What Have We Got to Lose?

Posted by John Abodeely, Aug 07, 2007 2 comments

by Judith Tannenbaum 

Preserving the important qualities of the Teaching Artist profession, while still moving ahead with its professionalization.

Passing on the vision and practice of art-making is as old as culture itself: creation stories told during long winter evenings, women and young girls weaving baskets, men welcoming boys to their dances. One generation has always taught the next.

This history moves forward into the 21st century. Artists; arts program administrators; school, hospital, senior center, and prison administrators and staff; and professors in a variety of college departments are increasingly asking that the valuable work done for decades by teaching artists be recognized as a professional field. 

One repeated conversation is a fundamental one that questions the ways in which professionalization of the field strengthens or harms this work that we love. In the midst of these conversations, I often think of architect Chris Alexander. When brought to the site of a new project, Alexander is said to have asked community members not only what they wanted that they didn't have, but also what they presently had that they valued and did not want to lose.

That's the question I'd like now to ponder: What do we-teaching artists, students, program administrators, site partners, community activists”cherish about the work of art in other places, as Bill Cleveland calls it, as it has been practiced over the decades? What do we want not to lose as teaching artistry becomes a more formal field?

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