiency and skill but for their ability to innovate. Easy web creation sites like Wix or SquareSpace have made the field a bit more competitive, but companies and organizations want to feel as though their website represents their brand and doesn’t look like every other website. So your visual acuity, your understanding of what looks good, your ability to make content sound most effective—all of those would be useful in this role.

Is an alternative career path for you?

These are just a few of the potential options available to you as a creative person. No matter what you end up doing with your skills, just know that there are ways in which to capitalize on your talents in a way that fits your personality type and interests. If you’re finding your talent or field becoming obsolete, don’t despair. You might need to adapt, but creative jobs do exist for you.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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About the Author

Katherine J. Igoe is a full-time freelancer in Boston. She has direct experience working in education and higher ed, helping students make important academic decisions. Follow her, ask questions, or suggest story ideas on Instagram @kjigoe or on Twitter @kjigoe.

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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