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The Emergence of the Teaching Artist

May, 2003

Stop the whining-the answer to perennial questions about engaging new audiences is getting professional.

He who can does; he who cannot teaches. You’ve heard that quip from George Bernard Shaw, who also claimed that teachers had never helped him-he taught himself, thank you very much.

While most people have less bitterness about educators in general, there is some truth in the adage-more than a few of those who love a particular discipline just aren't very good at it, and they end up teaching it. There is probably some truth to that saying even in the arts; and the disrespectful undertone is certainly widespread, even where it is untrue. Many teachers feel 'less than' the professional practitioners of their field. I have seen music teachers bristle at the implications that they are not musicians; I have heard visual arts teachers get defensive about their art skills during a residency by a visiting artist. Perhaps it is much the same with some chemistry teachers and a professional chemist.

However, there is one role in the arts that defies Shaw's slogan. The role is variously named 'visiting' or 'residency artist' and 'artist-educator,' but the emerging consensus term is teaching artist. Teaching artists come from every artistic discipline, and they use a dynamic balance of skills in art and in teaching that make them remarkably effective educators and crucial resources to the arts world.

Not every artist who teaches is a teaching artist. The term is not applied to those who train people to become practitioners of a particular discipline. For example, a private piano teacher, or the studio teacher giving dance classes, are not considered teaching artists. The term is usually applied to those artists who draw people into arts experiences, without the intent to make them skilled practitioners. (Although they certainly hope their involvement will inspire participants to investigate the art form further.) These TAs work with students in schools, with prisoners, seniors, businesspeople and teachers. Their work serves many purposes (not just development of skills in the art form), which include boosting learning, preparing people to see performances, awakening individual expressiveness and creativity, transforming a group's interpersonal dynamics, enhancing appreciation of art and life.

The teaching artist's expertise is the capacity to engage almost anyone in arts experiences. The key words there are engage and anyone-their skills at drawing people into experiential learning, and the breadth of their range of audience, make them distinctively useful to the future of the arts. As arts organizations struggle to find solutions to the problem of attracting new audiences in an art-disinterested nation, teaching artists have answers and accomplishments no one else offers. Their gift is to draw people into arts experientially, and not through the traditional routes of giving information first or direct instruction. They create a safe and exciting atmosphere that leads people into authentic work in the art form before they get insecure, judgmental, or doubtful that they are skilled enough to be engaging artistically. TAs are masters at tapping people's artistic competence.

I have seen such results personally. I worked with the Board of Directors of a Fortune 500 company and had them working with words to solve interesting challenges before they realized they were creating things that looked suspiciously like poems. I have had a conference of education administrators singing in a three part harmony chorus before they realized that the assessment and evaluation workshop meant they were going to be assessing their own choral singing.

As a teaching artist, I often work with symphony orchestras and museums, to expand the teaching skills of their musicians and artists, their administrators and curators, so they can more effectively engage the public. I served as the Faculty Chair of the Empire State Partnership in New York in which 70 partnerships between schools and cultural organizations used teaching artists in partnership with schoolteachers to recreate new ways for learning to unfold in those schools. I lead workshops all over the country in which artists gather to learn the very-learnable (and very rewarding) skills to engage average Americans in personally meaningful, jargon-free, hands-on learning in the arts. I contend that the average American feels further apart from belonging inside the arts than the average citizen of any other society in human history-teaching artists know how to close this gap, and do, regularly.

There are thousands of teaching artists across the county. No one knows quite how many, but best estimates range from 15,000-20,000. They are found on state and local arts agency lists of approved arts educators. They work in the education and outreach departments of cultural organizations, with national arts education organizations like Young Audiences, VSA arts, and the sites of the Association of Aesthetic Education Institutes. They deliver the education services of regional arts education programs like Urban Gateways (Chicago) and Studio in a School (New York) and Arts Corps (Seattle). They work on their own, in thousands of effective entrepreneurial projects we never hear about. For the five decades of their growing history, TAs have worked largely in isolation as independent consultants piecing together a life that includes both teaching and artmaking, quietly making a difference in the lives and arts outlook of the hundreds of thousands they engage.

In the last five to ten years, there has been an upsurge in awareness and interest in teaching artists. The national trend is loosely referred to as 'The Professionalization of the Teaching Artist.' There have been national gatherings. A number of conservatories and universities have developed training programs to expand the training that has been traditionally offered only within individual arts education projects. The first graduate degree program just appeared at Columbia College Chicago. I designed and led a program at Juilliard for many years in which graduate students of music could take a two-year classroom-and-school-placement sequence that taught them to be teaching artists. Similarly, there are now courses in teaching artistry offered at Manhattan School of Music, New England Conservatory, Bard College, Arizona State University, University of Texas in Austin, and the University of Massachusetts.

A major landmark for the field has just emerged-a professional journal. The Teaching Artist Journal: A Quarterly Forum for Professionals appeared this year. As the publishers, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, agreed to attempt the risky venture, they said, "We must tell you, we publish over 70 professional journals, and this is the first one we have ever launched for an audience that has no visible evidence it exists." (Subscriptions and article submissions have accrued far faster than we hoped.) Every article is peer-reviewed, written by and for teaching artists and those who work with them. In the initial issues, there was an article on how a TA listens to a piece of music and turns musical hearing into educational thinking. There have been articles tracing the history of teaching artists and surveying what the definition means to practitioners. There have been research reports and news briefs and book reviews-all of which confirm that this has become a field and not just a term applied to a band of creative, disconnected individuals.

Another article in the first issue described the ways in which being a teaching artist made the writer, who is amusician-actress, a better artist. This is the most important emerging story of the field. I saw it in my students at Juilliard. Once they developed teaching artist skills, they reported that it changed the way they rehearsed for performance and the way they spent time in the practice room. They often reported that as they became more aware of what it was like for audiences to receive a piece of music, and knew more about the skills of listening and attention and making personal connections to music, they prepared and performed with more clarity. They also reported finding more satisfaction off stage and more joy in the whole complex mix that constitutes an artist's life.

Those who can, do. Those who can do two things are teaching artists.

For more information about submitting articles or subscribing to the Teaching Artist Journal, please contact the publisher Lawrence Erlbaum Associates at 800/926-6579, or at their website: www.erlbaum.com.

(Eric Booth, an active teaching artist, is on the faculty of Juilliard, Lincoln Center Institute, and The Kennedy Center, and he is a frequent keynote speaker and consultant around the country, and is the author of The Everyday Work of Art. He is the founding editor of the Teaching Artist Journal.)

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