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Conference Reflections: Developing the Field of Teaching Artistry

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Dec 17, 2014

In our Conference Reflections series, delegates from the 2014 Conference for Community Arts Education share their insights and take-aways from their time in Los Angeles. Our third post comes from Lynn Johnson of the Teaching Artists Guild in Oakland, CA.
Developing the Field of Teaching Artistry
by Lynn Johnson
I had never been to an arts education conference where folks couldn’t stop clapping, cheering, laughing, and shouting. Not before November 20, 2014 anyway. Not before 80+ participants packed themselves into a room set up for 40 at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, CA. Not before the National Guild made the bold choice to devote three days and four sessions to exploring the state of Teaching Artistry and putting Eric Booth at the helm. 
“This is the best experience I’ve ever had at a conference!” 
This is a direct quote I overheard on Day 2.  I don’t remember who actually said it but it doesn’t matter. Pretty much anyone I interacted with over those three days could have said it. This quote definitely expresses my own personal experience. When you attend a conference, you expect to attend sessions where experts stand in front of the room, presenting Powerpoint slides, and sharing information and ideas that make you think, “Hmm.  I should really think about that again when I get back to work.” You expect to have some interesting conversations at the hotel bar, collect a bunch of business cards, and gain a few new followers on Twitter.  What you may not expect is groups of extremely enthusiastic people, huddled up in small groups all over the room, rolling up their sleeves, and digging into the hard work of collaboration, experimentation, brainstorming, and problem solving. But this is exactly what happened during the Teaching Artists Development Track at this year’s Conference for Community Arts Education Conference.
The bulk of the Teaching Artists Development Track focused on four innovative projects that have emerged over the past year. Three of these projects were incubated at last year’s National Guild conference in Chicago with the work held by a small but mighty collective of leaders from all over the country volunteering their time (for the most part) to move the work forward. On Day 1, conference participants learned about these four projects—their goals and plans—and then spent all of Day 2 of the track committing their time, energy, and creative spirit “going all in” with the project of their choice. This gave the project working group leaders the opportunity to receive tons of feedback about their work, test drive some prototypes, think and re-think their projects, develop new language and, in a lot of cases, walk away with “more questions than answers.”  Contact information for all of the project working group participants was gathered and promises were made to continue to engage in the work over the coming year.
Here are the four projects that we worked on:
Teaching Artists’ Asset Map
Teaching Artists Guild (TAG) is creating an interactive digital asset map of the field with teaching artists, educators, and arts advocates from all over the United States. The purpose of this map is to:
  • Articulate and deepen our collective understanding of the field
  • Document and promote the valuable and often underrepresented good work being done by Teaching Artists and our advocates
  • Serve as a launching pad for partnerships and storytelling between individuals and organizations in a historically disconnected field

At last year’s Guild conference, a group of us recognized this sort of effort as essential to advancing the fields of teaching artistry and arts education, and we have since been working together—without authorization or organization—to catalyze a network that represents and galvanizes teaching artists on a national level. As a first step, we collaborated on a Teaching Artist Manifesto, which we hope both captures the spirit, breadth, and purpose of teaching artists’ work and inspires collective solidarity.  Since creating the Teaching Artist Manifesto, our collective recognized the importance of having one place where teaching artists, hiring organizations, and allies could go to access all the assets available that support teaching artists and our field.  As a result, we became the Asset Mapping Working Group, bringing this vision to life.

To learn more about this Project, read the Teaching Artist Manifesto, and put yourself on the map, visit
This working group session was facilitated by Adam Johnston, Teaching Artists Guild. 2013-14 Working Group: Eric Booth, Arts Learning Consultant, Teaching Artist, Speaker, Author;  Ken Cole, Former Associate Director, National Guild for Community Arts Education; Kai Fierle-Hedrick, Writer, Teaching Artist, Director of Programs & Community Partnerships, Free Arts NYC;  Lynn Johnson, Theater Teaching Artist, Director of Membership & Programs for Teaching Artists Guild, Co-Founder of Go Girls! Camp; Adam Johnston, Musician, Teaching Artist;  Tina LaPadula, Teaching Artist, Education Director of Arts Corps;  Jessica Mele, Executive Director, Performing Arts Workshop & Executive Committee Member, Teaching Artists Guild;  Nicole Ripley, Teaching Artist and Director of Education, Writers Theatre
Teaching Artist Career Pathways Tool
The Teaching Artist Pathways Tool or (TAP Tool) is a graphic mapping tool in which teaching artists can chart their career—past, present, and future.  It will serve as a mechanism to provide information for people to better learn how to enter the field of teaching artistry. The goal is to build an online interactive platform for collecting information from current teaching artists so we can better report and share more concrete information about the national landscape of teaching artistry.  We hope that this tool will:
  • Help Teaching Artists track and plan their career
  • Illuminate and identify chances for advancement and innovation
  • Become a 'dreaming tool' to help Teaching Artists identify what they would want the apex of their Teaching Artist career to be—What is your dream?
We also plan for this tool to provide information to organizations and the field at large about:
  • Where teaching artists are coming from
  • How they are receiving training to increase the quality of their work
  • Why/when teaching artists leave the field
We believe that the information collected from the tool can continually be refreshed, added to and compiled to be used to create better conditions of employment for teaching artists and clarify the multitude of pathways for teaching artists across the nation. It could, along with the other National Teaching Artist Collective projects, build a strong community of teaching artists that have been historically siloed and be a powerful resource for teaching artists to advocate on their own behalf.
This working group session was facilitated by Courtney Boddie, New Victory Theater (NYC). 2013-14 Working Group: Courtney Boddie, Lindsey Buller Maliekel and WT McRae (all from New Victory Theater)
Teaching Artist Ecosystem Rubric
Teaching Artist Ecosystem is a project focused on the development of a rubric that communities will be able to use to assess the overall health of their teaching artist ecosystem. In addition to an assessment tool, this rubric will help communities identify gaps in their support of teaching artists and outline goals for strategically increasing their support. In designing the rubric, the Teaching Artist Ecosystem team has defined “communities” in its broadest sense so that – regardless of how a community defines itself – any community interested in supporting its teaching artists will find the tool meaningful and relevant. Some examples of communities which may find the tool useful are schools, neighborhoods, cities, counties, and individual arts organizations. Anyone interested in joining the small-but-mighty Teaching Artist Ecosystem working group can contact Nasreen Khan at or Laura Norman at   
This working group session was facilitated by Nasreen Kahn, Ontario Arts Council (Toronto). 2013-14 Working Group: Nasreen Khan and Laura Norman (Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission)
Lincoln Center Education
National Teaching Artist Training
The first phase of Lincoln Center Education (LCE)’s National Teaching Artist Training was launched in July 2014. The first phase was designed for teaching artists with at least two to three years of experience.
The main components of the National TA Training:
  • The Teaching Artist Purpose Threads
  • The Rubrics for Excellence and Sustainability in Teaching Artistry
  • The Capacities for Imaginative Thinking

Teaching Artists attending the National Guild Conference offered valuable feedback on the Teaching Artist Purpose Threads and the Rubrics for Excellence and Sustainability. These revised documents, based on the TAs’ suggestions, will be tested during the second phase of the National TA Training in July 2015, when LCE will add an Advanced track and an Apprentice track to the training. The eventual goal is to develop a Teaching Artist Certification process.
The Teaching Artist Global Exchange Program (in development)
The Teaching Artist Global Exchange Program was created during the 2nd International Teaching Artist Conference in Brisbane, Australia July 1-3, 2014. The original development group: Marit Ulvund (SEANSE, Norway), Jean E. Taylor (LCE, USA), and Danielle Drakes, (Folger Shakespeare Library USA.) The purpose is to support global development and understanding of Teaching Artistry. The plan is to create two-week opportunities for Teaching Artists to share their practice and experience and learn from TA colleagues working in another institution. We are planning to launch and evaluate a pilot exchange in 2015 and expand to numerous exchanges in the near future.
This working group session was presented by Jean E. Taylor, teaching artist, who was representing the work of her and colleagues from Lincoln Center (NYC)
For me, the most exciting part of being a member of these working groups was in finding the connections between the projects.  Although we came in as four separate projects, we immediately saw how much more power we could have if we came together. As a result, we formed the “National Teaching Artist Collective.”  We created a Facebook page, came together to broadcast a report and conversation over YouTube via Google Hangouts on Air and made the commitment to continuing to come together to explore such creative questions as:
  • How do we bring these four projects together in meaningful and dynamic ways to serve the field?
  • What would happen if teaching artists completed the pathways tool as their way into the Asset Map?
  • Can the Asset Map be used to help broker relationships through the Global Exchange Program?
  • How might relationships between teaching artists and the organizations who hire them be strengthened when they assess their work through these rubrics?
  • Who do we think would be interested in funding this collective effort and how can we pull together our resources to make that happen?
  • Who else needs to be at the table?
The possibilities and implications for this work are endless.  I feel so grateful to be part of this field as these questions and many more like it are actively being explored.
Just as he did last year in Chicago, Eric Booth once again challenged us to look inside ourselves and notice where we tend to get stuck as a field.  At the conference’s opening plenary, he implored us to break down the silos that keep us separated and isolated.  He made it clear that it no longer serves us to get caught up in semantics; who is a “teaching artist” vs. “arts educator” vs. “community artist”, etc. Eric also shared with us his enthusiasm and optimism about the current state of field.  He believes we are entering a new age of Teaching Artistry that is allowing us to move past our differences and come together in powerful ways, like we had the amazing opportunity to do throughout this conference. 
Why is this? What has happened in recent years that has allowed these kinds of positive shifts to happened. We started and ended the Teaching Artist track sharing our guesses.  Some ideas we came up with were:
  • Shifts in trends in employment after the crash of 2008-09 made space for more people to find it perfectly acceptable to work as independent contractors
  • Shifts in funding opportunities have made more arts education programs a reality
  • A general admission of failures such as No Child Left Behind as well as outmoded  arts outreach programs have shifted towards more participatory programs that actively engage youth and communities
  • Many current and former teaching artists have come into high level leadership positions at various arts education organizations and cultural institutions
  • More and more higher education institutions are paying close attention to the field and finding more ways to prepare students for the work of teaching artistry
And I believe we are experiencing a generational shifts in what it means to become an artist.  This generation of young people is following their hearts and thinking outside of the professional box more so than the generations before them. They are more inclined to want to be part of something bigger than themselves. To make a difference. To change the world. The way I see it, this generation is the generation of the Teaching Artist. They see the power in making and in teaching others how to make. They understand how to build communities online that make real change happen in the real world. They understand how to follow their dreams and expect success.  
Over the course of those three days in Los Angeles, this is the big work that we dared to take on. We fully claimed this golden age of Teaching Artistry and made the commitment to build the tools that would take us there. Between the whooping and hollering, we rolled up our sleeves and we got to work.
About Lynn
Lynn Johnson is the Membership Director and co-founder of Teaching Artists Guild (, a membership-based professional organization committed to promoting the visibility and impact of artists who teach. She is also a theater teaching artist, social entrepreneur, and girl advocate as the co-founder of Go Girls! Camp (, a summer camp that teaches social/emotional to young girls through theater and expressive arts.  Lynn is based in Oakland, CA.  Follow her on Twitter @lynnjohnson or @teachingartists.
Pictured Above: Eric Booth and participants in the Teaching Artist Track at the 2014 Conference for Community Arts Education.

This resource brought to you by the National Guild for Community Arts Education.