Definition of a Teaching Artist: Part 1

I have a hard time explaining what I do as a teaching artist. When I think about the variety and range of the work of teaching artists, coming up with a succinct, universal definition seems impossible. To get closer to this goal, I reached out to my incredible network of teaching artists that I am so lucky to know. I asked them two questions about their lives as teaching artists, and I’m so thrilled to share their amazingly articulate responses. The words of these crazy intelligent and reflective artists speak for themselves. Enjoy!

What does it mean to be a teaching artist?

To put it as simply as possible, a teaching artist is an artist who teaches.  In some ways, I feel like ALL teachers are teaching artists since teaching (when done right) is an art form itself.  BUT in the context of the arts, it is someone who works (part time or otherwise) in a particular field in the arts, but also teaches that art form (part time or otherwise).
Carrie Azano, Education Director at Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, RI

The most salient part of being a teaching artist for me right now is taking a really aggressive stance toward growing as an artist.  I feel like I have nothing to offer anyone in the way of teaching unless I’m taking an active role in my own development- learning AND doing.
Victoria Golden, freelance artist in Chicago, IL

Being a teaching artist is finding a unique balance between education and art. It’s to know and love both education and your art, whatever form that might take… Since coming to the identity of being a teaching artist, the first title I found that I felt encompassed what I do, I continue to work and explore what being a teaching artist does mean…  What I’m finding is that I truly am a teaching artist in all I do, it’s not simply a that I can put on and take off as the mood strike-it’s a large part of who I am and defines how I interact with people, approach my work and view the world.
Bethany Corey, M.F.A. candidate at the University of Texas Austin

Being a teaching artist means teaching a craft, whether that’s in the arts or sciences.
Jordan Butterfield, Education Programs Manager & Teaching Artist at Trinity Repertory Company

Being a teaching artist is, for me, almost no different from being a “regular” teacher.  The goal in any education setting is for the educator to clearly express their passion for the subject matter in hopes of it becoming contagious.  The challenge is conveying your understanding of an idea/show/topic with the understanding that your teachings will land differently with every child.
Daniel Rakowski, freelance artist in New York, NY

I often have a difficult time separating teacher from teaching artist in my head.  I think a teaching artist uses their art to teach that art or allow students to experience that art, or teach something else infused with their art or their own spin.  I think all great classroom teachers are artists, maybe not in a traditional sense, but there is an artful, masterful way they plan the day, engaging and pushing students.
Lucy Lynn Bryson, teaching artist and recent graduate of University of Central Florida’s M.F.A. in Theatre for Youth

I think what I am also realizing about teaching artists is that we are in charge of shaping a young person’s self-expression. The things we teach give way to greater tools for our students. Sure, we impart the knowledge of our craft, but I think the larger picture is this: A teaching artist is a mentor that fosters creativity, self-confidence, and self-expression through the mediums of theatre, music, dance, and art.
Kaitlen Osburn, freelance artist in Chicago, IL

Being a teaching artist means encouraging and improving young people’s life skills through the use of creativity and open expression. It also means being willing to constantly grow and shape how I see the world based on my interactions with young people through theatre.
Amanda Pintore, actor and teaching artist at Climb Theatre in Minneapolis, MN

Being a teaching artist is about empowering young people to see themselves as creative artists… Being a teaching artist is to engage students even in the presentation of material and to fundamentally challenge how they conceptualize learning; to teach them that it can be an adventure and an experience rather than a trial or mundane task.
Jeni Miller, teaching artist and University of Kentucky graduate student of theatre in Lexington, KY

I believe what we really are teaching is communication, collaboration, spontaneous/creative thinking, confidence, humility &, most importantly, empathy… I like to think we help create strong, individual thinkers who feel a personal ownership over the subject matter & a rich ability to communicate passionately about things in the world. The arts specifically–perhaps more than any other medium or method–value EQUALLY the individual’s ideas/experiences & the essential ability to imagine what it would be like to walk in someone else’s shoes.
Rachael Warren, resident acting company member and teaching artist at Trinity Repertory Company

Thank you so much to these ten individuals for contributing your thoughts! Stay tuned for Part 2 at the end of the week!

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2 thoughts on “Definition of a Teaching Artist: Part 1

  1. Eric Booth has a terrific section in his book The Music Teaching Artist’s Bible with multiple definitions of a teaching artist – and even though his audience is musicians, I feel that it can word for word apply to theatre teaching artists. Love your blog!

    • Great connection, Brianna! Eric Booth has some great quotes about teaching artistry. I definitely want to collect them and add them to this discussion. Thanks so much for reading, and for the comment!

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