Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What is a Teaching Artist?

The Arts Council of OKC and City Arts Center educate audiences of all ages with the help of teaching artists. Their new Teaching Artist Toolbox workshops kick off next week, so we thought it would be helpful to have the organizers explain more about this field. Basically, who is a teaching artists anyway?

Experienced teachers may learn new ways of developing their classes.  Other artists may want to learn about becoming one.   Thanks to Jennifer Barron for her explanation:

In developing a series of workshops specifically for teaching artists, Josh Buss and I thought a lot about who, we were trying to reach. Who, exactly, is a teaching artist?

From my own experience, teaching artists are professionals in every imaginable art form — including painters, ceramicists, ballroom dancers, computer animators, creative writers, and drummers —who seek to use their knowledge and skills as resources for others. Many work in classrooms, but many also work in senior daily living centers, afterschool programs, libraries, museums, correctional facilities, and community organizations. Often, the teaching artists who work in the most disparate settings are the same people. Eric Booth in his 2003 article “The Emergence of the Teaching Artist” states that “[t]he teaching artist's expertise is the capacity to engage almost anyone in arts experiences.” Focusing on the word “anyone” is a mindset that sets teaching artists apart.

Teaching artists see the value in bringing authentic arts experiences to all, and are some of the strongest advocates for the value of art in people’s lives. Setting goals, working as part of a team, and developing creativity and confidence are often cited as peripheral benefits of arts education. Countless studies document the link between consistent arts education and academic achievement, such as a 2006 study by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum that demonstrated increased literacy in students who had participated in the arts. And teaching artists see the value of arts experiences for all ages: the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project, for example, seeks to use poetry to stimulate memory, reaction, and even creativity in those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Finally, children or adults who have positive experiences engaging in the arts are much more likely to keep attending arts exhibits or performances throughout their lives, resulting in a more all-around supportive atmosphere for the arts.

In short, teaching artists add value to any community and engage people to become more involved with the arts!

A lot of this discussion may be theoretical, but I would imagine that almost everyone reading this can think of at least one person in their creative career that gave them the inspiration, challenge, and mentorship to continue pursuing the arts and to go further than they thought they might. Maybe there was more than one. When you think about the impact of teaching artists, think of the impact of that person.

As diverse as they may be in background, artistic discipline, and training, a few common threads crop up when they are asked about challenges that face them as a group. For many, there is a struggle with perception —do teaching artists receive the recognition or respect they deserve? How can teaching artists build community and learn from each other when they work so independently? Can there be professional development that is valid for such a diverse community?

I hope that this series of workshops works to address these needs. Please join us 5:30 p.m. January 19 at the Arts Council of Oklahoma City for our first workshop, “Curriculum Planning 101”. For more information about the Teaching Artist Toolbox series of workshops, call me (405-270-4891) or Josh Buss (405-951-0000) or visit  to register.

-Jennifer Barron, Community Arts Program Director, Arts Council of Oklahoma City

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