This past fall I had the opportunity to join the 2019-2020 Cohort for Young Audiences – OR’s Teaching Artist Studio. The TA Studio is series of workshops designed to develop approaches to pedagogy for anyone interested in teaching and is currently maintaining a practice in the visual or performing arts. The workshop series focuses on how to investigate the ways in which the mastery of my art is connected to the lesson plans that I intend to offer. I found the experience to shed light on how what I am doing in the studio is integral to what I provide in the classroom.
As a student in the USD Fine Arts Department, I made every effort to stay clear of the art education program and dig into the theory and practice of contemporary art, philosophy, and criticism – we were becoming “smart painters” after all, storming the gates of the galleries with provocative statements was totally it. In hindsight I realized that to teach is the best way to internalize the technical and conceptual skills I set out to acquire. I began to test the waters by presenting art lessons to at risk youth summer camp programs on a volunteer basis, a decade later my full time work is in classroom support. My full time work in turn, supports my studio practice. The approach used in the TA Studio seemed a perfect fit for those of us who were working in our studios and dabbling in the field of teaching. A few were seasoned teachers, while others were accomplished artists. The emphasis on the artist or at least the integration of teaching into the wheel house of what it is to be an artist was refreshing and, at least to me, felt on point in the sense that it takes both the skills of an artist and of a teacher to bring quality arts education into schools – hence the term Teaching Artist. One really must be both teacher and artist, few are able to integrate the two without a cohort that is focused on the aim of taking artistic pursuit into the work of developing curriculum. This is what makes the TA Studio so valuable.
We were introduced to one another as a cohort a few weeks prior to the first workshop through a slack channel set up by our awesome program coordinators Brianna and Tony, who went out of their way to be available for follow up discussion and open office hours. I was grateful to find a succession of consistently available resources, articles, and posts about this emerging field called Teaching Artistry. As the workshops unfolded, it was evident that the mode of presentation and learning was a live demonstration of how teaching artists structured lessons in the classroom. Soon we were up from our chairs, out of our comfort zones, kicking away the metaphorical training wheels – actively keeping ourselves in a “studio mindset” where every moment was a teachable moment and every failure a success.
That’s me (left), Amoree from Ethos (center), and Chris from Bodecker Foundation (right) running through our dance collaboration as part of Suba’s workshop using traditional dance from India to demonstrate the ways artists can use a “big idea” to construct a lesson containing specific objectives. How could we apply this process to our own practices?
Sustained engagement with our working groups via quick run-throughs of our lesson plans along with our classmates’ lessons eventually gave way to an examination of my art practice and provided valuable insight into what my studio practice was really about. Delving into what I intend to teach essentially allowed me to re-approach my artist statement and provide a renewed structure to my own statements of intent for exhibition proposals.
My skill sets in teaching have dramatically extended as a result of participating in the TA Studio. Interacting with a cohort and working through the learning processes of others is really impossible to duplicate through self study. Comparing my lesson plan templates from before this program to the one I produced in proposal for a residency at a school in Portland’s District 1, makes it clear that hands on learning and collaboration make a huge difference in organizing and preparing my lesson plans. I would recommend this program to anyone who doesn’t have an MFA or didn’t get an assistantship as part of their masters program, or to anyone who has basically just brought their studio art projects into a classroom – my situation is the latter, my advanced degree turned out to be in accounting, that is another story all together.
I learned as much about my own art practice as I learned about presenting and structuring lessons. I have never had any shortages of ideas in my art, as a result of Young Audiences Oregon’s Teaching Artist Program, I can have as many lesson plans as I have ideas.