Songs for the Struggling Artist

Where Teaching Artistry is going
April 9, 2014, 7:51 pm
Filed under: art, education, theatre | Tags: , , , ,

Ladies and Gentlemen of the blog, I have quit my last remaining Teaching Artist gig. I was hanging on to it – because I like eating and paying rent and things but not long ago, I finally cut the chord. And it feels fantastic. After spending the weekend teaching a group of future Teaching Artists (and Theatre Teachers) I found I couldn’t go back to being treated as if I didn’t matter – eating and paying rent be damned.

In addition to a profound sense of liberation, I have a new perspective on something I’ve written about before. You may recall that I was a little incredulous about the new theatre education programs and certification of Teaching Artists. In the Systemization of Art, I went on at some length. I stand by what I said before but all of it has new flavor. Having now taught within one of these programs, having seen what goes on there and who they have in the room, I am even more concerned for their future than I was when I was worried about them in the abstract. Now that I’ve seen what they’re capable of, I want a more sensible system for them to go into.

It seems to me that there is a tremendous divide between what happens in the Arts Organizations who have work to give and the people in these programs who have so much to offer. I saw extraordinary creativity, thoughtfulness and pedagogical skill in my students. They understand a lot and are able to enthusiastically engage in theatrical and educational practices in sometimes thrilling ways. And yet none of these skills are particularly in demand at most of the Arts Organizations that I’ve worked for over the years. What seems to be valued in the actual dollar-giving field is an agreeability, a fulfillment of grant-mandated goals and filling out a great deal of paperwork. The people in charge of these program are rarely educators and rarely have any sense of the operating pedagogy you might be using. My theatre programs have been managed by drummer, a producer, a literary agent, a classroom teacher, a handful of actors and so on. (No disrespect to any of those people, some of them were great, regardless of their background.)

So I look at my brilliant students, breathlessly learning new methodologies for blending their artistic practices with their pedagogical ones and I cannot imagine where they will get an opportunity to exercise that muscle again. My own muscles have gotten fatigued with the constant straining against disrespect and voicelessness in the institutions in which I have worked. Part of the pleasure of teaching these future teaching artists is that my creative/pedagogical muscles got their first real exercise in years. And now I have a protective desire to re-make the world for them. I don’t want them to endure the disrespect that I have have been straining against.

The field needs to take a good hard look at itself and start to figure out how to make the best use of everyone. To bring in these new teachers just to execute institutional lesson plans would be a total waste of them. Like it has been a waste of us. The artists and teachers have a great deal to offer Arts Institutions, just as Arts Institutions have a great deal to offer artists and teachers. It’s just that right now, no one is getting the best out of anyone, as far as I can tell. We mostly sort of bump into each other awkwardly – like middle schoolers at a dance. It’s like the Arts Institutions feel like, since they’re holding the purse-strings, that they know what’s best for education and the artists/teachers may actually know a whole lot more than we’re ever allowed to express.

I’ll confess, the last time I wrote about this, I was (underneath it all) a little worried about the new kids taking my jobs. Now that I’ve quit and I understand what the new kids are up to, I see that we are actually more alike – that they will be frustrated for the same reasons I am. If my experience is anything to go by, the skills they have will remain essentially invisible. All the potential will go unrecognized. They will be asked for only a fraction of what they are capable of and criticized for the results, while their extraordinary process remains unseen. And all those ideas I heard in their grad school classroom will stay in the Ivory Tower and never make it to the young people of NYC.


3 Comments so far
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Goodness, I wish your students would apply to work with Hubbard Street (where I am the Education Director). We are all administrators with education degrees managing the work, we all continue to teach, and we’re only interested in hiring teaching artists who want to keep up with and contribute to the conversation. And while I know many organizations don’t work like us, I also know we’re far from alone. I’m sorry you’ve had awful experiences. But don’t write off the field and it’s administrators because of it. We;re out here and we’re looking for you and your students.

Comment by Kathryn

Glad to hear some cheering news from the field. Keep fighting the good fight!
Just to clarify: It looks like Hubbard Street is in Chicago. And you’re working in dance, yes?
Perhaps I ought to have been more specific. My sense of the field is New York-centric. And also theatre-centric. I have a suspicion that things are a little better in dance. (Or maybe a hope?)
I wouldn’t say that my experiences in Teaching Artistry have been awful. I wouldn’t have continued to do it this last decade and a half if they had been. It’s just that the slow drip of smaller things adds up to bigger things and the changing landscape is no longer in line with my values. (Much of this growing frustration is chronicled here on the blog.)

But I will happily send any dancers in Chicago directly to you! Thanks for reading and for commenting!

Comment by erainbowd

Reblogged this on classroomoperatunities and commented:
How did this person get inside my head? …..maybe my thoughts are leaking again.

Comment by mzopera2u

I'd love to hear from you. Gentleness and kindness encouraged and appreciated.

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