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Who Advocates for Teaching Artists?

Date: 09 August 2023

Photo of Grace Nakaka presenting at the International Teaching Artist Collaborative.

Setting out to co-write this post, we (Katie Rainey, co-executive director of Teaching Artist Guild and Eric Booth, co-founder of International Teaching Artist Collaborative) put down a few initial thoughts about our shared focus—advocacy for teaching artists and arts education—to see where we stood. In that first set of thoughts, we recognized that teaching artists have both a long history of struggling for visibility and funding to develop the field, and a long history of not feeling it was their individual responsibility to be active advocates for the field. That’s a bad recipe for changing the status quo—which we urgently need to do.

We all know from life experience that it’s hard to disrupt a mindset that says “someone else’s job” or “I don’t know how.” It’s especially hard for busy teaching artists who are stretched thin to make a freelancer’s living. We decided to use this blogpost to urge teaching artists and their colleagues in schools and arts organizations to become the advocates we need and have never had.

Eric: In this field’s fifty years, it has never had a book on teaching artistry for those who don’t know what it is, and for those who should know more. So I wrote it—Making Change: Teaching Artists and Their Role in Shaping a Better World. It has hit a nerve; a thousand copies were ordered in its first three weeks. The 5,000 New Advocates campaign that comes with it provides free or at-cost copies for teaching artists and their colleagues around the world who will use it to cultivate new supporters for their programs and projects, funders for their local programs and visibility with influential people who should know what this workforce can do for them. On the book’s website, you will also find a list of simple actions anyone can take to help the field grow and change the belief that it is someone else’s job or that you don’t know how.

The International Teaching Artist Collaborative (ITAC) is building a global network of artists who work in schools and communities, now a vibrant activity center of thousands. (All royalty income from the book goes to ITAC, so please buy a copy and access more through the 5,000 New Advocates campaign.) Join ITAC (it’s free) and learn what’s going on in teaching artistry around the world.

Katie: As a co-executive director and active teaching artist, I think about advocacy for arts educators a lot. The Teaching Artists Guild (TAG) is, at its core, an advocacy organization—a practitioner-led community which raises the visibility and development of artists who teach. TAG, for me, is an amalgamation of all the grassroots collectives and committees I’ve ever taken part in during my 15+ year career. It is a collective of dedicated teaching artists across the United States who advocate for the field.

I speak with so many teaching artists daily who just aren’t sure how to advocate for themselves or for their community. We’ve created tools like the Pay Rate Calculator to help teaching artists and arts organizations to figure out fair pay, and the TAG Asset Map to help organizations, educators and schools find one another. As a collective, TAG offers a place for teaching artists to come together and advocate as a community—regionally, through our regional networks, and nationally, through our National Advisory Committee and leadership.

But how can we all help make the field more visible to those outside of it? We need a way to show the importance of teaching artistry, to show how valuable it is outside of arts education. Of course, we want arts organizations to advocate with teaching artists, but it is up to us to make our voices heard to the world at large. An easy thing we can all do is take Eric’s book and get it into the hands of those in our schools, departments of education and spaces that might benefit from teaching artistry.

Both Eric and I feel the urgency of advocacy. Please take one small action today to become an active advocate. Share the book with your local arts council. It’s a stepping-stone on the path to making the field visible beyond its members.

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Title: What Is Me and What Is Not Me | Artist: Alex Chadwell | Medium: Music

My thinking on arts and literacy centers around the concept of literacies and artmaking as both sense-making and meaning-making processes that organically and inevitably overlap, intersect, and reciprocate. Compositionally, What is me and what is not me is a sound collage of sorts (there is no notation for the piece, and I'd be hard pressed to recreate it accurately) that abstractly and aurally represents the relationships between literacies and artmaking.

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