Don’t Throw Away Your Arts Degree Just Yet

Arts Coverage

Your arts degree might be more practical than you think.

The Faculty of Arts’ first annual Arts | Innovation conference, held at Desmarais on November 19, brought together a group of professionals to discuss how students can leverage their Arts educations into successful careers.

“Students kept asking me, ‘What can I do with my arts degree?’ and I wanted to give them some options,” explains U of O associate professor Elena Valenzuela, who has been planning the conference for the past ten months.

The morning’s keynote speaker was Canadian Securities Exchange CEO Richard Carleton, a self-described “history nerd” who has worked in Canada’s financial sector for over thirty years.


“When you start to follow your heart, that’s when it gets easier.”

Carleton, who graduated from law school at the University of Toronto, believes that his B.A. in History from U of O prepared him Bay Street. For instance, he credits his second-year history paper on public finance in Britain with helping him stand out in an early job interview with the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Arts education, Carleton believes, helps students hone their critical thinking and communication skills, as well as their flexibility, curiosity, and empathy – which is why many large corporations seek out arts grads.

Overall, he believes that students will be most successful if they follow their passions.

“I didn’t embrace my inner nerd soon enough,” he recalls. “When you start to follow your heart, that’s when it gets easier.”

Following the keynote, attendees participated in a panel discussion on how arts degrees can be applied to a variety of fields.


Marketer Sean Lynch, sommelier Veronique Rivest, and corporate communications specialist Remi Attig discuss applying their arts backgrounds in their careers.

For instance, the David Suzuki Foundation’s Remy Attig explained how his background in languages allowed him to adapt to the world of corporate communications. Likewise, panellist Véronique Rivest credits her degree in Modern Languages and Literature with helping her to become the world’s top female sommelier.

In university, Rivest was “one of those people who had no idea what they wanted to do,” which she now attributes to her innate “curiosity.” She sees creative people as being able to “evolve in a way that isn’t as linear,” and feels that being “ultra-specialized” can be a liability in today’s unstable job market.

To succeed in arts industries, a diversity of skills is key.

You.I TV’s Sean Lynch, for example, has engineered a career in marketing by combining his theatre experience with his lifelong interest in computers.

Moving to Toronto during a “communications boom” exposed him to the potential for using new technology to tell stories: “All of the stuff I’d done as a theatre grad I could take into technology.” He sees developing technologies such as augmented reality and artificial intelligence as opportunities for creative people to innovate.

Later in the afternoon, attendees were treated to presentations on “personal branding” and given the opportunity to prepare and present a Dragon’s Den-style elevator pitch for themselves.

Being able to sell yourself is essential in the job market, explains Valenzuela, as is the ability to generate creative ideas.

“I’ve talked to many business professors and they say, ‘That’s what’s missing’ – that creativity, that spark,” she says. “And that’s something we bring to the table.”

Originally published in The Fulcrum as Don’t throw your arts degree away just yet; Nov. 21/ 2016

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