The Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) investigates the educational experiences and career paths of arts graduates nationally. SNAAP provides the findings to educators, policymakers, and philanthropic organizations to improve arts training, inform cultural policy and support artists.
SNAAP grew out of the Surdna Foundation’s response to needs articulated by arts training institutions across the country. Significant milestones in the project’s evolution have included the following:
- Early Indicators of Need: Beginning in 2002, more than 25 of Surdna’s arts training grantees individually approached Surdna for help in gathering information about their alumni. A critical mass of interest appeared to be forming, but of the few who had taken initial steps, surveys were weak, and organizational capacity to analyze and act on the results was lacking.
- Preliminary Research: Following up, Surdna surveyed its arts grantees in 2003 to better understand the nature and scope of alumni tracking needs. An analysis of over 80 surveys revealed that across all institutional types and artistic disciplines there was strong interest in alumni tracking, driven by programmatic, institutional and advocacy concerns. The surveys also highlighted obstacles – lack of technical expertise, insufficient staffing and inadequate financial resources. The findings suggested that economies of scale could be achieved through collaborative survey development.
- Confirming Data: Concurrently, at annual meetings of the Duke/Surdna Talented Students in the Arts Initiative (TSAI) issues of alumni tracking became an increasingly prominent focus of discussion and action. At the request of grantees, expert speakers were brought in to share knowledge about best practices (spring 2004). Soon thereafter, a subgroup of TSAI participants formed to further explore the issue.
- The Working Group: A working group of 20 Surdna grantees (TSAI participants and others) began intensive work on survey development in fall 2004, joined by Steven Tepper, an arts policy researcher (then Deputy Director of the Princeton University Center for Cultural Policy and now the Associate Director of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University). Two pilot surveys were developed and tested during 2005: one for arts high schools and arts colleges/ conservatories; and a second for after-school and intensive summer institutes. Subsequently, Surdna and colleagues determined to include only the survey for arts high schools and arts colleges and conservatories in the project’s launch.
- Field Input: From 2005 to 2006, through focus groups and ongoing discussions, an increasing number of field leaders, researchers and arts training institutions and their alumni voiced interest in the survey and the potential impact it could have on the quality of future training. Over 170 alumni and their organizations tested survey questions for content and style and provided feedback on other issues. This R & D phase revealed that data collection could best be done online, increasing the potential to create a field-wide system. Consultants with relevant technical expertise joined the working group and began the design of prototypes. August Development Corporation created the initial technical capacity for SNAAP – confirming that the online system could work as envisioned.
- Planning for Launch: In early 2007, the OMG Center for Collaborative Learning team was engaged by the Surdna Foundation to assess market demand and resources, and develop a business plan for SNAAP’s launch. Its work has included objective testing of market interest; exploring start-up requirements through research on similar large-scale survey systems; identifying potential hosting or survey administering organizations (SAOs); and development of a business plan.
- Leadership Team: In late 2007, the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research became the survey administering organization, with its key partner, the Vanderbilt University Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy. Staff was hired, and a National Advisory Board was appointed.
- 2008 Field Test: Forty institutions participated in the first field test in 2008, and over 1,700 arts alumni completed the online questionnaire for an average response rate of 18%.
- 2009 Field Test: Nearly 4,000 arts graduates from 54 institutions responded to the 2009 SNAAP survey for an average response rate of 25%.
- 2010 Field Test: In the third and final field test, over 13,000 arts alumni from 154 institutions responded to the survey for an average response rate of 24%.
- SNAAP 2011: Following three years of field testing, SNAAP successfully launched its first national administration in 2011-12. For the first time, alumni of all ages were surveyed and over 36,000 arts alumni from 66 institutions in the United States and Canada responded in fall 2011. The average institutional response rate was more than 20%. Participating institutions received their confidential data in April 2012, and SNAAP issued its second annual report of national findings.
- SNAAP 2012: SNAAP's second administration took place in fall 2012 and included 70 participating institutions. SNAAP issued its third annual report of national findings, "A Diverse Palette: What Arts Graduates Say About Their Education and Careers" and another Special Report funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, "Painting with Broader Strokes: Reassessing the Value of an Arts Degree."
SNAAP 2013: With the third administration, SNAAP achieved over 100,000 total alumni responses from 286 institutions since its inception in 2008. SNAAP 2013 marked the first time that institutions were able to compare their own majors to equivalent majors from other institutions. Also in 2013, the first 3 Million Stories conference took place at Vanderbilt University and SNAAP issued its fourth annual report, "An Uneven Canvas: Inequalities in Artistic Training and Careers."
SNAAP 2015: A new three-year cycle of SNAAP surveying began in 2015 with the introduction of SNAAP 2.0, offering a revised core questionnaire, two topical module, data visualization reports, and a choice of participation levels for institutions – a three-year SNAAP+ membership or the traditional one-year SNAAP. Over 40,000 arts alumni responded to the survey, the largest group ever.
SNAAP 2016: The second 3 Million Stories conference took place March 3-5 at Arizona State University with over 300 attendees.