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Teaching Artists and the Future of Education

A Report on the Teaching Artist Research Project

November 21, 201121 November 2011

Situation of artists

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Based on a survey of 3,550 artists and program managers as well as 211 in-depth interviews, this report highlights the role of artists in teaching environments, whether schools or community settings. Teaching artists are artists “for whom teaching is a part of professional practice”. Teaching artists “teach primarily because they enjoy the work and because it is a way to earn money in their artistic field…. Most believe that teaching makes them better artists.”

The report argues that many teaching artists are excellent teachers, in part because of the “dispositions woven into [their] identities as artists and the complex of mental processes that are integral to making works of art – vision and planning; imagination; discipline; attention to detail; seeing the whole; pattern making, finding and breaking; reflection, revision and assessment; persistence; judgment; spontaneity and play”.

The report provides substantial detail about the demographics and situation of teaching artists in 12 American cities:

  • Two-thirds of teaching artists are women.
  • Teaching artists are better educated and “more racially diverse” than other artists.
  • A majority of teaching artists work for a non-profit arts organization, such as a theatre or a community school of the arts.
  • Three-quarters of teaching artists work on a contract basis, typically of short duration. Less than one-third teach full time.
  • Teaching artists instruct students in all art forms, the most common of which are visual arts, music and theatre.
  • Almost all teaching artists also have earnings from their creative work.
  • Over one-half of teaching artists mostly teach young people, and another one-quarter mostly teach adults or seniors. Many teaching artists teach all ages of students.
  • Most commonly, artists teach basic and fundamental artistic skills, rather than more advanced skills. As such, the report indicates that teaching artists “are often responsible for providing gateway experiences to learning in the arts”.
  • More than one-half of teaching artists “have no retirement plans other than social security”.

The report concludes that, “despite serious dissatisfaction about pay, health insurance, job security, and time to make their art, most [teaching artists] plan to stay in the field and would take more work if it were available. They like the work. Its satisfactions and the dearth of other opportunities in the arts keep [teaching artists] in the field despite their concerns.”

The report provides recommendations aimed at three key objectives:

1. “Expand demand for arts education through advocacy and research;

2.Improve conditions for [teaching artists] and other arts educators to assure the stability of the field and improve their lives; and

3.Improve the quality of the work and effectiveness of [teaching artists] through learning communities, professional development, and attention to strategic issues.”

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