How To Sustain A Professional Practice As A Teaching Artist?

Posted by Dale Davis, Mar 10, 2014 2 comments

Dale Davis Dale Davis

I am a Teaching Artist. Teaching Artists are theater artists, visual artists, writers, filmmakers, poets, video artists, photographers, dancers, storytellers, musicians, puppeteers. We work alone in isolation from a national community to bring us together to share the excitement and challenges of our work, ideas, concerns, and resources. We work as employees of arts organizations, on rosters of arts organizations, and as independent contractors. We work in schools, libraries, prisons, jails, juvenile detention facilities, museums, homeless shelters, cultural organizations, senior citizen centers, and in our communities. We work in urban, suburban, and rural areas in densely populated and sparsely populated states.

How does this translate into a practical career track? Liability insurance, independent contractor or employee, health insurance, retirement, intellectual property, copyright, certification, master’s degree programs, fellowships, career track - these are high up in Teaching Artists’ concerns.

As Executive Director of the Association of Teaching Artists (ATA), how to build and sustain a professional practice as a Teaching Artist are frequent questions I hear from Teaching Artists throughout the country. These concerns were clearly articulated in ATA’s Teaching Artists and Their World Online Survey, administered nationally in 2010. “Make The Field Sustainable” was a specific recommendation from the findings of the report Teaching Artists and the Future of Education by Nick Rabkin, Michael Reynolds, Eric Hedberg in (NORC, University of Chicago, 2011).

The biggest threat to teaching artists is that demand for arts education in the schools will decline further. Close behind is that TAs will abandon the work as they become discouraged by the difficulty of making a living, acquiring health insurance, establishing job security, and being recognized and validated in both of their worlds – education and the arts. All of these elements are likely to improve as demand for arts education grows, but programs and funders should make them a consistent focus of their attention, and advocates for arts education should not pretend, as some seem inclined, that arts education can be extended far more broadly without attending to the material conditions of TAs’ work.

ATA supports the careers of Teaching Artists by bringing diverse Teaching Artists together through its Distinguished Service to the Arts Education Field Award, its National Teaching Artist Appreciation Week, its listserv, and Facebook Page. In 2011, ATA convened the first National Teaching Artists’ Forum at the Center for Arts Education in New York City. This year ATA is responding to Teaching Artists’ concerns, with funding from the Jubilation Foundation, through the development of a communications structure on our website, a platform and network to share what goes on in different states and different parts of the country, including best practices, research, resources, publications, information, and opportunities.

What does the experience of working as a Teaching Artist tell us about sustainability? ATA asked twelve experienced Teaching Artists, selected by ATA’s Board, from across the county to respond to “Who We Are, What We Have Learned Through Our Work, and What Sustains Us.” Read their responses on our website. Many Teaching Artists have let ATA know that a career as a Teaching Artist leads out of teaching to Education Director or Coordinator. Many report they make the same amount of money they did when they began.

Many Teaching Artists have also founded their own 501(c)3 organizations built upon the experience that evolved from the pedagogy developed through their work as Teaching Artists. David Marquis, an original ATA Board Member, founded Marquis Studios. Michele Kotler, a former ATA Board Member, founded Community Word Project. Tina LaPadula, Co-Chair of the Board of ATA, was a founding member of Arts Corps. I founded the New York
State Literary Center.

What are your ideas on how to sustain the professional practice for a Teaching Artist?

How can the arts education community help to address the material conditions of the Teaching Artist’s work?

Please offer your feedback in the form of comments below.


2 responses for How To Sustain A Professional Practice As A Teaching Artist?


March 10, 2014 at 9:11 pm

Great Questions!!

I keep thinking about how we can raise the profile of teaching artists in order to bring national attention to the field and support to those working on the ground. I wonder about teaching artists that transition into a more public administrative profile and eventually drop their "teaching artist" status. How might we encourage those professionals to claim their lineage publicly? Might there be a forum to publicly promote their work as teaching artists? Might this help those less informed learn of the personal benefits of supporting, financing, and even joining the field?

  • Please login to post comments.
March 11, 2014 at 8:48 am

In response to Jenn: Perhaps there is a validity in a certification for the purposes you discussed. How often do you see someone working in the finance or business field drop their CPA or MBA, once they transition into other subfields of the same sector?

  • Please login to post comments.