The Field of Teaching Artistry

Posted by Eric Booth, Jun 01, 2015 0 comments

Thank you Americans for the Arts for giving your Arts Education award to a Teaching Artist for the first time (me!)! I take it as a public recognition of teaching artistry’s usually-overlooked contribution to the arts education ecosystem. So let’s take a look at teaching artistry.

When is the last time you thought about the national field of teaching artistry? For the vast majority of readers, the answer is probably somewhere between “a long time ago” and “never.” Let’s poke you into thinking about it again right now.

Why? Teaching artistry is a valuable (I would describe it as invaluable) component of the arts workforce – perhaps as many as 30,000 strong. Just about every major and mid-sized arts organization in the U.S. relies on Teaching Artists (TAs) as educators, ambassadors, and pioneers, and as its public face in communities that they don’t already have a relationship with. TAs often work on their own as well. They are longtime resources in countless communities.

Outside the U.S., many other countries are discovering teaching artistry and consider it perhaps the most distinctive accomplishment of the U.S. arts education field. (I have done tours in six countries to introduce teaching artistry, and hosted delegations from four countries to learn about this capacity we have developed.)

Yet within the U.S., few care about the wider field, few organizations support its growth apart from their particular needs, and few funders focus on its development and improvement. It hasn’t helped that different terms – like Community Artists, or Artists in Residence, or Artist-Educators – have been used to describe the work of teaching artistry (whatever its title); the semantic quibbling has fragmented the range of enormous value provided to the arts and arts education sector by these artists with inclusive education skills. Not a good idea to fragment an already invisible field.

Where would the relationship between arts organizations and schools be without teaching artists? Who would be the lead pioneers in partnerships between arts organizations and not-currently-arts-going communities? Who would be driving the “arts integration” innovations that constitute the largest experiment in U.S. arts? Who would be on the front lines of creative place-making, creative aging, and creative youth development initiatives? Wake up, American arts, and smell the future!

While you were busy dedicating your attention to other crucial matters, teaching artistry has slowly, humbly, quietly gained capacity over the decades. Hiring has grown—not so much in its main arena in recent years (teaching artists working in schools and in community settings), but in areas around that core: after school, summer camps and projects, partnering with a wide range of non-arts initiatives, in creative aging, with the military, in jails, homeless shelters, hospitals, corporations and health care. Over 113 U.S. El Sistema-inspired programs have sprung up with teaching artists guiding youngsters out of poverty into fuller lives through intensive youth orchestras.

The field of teaching artistry has a few longtime national resources, like the Teaching Artist Journal and the Association of Teaching Artists. Over the past few years, new resources have developed. There are now elective courses in almost all arts training programs, although only one has a teaching artist capacity graduation requirement: The Longy School of Music. In addition to Longy, there are some institutions that stand out for their in-depth training options, including Cal Arts (Community Arts Partnership), Columbia College Chicago (Center for Community Arts Partnerships), and the Community Word Project in NYC. Independent support groups have arisen, like the Teaching Artist Guild, the Teaching Artist Support Collaborative in CA, Artist to Artist in Minneapolis, the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable, the Center for Arts Education in NYC, Washington State’s Teaching Artist Training Lab, NECAP (New England Consortium of Artist Educator Professionals), and RITAC (Rhode Island Teaching Artist Center). There is even a widely-agreed upon Manifesto. In addition, most programs that hire TAs offer professional development workshops, and a few independent organizations do too.

You should know that recently there has been a surge of energy to organize the national field. Please join this activity and bring it to your local ecosystem. Here are a few highlights.

  • The Teaching Artist Guild (with the support of a visionary funder, Aroha) is creating the Teaching Artist Asset Map, an online directory of training and employment opportunities and of individual TAs—get listed now.
  • Lincoln Center Education has launched national and international training for intermediate- and advanced-level TAs (which includes a rubric for quality LCE plans to build to a certification program.
  • Another certification program is unfolding in South Florida, led by Arts for Learning Miami, co-designed with teaching artists. Grassroots teams have created: 1) a Pathways graphic that enables TAs so see ways into, and advancing in, the field. 2) A rubric for a healthy local ecosystem for supporting teaching artistry.

Even as teaching artists provide an essential resource, they are under-supported in relation to what they provide. Their voices and perspectives are rarely heard at national gatherings because they are freelancers and have to pay their own expenses to attend, and few can do so. National service organizations do not bend to make it possible for significant numbers of TAs to join and contribute. I should note one remarkable exception here; the National Guild for Community Arts Education has created a “teaching artist track” at its last two national conferences, and made $50 attendance possible for freelance TAs, with dramatically positive results. The Guild’s 2015 Conference will expand the Teaching Artist Track by including those who employ and train TAs to work on projects that improve the business of teaching artistry, the quality of practice, and the national advocacy and efficacy network.

Thank you, Americans for the Arts, for conferring your Arts Education Award on teaching artistry—a crucial capacity for the future of the arts in the U.S., as the arts is belatedly- but finally seriously- attending to its support, visibility, and advancement.

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