The Playgoer: Arts Teachers vs Teaching Artists

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Arts Teachers vs Teaching Artists

Arts education blogger Richard Kessler is alarmed about "outsourcing" arts education, at least based on an LA Times report about some Burbank school.

Ideally, arts education is delivered best by a powerful combination of certified arts teachers, classroom teachers, and cultural organizations, including teaching artists....Where there are not enough certified arts teachers available, it would be hard to fault a school that chooses to hire teaching artists as an alternative.
[But] An expansion of outsourcing as described by the LA Times piece will only serve to balkanize the arts education field.


The article was not very well put together, I am afraid. It doesn't really do much but give the impression that any actor can teach K-12. In that respect, it does a terrible disservice to the field of educational theater. It may very well be that the two actors that the schools have hired are highly trained, but there is no mention of that in the article. Each actor may be half the price of the licensed theater teacher (and yes, the article only implies that there were licensed theater teachers previously), but we have no idea about frequency of instruction or anything else.
Theatrewise, on the one hand, increased hiring of freelance "teaching artists" is good news for those actors who sideline as that.  On the other, I bet a fair amount of artists are also full-time (and "certified") arts education teachers in the school system and need those full time jobs with their benefits.

So let's hope even the reliable education jobs out there that so many artists subsist off of don't also get downsized.

Anyone with experience in this area want to weigh in?

1 comment:

Matthew said...

My wife has done both for many years. As a teaching artist, she got to work with some amazing and remarkable arts organizations over the years, and brought a lot of great learning and theater education to kids in literally all five boroughs. However, the freelance lifestyle, lack of benefits, irregular schedule and low pay eventually took their toll, and she chose to pursue a full time teaching career instead, becoming a full time theater teacher in at first 6-12 grade, and now K-5 settings.

As a theater teacher, she has the benefit of consistency and continuity with the children she teaches, and has had some amazing opportunities to impact their lives in a positive way, through theater, but also as a teacher. Also, she gets health benefits. Navigating the city bureaucracy isn't easy, especially in this period, but she's found a niche that works for her.

However, that is not to say that teaching arts organizations don't do great things with their artists- just that in many ways, it is apples and oranges to compare full-time teachers with guest artists who are brought in for specific residencies or projects. It'd be nice if when school budgets were made, every school could make the arts a priority and retain full-time staff. But if their only option is to hire teaching artists and bring the arts in from the outside, there's a benefit there too. Nor should they be mutually exclusive either-- it's a funny thing about theater that it actually encourages (and requires) collaboration, and it wouldn't surprise me if the more theater teachers there were, the more opportunities for theater teaching artists there would be too.