This is an annual gathering of teaching artists in New Jersey and I particularly enjoy reconnecting with fellow artists, administrators, meet some new folks and get reenergized in my field.
The morning session dealt with the state of arts education and the Arts in general.
The introductory presentation was with the organization Arts in Education, an advocasy group (http://artsednj.org/) and their new web site. Quite a bit of work and I plan on posting my video from my Holy Infancy residency on it. It’s a very nice gathering point for resources in the field of art ed.
The main man, Eric Booth, was the keynote speaker who I’ve had several opportunities to hear and he didn’t disappoint. He is one of the founders of the TA movement and remains very inspiring. He pinpointed that the term “art” often has less than positive connotations to the culture at large, and has come around to saying “make stuff you care about”. There has been a shift in the older adage, “Art for arts sake”. No longer are the arts simply something to enjoy in a museum or concert hall. There is now growing recognition that that there are quantifiable cultural values connected with them. Values that matter.
The arts can work in different frameworks to affect culture, frameworks like social justice, cultural empathy, personal intensionality and mindfulness and even reducing poverty. One of the newer applications is in creative aging, and they are finding out it saves money, yields health benefits, promotes well being and other concerns as baby boomers age in our society. And if it saves money, it gets taken seriously, and not just art for art’s sake.
Eric went on to spotlight our role as teaching artists in this process. And we have a uniquely qualified and important part in the very beginnings, in the schools.
He said that the teaching artist in the class is 80% who you are and only 20% what you teach – it matters more that there is an artist in the room. And it’s the artist’s engagement that is the gateway to positive results in having arts in the community/classroom.
Our job is to activate other people’s artistry and then guide the flow. Often, the artist isn’t quite sure that he is making a difference, but the clarity in the act of knowing something new is something that unfolds over time. It’s the awakening that makes the difference.
He said something that resonates for all of us. Our mantra is, “I’m gonna change the world – if it doesn’t kill me.” The primary impetus is to create, and the secondary thrust is how to make it work in our lives. So these questions remain for TA’s. “How do I get better as a teacher, how can I sustain myself and how can I network with others in the field.”
Eric said that “the silos are coming down”, that the separation between teachers and teaching artists is evaporating and the mutual respect is growing. We must disrupt the old framework that art is for art’s sake, and recognize that it has an important and powerful place in the education system and in the culture at large.
A great session and Eric followed up at the end of the day.