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Cultivating the Next Generation of Teaching Artists

Written by Mark Slavkin On September – 14 – 2011

When we consider careers in the arts, I would like to see more attention paid and resources assigned to cultivate the next generation of teaching artists.

At the Los Angeles Music Center, teaching artists are central to our work helping schools gain capacity to provide quality arts education. Our teaching artists provide inspiration and support for teachers to develop the courage, confidence, and skills to engage their students in meaningful learning in and through the arts. As “real artists” the teaching artists bring a different sensibility than students may experience in a typical school.

In spite of the central role teaching artists play in our work and that of many other organizations around the country, it seems these opportunities are not showcased as part of the core curriculum in most college level arts programs.

How can young artists aspire to a career they do not know even exists? Even in those cases when students are introduced to the idea of becoming a teaching artist, it is often in the context of “service learning” as opposed to an integral part of the life of a professional artist.

The absence of a defined set of academic expectations coupled with the lack of visibility for this career path, means many artists stumble across the possibility of becoming a teaching artist by chance.

With few barriers to entry, one can pronounce themselves a teaching artist and approach a school or community agency without any real training or grounding in effective practice. This lack of quality control is a threat to the larger efforts to advocate for the value of arts education.

To address these needs, the Music Center has offered an intensive training course for aspiring teaching artists. While our courses and artist seminars provide valuable support to the participants, these individual efforts do not solve the greater need of informing young art students of this potential part of their professional lives.

It’s time we have a conversation about our ultimate vision for a career path for teaching artists.

•    What if all high school arts students were expected to spend time in a local elementary school working with younger kids in their arts discipline?
•    What if all BFA and MFA programs required all students to take a course about the role of a teaching artist and then do “field work” at a local school or arts agency?
•    What if teaching artistry became an area of emphasis within conservatory programs?
•    What if our leading orchestras made it a core expectation that all great musicians also work as teaching artists?
•    What if school districts required a certificate in teaching artistry before someone can come in to work with their students and teachers?
•    What if we celebrated and recognized outstanding teaching artists in a way to rival other important accolades for artists?

As we consider these ideas, I am mindful of the concern that we do not regulate and structure the artistry and magic out of the teaching artist. But as we know from the arts, excellence, and creative license go hand in hand.

The work of every great artist is to transcend the structure and technique of their discipline to reach a higher level of expression and meaning. This too should be the calling of teaching artists.

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