Teaching Artist Training: Guest Blogger
As I come up on twenty years in the teaching artist field, I can’t help but feel as though my professional, personal and creative work as a teaching artist has reached a crossroads. Perhaps the “in between” is the space I’ve inhabited all along, It’s just that I’ve been too busy hustling all these years in an effort to build a meaningful and sustaining career in arts education to notice. As a musician, most of my time playing is spent with other musicians collaborating in the making music in rehearsals as well as on the bandstand with the added company of an audience. The experience is both social and communal. Fortunately for me, I find as much satisfaction inducing a sense of community, curiosity and inspiration off the bandstand as I do on. No surprise there that the path of the teaching artist is the one I continue to walk.
I’ve been fortunate throughout my career to have the support for my work as a teaching artist from a variety of school administrators, classroom teachers, arts organizations and foundations. However the effort it takes to maintain a steady and sustainable career are extremely taxing. Teaching artists exist in this invisible world. Those, outside the field, who understand who we are and what we do are few and far between. The lifestyle we lead, although rewarding, at times feels isolating and overwhelming. We design and pitch our programs on our own, often facilitate our programs by ourselves only to repeat the process over and over again alone. Often, I feel alone.
For this reason, I do all I can to make space and spend time with colleagues whenever I can. And when I do, I usually find a restorative sense of inspiration and comradery that pushes me through the challenges of the work. I never think twice about looking for an opportunity to interact and participate with the teaching artist community. After all music is my medium where engagement with other is mandatory so why not apply a level of engagement with the teaching artist community? There are an increasing number of local, national and international opportunities for teaching artists to take advantage of including artist residencies, workshops and trainings which have proven time and again helpful in developing skills as both a musician and a teaching artist in inspiring creativity while feeling supported as both a musician and teaching artist. A welcome symbiosis.
Most of the work I do as a teaching artist follows the public school schedule and summer is a great time of year to reach out and connect with the teaching artist community. In June, I took advantage the opportunity to participate in the CNY Arts Teaching Artist Training hosted by the Cayuga Museum in Auburn New York. Although I’m based in Brooklyn the process of renting a car at JFK and driving the five hours up to Auburn was well worth it.
No doubt the cultural, social and political landscape here in this country is changing and I would go so far as to claim that the teaching artist field is, as it has been, an essential barometer in identifying the challenges our communities face while offering creative solutions. I’d like to recognize the efforts CNY Arts made in creating an atmosphere of kindness, validation, support and empowerment for all of us in attendance including panelists, presenters and teaching artists. The training in its entirety reflected the nuanced world in which teaching artists work today while fostering a deepening of practice through professional development and networking. CNY Arts gathered a rich group of panelists and presenters including Holly Adams, who so eloquently illustrated the ease of developing our creative ideas into inspiring, joyful educational programs; Glenn McClure who, in celebration of educational design, art learning experiences and cultural access for all invited us to see the world through the eyes of those with disabilities; Heidi Miller (Community Word Project) whose encouraging, exploration of our design and program assessment fostered a more sophisticated sense of our work; Jose Velez, Associate Director, Teaching Artist Faculty and Fellowships, who stressed the value of attending teaching artist trainings wherever we find them; Tom Cabaniss, whose presentation of The Lullaby Project revealed hidden communities in great need of community arts programming; Dale Davis, Director if Association of Teaching Artists, whose lifetime of dedication and advocacy for the teaching artist community demonstrated the impact the arts makes in incarcerated communities which inspired a trip to the Auburn State Prison where I had the opportunity to speak with a couple of prison guards; Courtney Boddie who shared the possibilities of connecting our growing network with itself building through her Teaching Artistry podcast as well as Carol Dumka and Donnalyn Schuster both whom offered their expertise as arts administrators in navigating our way through the arts education standards and school administrative systems like BOCES.
CNY Arts also received support in the planning of the event by the Jubilation Foundation and the Association of Teaching Artists. It’s refreshing to witness the spirit of collaboration, mutual respect and admiration of organizations driven by a mission that serves teaching artists and the communities they serve. That energy certainly poured over into the training a that sense of community and teamwork was experienced by all of us in attendance where the shared pool of knowledge, age and experience reflected a strength in diversity, artistry and educational prowess that validated the decisions I continue to make in maintaining membership in one of the most dynamic communities responsible for shaping one of the most exciting fields today.
David Freeman is a Brooklyn based musician and educator whose work focuses on incarcerated youth and underserved school communities. David is also celebrating the recent release of his latest album Overview Effect. Visit Bandcamp.com and have a listen.