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Eric Booth: What is your TA purpose thread?

Eric Booth PhotoWhen asked to describe the field of teaching artistry, those of us in or connected to it usually pause—it’s an unfamiliar question, and an uncertain feeling about how to define this amorphous workforce. As we answer (IF we answer), we usually default to describing where TAs work, or who hires TAs. It doesn’t make much of an impression—I can tell you from having talked about this field a lot over the decades.

In the last five years, I have changed the way I conceive of the field of teaching artistry; and this fresh perspective has had an impact when I share it. It’s more inclusive—now, practitioners with different titles like “teaching artist” and “community artist” and “artist in healthcare” can see their natural connections; new partnerships become evident; and we focus on the value that teaching artists create (which is what everyone cares about) more than the locations that employ them (really, who outside the field cares about that?). I call this view the Six Purpose Threads, and the attached article lays out this landscape. It identifies the six main goals teaching artists (and others with different titles but similar skills and approaches) are hired to achieve. These are the main purposes TAs strive to accomplish in their work.  In brief:

  • Work of art: To enhance the encounter with art works.
  • Art skills development: To deepen the development of art-making skills,
  • Arts integration: To catalyze the learning of non-arts content.
  • Community quality of life: To increase the livability of communities.
  • Social/personal development: To develop personal or social capacities.
  • Other instrumental goals: To achieve non-arts goals important to institutions
  • + Digital: To activate personal artistry in digital media.

It has been adopted by Lincoln Center Education for their Teaching Artist Development Lab as a founding for their intensive, multi-level training. It is prompting teaching artists to rethink their contributions and expertise in the context of a wide and expanding field. As you will read, the six threads are pretty inclusive, and you may find your work has fallen into several, and that you have an interest in learning more about another. As TAs grapple with this vision of the field in workshops or in the luxury of two weeks at Lincoln Center, we recognize a core set of skills that applies in all those threads, as well as the distinct skills, practices, and habits of mind that lead to excellence in the different threads. It is illuminating, often exhilarating to clarify what you know and don’t know, what you want to learn more about, and what areas of special expertise you want to share with colleagues. That is a healthy set of discrimination to bring to a growing field.

At a recent day-long forum hosted by Grantmakers for the Arts, I was convinced it is time to add a seventh thread that is not adequately housed in the original six—arts activism: to foster political change. So, you will read a living inquiry not a set theory.

What do you think?

Read about the Six (Plus) Purpose Threads:.EricBooth.Teaching Artist Purpose Threads-essay

Learn more about Eric Booth’s work here.

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