6. Defining the ‘teaching artist’ and ‘teaching artistry’.

Started Thursday 26th June, 2014

Beyond US borders the term ‘teaching artist’ is a relatively unfamiliar term. Connected and aligned terms have been coined from various parts of the world and they include community artists, community cultural development workers, artists-in-residence, artist interventions in business, social artists and cultural animateurs.  What capabilities and capacities do all these arts workers share? Can we build consensus about what constitutes the term ‘teaching artist’?   Does it matter?


Eric Booth Sun 29th Jun, 2014 05:21am
Two ideas to start this discussion...a discussion I look forward to continuing with delegates in person.

1. For three decades, I have seen this issue of nomenclature contribute to keeping us weak and disconnected as a field--in the U.S. the term "teaching artist" has finally, after decades, gained wide acceptance as an umbrella term that most are willing to accept. Different titles keep us separate, in silos defined by title, or by type of work, or by location. We have to get past this as a global community. If we have different preferred titles, can we become united in common identity and purpose?

2. Here is the definition of a teaching artist I currently use. Do you see your work comfortably contained within this definition? What do you recommend we add or delete from this definition?

A Teaching Artist is a practicing artist, who develops the complementary skills, curiosities, and habits of mind of an educator, in order to achieve a wide variety of learning goals in, through, and about the arts, with a wide variety of learners.
Sabrina Klein Sun 29th Jun, 2014 16:54pm
Eric, I think your definition holds up as a reasonable working definition, and I think we may evolve slowly toward a definition that is both concrete and sufficiently expansive. I DO think it matters that we coalesce around a shared identity (letting go of the need to achieve the "perfect" definition), because unless we know what a teaching artist is, we will flounder in our development of professional identity and the development of training that holds us to high standards.
Daniel A. Kelin II Mon 30th Jun, 2014 16:58pm
I am a big proponent in embracing the continuum of possibilities. Why should we be one thing when we can celebrate the diversity of what our field represents? I agree that coming to consensus about our fields greater purpose is important, but I encourage us to find that in the commonality of our drive, not in the need for a single title.
Eric Booth Tue 1st Jul, 2014 06:07am

Our conference starts in a couple of hours. Pretty exciting.
If time allows, I will present the following to everyone today. This is my takeaway from the First ITAC in Oslo in 2012. (A longer version of this is available in an essay at: http://ericbooth.net/the-worlds-first-international-teaching-artist-conference)

Experiencing the wide range of teaching artist practice on display in Oslo, I distilled these 13 elements that area common to all teaching artist practice. I list them to remind us that, wide as our work spreads, we do have commonalities that comprise essentials of teaching artistry. Do you agree with these--want to add or subtract or adjust?

All teaching artists:

- guide participants to imagine new possiblities

- listen/attend acutely and empathetically

- prioritize the learner's intrinsic motivation/wish to make something they care about for personal reasons

- assume, activate, and build upon the innate competence of the participant in the artwork

- use fun

- scaffold sequences of activity to help learners be successful in every step

- introduce and invest in great questions

- provide reflective invitations to learn from experiences--throughout the process not just at the end

- plan and then, in action, improvise upon the plan

- take on a variety of roles in their work

- seek to change cultures in a positive way, be it classrooms or communities

- Accept responsibility for the Law of 80%--80% of what you teach is who you are--so they bring their wholehearted artist selves to every teaching opportunity


Brad Haseman Tue 1st Jul, 2014 12:11pm
It would be valuable to address what is hard about being a TA. So for instance we talked this morning about the TA being someone who disrupts but how does a TA cope when the empire (the system employing them) strikes back - resisting and resenting the 'disruption'. At the worst nothing is said ...the TA just notices that the offers of work just dry up.
Graham Hay Tue 1st Jul, 2014 12:53pm
Don't panic Brad!
There is so many ways to slice and dice "opportunities".
Think geographic: local/regional/national/international.
Organisations: public/private/ngo.
Funding: Sponsor/grant/self funded/crowd funding.
Plus these are not mutually exclusive e.g. use overseas crowdsource local event. Sponsors don't need to be brands, try local real estate firms, businesses up the street (start small and build a tract record).
Graham Hay Tue 1st Jul, 2014 12:53pm
Rather than creating a "concept definition" Eric, why not just let the self explanatory title rest? "Teaching Artist" is anyone who wants to be one. Once you add more words to it (and your definition makes me feel uncomfortable), you start losing people. Why not start an online list which invites people can add their name of they think they are one. Just ask them to add links to website/social media etc to allow people to see who teaching artists are.
Eric Booth Wed 2nd Jul, 2014 06:48am

The appeal of your idea Graham is its elegant simplicity.  How do we deal with the fact that we heard seven terms used for "teaching artist" just yesterday, among people who chose to come to an event with "teaching artist" as its banner, and that for decades people who have preferred another term just don't identify as part of a larger whole?  This has kept the field fragmented and weak. I have this sense that if there were some identity to what it means to be a teaching artist then we can begin to pull together.


Sabrina Klein Wed 2nd Jul, 2014 11:26am
There may be enough inclusivity (is that a word?) in the "6 strands" you introduced yesterday, Eric. If engaging with a community of participants in order to make art by and for the community is one of the keys to being a teaching artist, then the 6 strands embrace most communities I can think of. I would not self-identify with half of these strands, but would welcome engagement with those who do. And while there are divergent practices in each strand, there is also potentially a core of shared practice that might provide insight into what training is needed or desired.
Catherine Sewell Wed 2nd Jul, 2014 13:17pm
As wondered about yesterday - it seems that in the uk at least teaching artists refer to themselves as 'applied artists' or 'applied practitioners'. These terms need to be added to the tags and reach of ITAC.
Feral Arts Wed 2nd Jul, 2014 20:24pm

Thanks Catherine - we've added a new tag 'applied artist' as suggested - thanks! 

Rachel Perry Wed 2nd Jul, 2014 21:13pm
Thank you for this definition Eric. I find this discussion fascinating and believe that commonality through a definition such as you have offered could exist as a strong foundation to allow for the diversity possible in the work of teaching artists. It is the common foundation that could provide the ability to identify quality across art forms while still ensuring individuality. I also see a definition such as this opening up opportunities for exploring a place of new artistry enabled by new technologies. I am particularly interested in teaching artists challenging their knowledge of their field and not just adapting or applying it through interactive, connective technology (eg video-conference style connection), but drawing on their traditions to explore new creation for effective and authentic learning and engagement.
Eric Booth Wed 9th Jul, 2014 12:24pm

Rachel. thanks for the comments.

"I am particularly interested in teaching artists challenging their knowledge of their field and not just adapting or applying it through interactive, connective technology (eg video-conference style connection), but drawing on their traditions to explore new creation for effective and authentic learning and engagement."

Can you brainstorm a little for us...what are you imagining, what might this look like?