Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Awful Truth

You may have noticed that I am taking a break from blogging.

I'm not sure what happens next.

You are invited to follow me on Twitter:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Dennis Baker

Earlier this month, I used my cellphone to interview Dennis Baker; a teaching artist, entrepreneur and social media expert. We had a wide-ranging conversation and here are the results. Dennis has kindly typed and edited the interview. It's good stuff.

Q: Hi Dennis! I am so glad you've agreed to answer a few easy questions. It's February 2nd, and I am in San Francisco. You are based in Los Angeles. We are doing this by phone, and since my cellphone bill is ludicrously high and I am underpaid,  I'll get right to it.

(Here we pause because an incredibly loud protest demonstration of California State Workers passes by banging drums and screaming something about draconian budget cuts. It will be over soon.)

Q: Dennis, what are the critical issues facing Teaching Artists?

Dennis Baker: Money is always a critical issue.  This is going to get some people upset, but I am going to say it, teaching artists are the migrant workers of the arts education field. Administration justifies paying $25/hour for a teaching artist with a masters degree in education, with no benefits, because they think that teaching artists choose to be freelance workers. Teaching artists are freelance workers, because there is no other choice. If there was a full time resident teaching artist position created, with the benefits and pay of an administrator, the teaching artist application pool would be huge. In the U.S., we live in a society where the goal is to get everything as cheap as possible, without truly asking what that means to the people that we pay the lowest price. This mindset does not account for the whole picture. I am not implying that every arts education organization chooses not to pay their teaching artists a living wage, but the standards are not at a sustainable level.

I think the issues that actors have with the amount of work, in relation to pay, is the same problem for teaching artists. In the acting field, there has been questions of why is there so many MFA programs, graduating actors year after year, for a field that can not sustain the numbers.  Some of the statistics are:

·      14.4% of Equity members (actors and stage managers) work in any given week in ’08-‘09

·      49.3% of Equity members are unemployed for the whole year of ’08-‘09

·      Median AEA member made $7,688 in ‘08-‘09

My guess is that these numbers are pretty close to the teaching artist field. We are seeing more and more schools creating theater education programs, for a field in which a teaching artist cannot make a living wage.  Why? One reason, higher education institutions are businesses. If there are enough students willing to pay for it, they will create a degree, with no consideration of whether there is a field to sustain their graduates. Manifest destiny is at the bedrock of all we do.  Grow and expand, without thinking of the consequences. Does any theater program advertise the above statistics? No, because their might be less student enrollment. So until we are willing to have a national conversation regarding the relation of higher education to the number of jobs in the field, there will be an ever-increasing supply and demand problem. Is the answer a union? That is a good start to increase standardized pay, but that will not address the amount of work in the field.

            Regarding pedagogical issues, how can we find ways to integrate the education of becoming a teaching artist with that of the classroom teacher?  Do teaching artists need to take some classes in a credential program?  As I begin to teach theater education and teaching artistry, I find that I am lacking in truly understanding the mindset of the classroom teacher.  While I know the basics through working with teachers in the past, and looking at state standards, in general teaching artists do not know the language of classroom teachers and principals.

Q: What is the future field for professional Teaching Artistry? Where are we and where are we going?

Dennis Baker: There is no doubt that the field has come into its own in the last decade. The field and conversation has grown. It is a time to truly reflect and find ways to move forward in a sustainable manner. Sustainability needs to be the future of the field.  We are not there yet. We are pockets of people without a unified voice. We live in a time where business and entertainment is looked in higher regard than education. For sustainability to occur, this national mindset will need to shift.  Without this national shift, we are a field that is fighting for scraps at the table.  Honestly, I am talking of a change that is beyond any of our life times, if it is to happen at all. In the mean time, one needs to be a creative, entrepreneurial teaching artist. 

Q: Dennis, I see you working all over the place. You're on Twitter. You're an actor, teaching artist, fight director, audition coach, web designer, and social media expert. Aren't you exhausted? I mean, how are you pulling all of this off?

A: Individuals in business are learning what it is like to live and work with less, something artists have always done. At the same time the entrepreneur discussion that is going on in the business sector is something artists need to be listening to and figuring ways to adapt it to the teaching artist field.  Artists can learn just as much from people like Gary Vaynerchuk, Seth Godin and Guy Kawasaki as they could from leaders in the education field.  While living in New York, and planning to move back to Los Angeles, I was talking to a fellow teaching artist expressing my concern that Los Angeles did not have the same infrastructure for work in the theater arts education.  He said, well then you will have to create your own. What keeps me positive is that we as humans are adaptable. How are we as teaching artists creating our own work? How are we forging relationships with teachers, principals, school districts and organizations to create opportunities for work?  We need more of these conversations in the field. Coming out of graduate school, I was hired into a one of the biggest theater education organizations in New York.  There I formed my teaching artistry, but due to the size, all the business aspects was taken care of for me. I just had to show up for the various curriculum trainings, give them my availability, and they would email me with jobs. That is not the norm. So how do we become entrepreneurial teaching artists?

First, what do you do exactly? You might say I am a teaching artist. Too broad. What is your niche, your specialty? What are the two to three things that you are good at teaching? Shakespeare? Physical Theater? Elementary age children? In the area where you live and work, you need to be considered the expert in areas of your specialty. This is where living outside a metropolis might help you. It takes more work for me to be considered an expert in a theater or acting field in Los Angeles then it would for a teaching artist working in a field that is less populated with theater artists.

Second, do people know you are an expert in that field? This is where connection is key. Are you in conversation through social media, attendance at school district functions, PTA meetings, etc. You need to be at the places where you can make connections with people that would want to hire you. Principals, teachers, parents need to know you exist.  Are you reading the mommy blogs, and commenting on posts in regards to education? Are you at the school district meetings?  Are you using social media, not as a tool to talk, but as a tool to listen?  So many people say I don’t get twitter, what am I supposed to say.  Don’t say anything, just listen.  Listen to the conversation that is being held on the local level, as well as the national level.

Third, create a need that then you can fill.  Businesses are great at this.  They sell us a product that we don’t even know we need, and once we do, they are there to provide us with it.  Everyone agrees that education is important and needed, but what does that mean?  How can you go about influencing hearts and minds in your local community that the work of a teaching artist is needed? There is numerous articles that show how arts education is needed, but minds are not changed with statistics, they are changed through experience.  How can you provide administrators, teachers, parents and students with an experience in where they have an “a ha” moment and realize that teaching artist work is needed in their school, community organization and community?

Lastly, in this current time you will not make a living wage as a teaching artist. While you need to find your niche within the teaching artist field, you need to diversify your job skill set. You need to find other part-time freelance jobs that will compliment your teaching artist work.

Here, all conversation ended because those last few sentences from Dennis nearly killed me. I encourage you to read it again to yourself, slowly, carefully and aloud.

Thank you Dennis Baker for your thoughtful comments on the state of the field. Fellow teaching artists, if you would like to join this ongoing conversation, push the comment button below or email us here.

Friday, January 28, 2011

From the Executive Director



ATA will be convening the first national Teaching Artists' Congress in New York City on April 16. Save the date! Eric Booth, Richard Kessler, and Nick Rabkin will be joining us. More will be forthcoming soon. For information:

Thank you to those of you who so generously contributed to ATA's year end campaign. Your donations make a difference!

If you blog about your work as a Teaching Artist, please let me know so we can include your blog on Thank you to Teaching Artists organized for mentioning ATA's Teaching Artists' blogs in your last newsletter.

If there is a Youtube video of you working as a Teaching Artist, please let me know so we can include it on ATA's website.

ATA will be presenting "Creating a Positive Work Environment and Community with Teaching Artists" at The New York City Arts In Education Roundtable's Face To Face on February 24. We hope to see many of you at Face to Face.   

Happy 2011!


Monday, January 24, 2011

On the Money

Often, I have noticed, teaching artists are called Freelancers.

Sometimes, we are designated as Independent Contractors.

Once in a while, I hear us referred to as Consultants.

Less frequently, we're Employees.

What's the difference between these designations, and, more importantly, how does it affect the teaching artist's pocketbook?

Frankly, I have no clue, so I am providing some handy links to information about this topic. Maybe you and your customer, client, or boss can sit down and figure it out together?

Three articles are below:

Answers About Freelancers @ The New York Times

Ban the Label "Freelancer"  @ Findlaw

What is the Difference Between an Independent Contractor and an Employee @

Also: You Never Give Me Your Money - The Four

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Blowing On the Wind

Ok, I'm sharing today.

I am working on a Lesson Plan for Pre-K. If you have a moment, please read it and send me your thoughtful feedback.

Lesson Plan #1


1.      To introduce the idea of creative movement.
2.     To practice self-expression.
3.     To practice following instructions.
4.     To build ensemble and community.
5.     To assess student’s ability to listen, play, move and interact safely in the space.

After participating in this session, students will:
·      Be more able to use their imaginations, voices and bodies to express emotion, meaning, action and narrative. Students will demonstrate understanding by responding to verbal and physical cues from the TA. Further, they will respond to narration, acting out parts of a story as they are suggested by the TA.

·      Understand more about how character and movement are related. They will demonstrate this understanding by pretending to be a seed blowing on the wind.

·      Understand more about story and narrative. Students will demonstrate understanding by being able to retell and/or recall details about the story they have acted out together during the session.


·      A big sheet of chart paper or brown butcher-block paper.
·      “Seeds” – Oval shapes cut out of colored paper. Enough for each student to have.
·      Glue sticks. These are to stick the Seeds on to the chart paper.
·      Handy wipes or some rags. These are to clean the floor and our hands.
·      Instruments: ClavĂ©, or a drum.

Music: Three to Get Ready by Dave Brubeck. From the album Time Out, or something similarly bouncy.

OPENING  (10-15 Minutes)

Hello Room!
·      Warm-up.
·      TA asks students “Can you please take off your shoes and come sit in a circle?”
·      TA asks “Have you ever been in this room before?”
·      TA asks  “What is this room called? What is it used for? What do you think or expect that we will be doing together in this room?”
·      TA explains the ideal of a movement space “’This will be the place that we do something called creative movement work together. We’ll use move in this space to show how we feel and we’ll tell stories using our bodies in this space.”
·      TA takes questions and then states “OK, let’s clean this floor together. This is our creative movement space, so let’s keep it clean.”
·      Each child gets a handy wipe or a rag.
·      TA and children “clean” the floor together.  TA offers various verbs and qualifiers while modeling movements. “Push the cloth. Pull the cloth. Rub. Scrub. Sweep. Make big movements. Make small movements. Big circles. Small circles. Can you go fast? Go slow. Can you go back and forth? Use your arms. Use your feet. Can you use your elbows?”
·      When the floor is declared clean, the TA states “Now that our movement space is clean, let’s scoot across the floor. Let’s roll around the floor. Let’s all come together in the center of the space. Let’s all move far apart. Let’s all freeze and stay very still. When I say freeze you will not move a muscle, but be very still. ” Note: Model, label and give a concrete example for each verb and instruction. Make the connection.

Hello Children!
·      Choreography.
·      Seated circle. Name Game A: Cued by drumbeat; each child is invited to stand up and say their name out loud.

Hello Friends!
·      Self-Expression/Interpretation
·      Name Game B: Each child gets to hold the instrument. “Hit it and say your name on the syllables. MI-CHAEL!”
·      Name Game C: Each child gets to cross the circle on the drumbeat. “I’ll hit the drum, point to you and you can move across the circle in any way you like. Fast. Slow. Moving your arms. However you like. OK? Who wants to try first?”


Character of the day
·      TA introduces the character of the day. THE SEED.
·      Students view a photo or a real example of THE SEED.
·      Led by the TA, students discuss THE SEED. “What do you see? What do you think? What do you feel? What do you wonder? Why do you say that?
·      Music.
·      Choreography: “This is rehearsal. Follow me!”
·      THE SEED starts small and opens up. “Do as I do!”
·      THE SEED starts big and gets small.  “Copy me!”
·      THE SEED moves as if the wind is blowing it across the room. “Move to your left! This way! Move to your right! This way!”


In the Garden
·      TA working in-role as the gardener narrates a story: “One day in the garden, I was planting seeds. I dug a hole for each seed./Cave un augjero por cada semilla.”
·      The Gardener plants all the seeds one by one. Tapping each child on the shoulder. “Hello seed!”
·      “I was just about to put the dirt on top of them, to cover them up, when a great wind arose from the East and blew them all away. I rushed to catch them in my hand, but alas I could not”
·      TA out of role asks the students “What would happen if the wind blows all the seeds? What would that look like?”
·      Students offer suggestions about what a seed floating on the wind might look like. TA encourages them to “Show us! Use your whole body to show us what a seed floating on the wind might look like!”
·      TA asks students “Shall we pretend to be seeds floating on the wind? Shall we continue our story? Let’s try and see what it feels like and what it looks like to be blown around like a seed on the wind. I will pretend to be THE GREAT WIND. You all pretend to be seeds and follow my voice and the motion of my hand. Move in the direction I am pointing. OK. Shall we try?!”
·      Music.
·      TA in-role as THE GREAT uses voice and gesture to encourage students to move across the room as if they were seeds blown on the wind. “I am THE GREAT WIND! Wherever I blow, the seeds will follow. First I sweep into the garden and I blow all the seeds to the East! Then I blow all the seeds to the West!”
·      After a few runs at this game, the TA comes out of role and asks the children to freeze.
·      TA might sit half the group down to watch the other half pretending to be seeds. Then we can talk about Audience/Performer.
·      To close this section, TA in-role as THE GARDENER narrates, “The Great Wind blew all the seeds this way. The wind blew all the seeds that way! Finally, the wind stopped. I swept all the seeds up into a pile and replanted them, one by one.”
·      All the students are gathered close together, seated in the center of the room.    
·      With a tap on the shoulder from the TA, each seed/student is replanted. 

Active Reflection
·      Dialogue: “What did we do today? What happened in our story? Where were we? What did we pretend?”
·      Each student gets a colored piece of paper shaped like a seed; an oval.
·      TA says “Let’s plant our seeds in the garden.”
·      Each child will be able to glue their seed to a piece of butcher-block paper which is divided into layers. The bottom layer is the earth and that’s for seeds. Each week we will add to this picture of our garden.
·      In a seated circle, TA narrates “All the seeds go to sleep.  Can you be small? Become small. Smaller. Smaller. Move slowly. Stiller and stiller. When you are fully asleep and still, then THE SUN (TA or another adult in the room) will come and tap you and then you are awake and yourself again and you can go over and plant your seed in the garden.”
·      Students write their name (or stick their name-tags) on their oval and plant their seeds. Then we all line up and go back to class.

That's it, so far. See you in the garden!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Face Yourself

Here is the latest installment of our, meaning my, ongoing dialogue with Bay Area Teaching Artist/Entrepreneur Anthem Salgado. Today, we face facts. Ouch.

Q: What I’m hearing is that there is no one path to success in this field. But are there some guiding principles?

Anthem: Yes, there are tons of guiding principles. And that’s why I’m such an avid reader. Because anyone who already knows what needs to be done has already written a book about it. So we just need to find the books that resonate with us and start reading ‘em! (laughs) It’s like we’re reinventing the wheel, but someone’s already figured it out. Let’s go to the people who’ve already figured it out. And I read tons of books and they inform me in such huge ways.

Q: OK, so what are the guiding principles you’re working with right now?

A: Values, principles…my gosh! (Shakes head.) There are too many!

Q: Is there a set of guiding principles for an emerging TA?

A: OK, this is one I gave recently to somebody, and  it works for individuals as well as organizations. I always tell people you need to optimize, and then innovate. And those are both buzz words…I know. (laughs) So, just to be clear. Innovate is all the creative thinking that I’m suggesting you do. Creative solutions around business, and professional development. But optimize means you need to know what is working. You really need to take a full inventory of what is working and what isn’t working. You need to make a NOT TO DO list. There are probably things we are working on that aren’t moving the ball forward. Those things we just need to stop immediately. And for the things that are working? We need to use these three criteria. “What are we extraordinarily passionate about?” Would be number one. Number two would be “What can generate income?” And number three would be “What can we really excel in?” For instance, in my own work, when I did this analysis, I realized the most money I make per hour is from commercial acting, as opposed to theatrical acting. So, I thought, "Well, that’s something I need to prioritize." Because it just pays more! It’s still acting, so I’m passionate about it. It generates income. And I do have an opportunity to excel in it. Whereas theater acting, which I also love and am passionate about…well, the income per hour is not as much, although I still have an opportunity to excel at it. It’s just a semi-scientific way of beginning to prioritize which projects you should be working on at any one time. I also realize that I can stand to build a career, not have one immediately, but build one as a Teaching Artist, a professional development type of teacher, meeting all three criteria. (counts on his fingers) I’m passionate about it. I can excel in it. And I can make some money from it. For a long while, in the city, I was really well-known as a spoken-word artist. But let’s look at this. I’m passionate about it. But there’s  no way to excel in it, because it’s pretty much a single tier type of endeavor. There’s no such thing as career spoken-word artist. So I can’t excel in it and I can’t make money in it. I don’t know any spoken-word artist who is really making money in that field. So I just had to face myself. It’s difficult, but I had to face myself and just drop it.

Q: These are hard choices you’re talking about. These are not choices where someone says “Well, I wanna be a spoken word artist and make money at it!” Does that mean the dream is dead?
(Hysterical laughter)

A: No, it doesn’t mean the dream is dead. The dream means putting yourself in the driver’s seat. And when people put themselves in the driver’s seat..this is what I encourage every artist to do. Think like a boss.  When you’re a boss and you have to make executive decisions, you’re not going to fund or put energy or human resources into the project that’s not coming back to pay you. Right? So spoken word would be great if I had a full on career as a doctor or a lawyer or accountant and I could do spoken word on the side.  That could just be my passion project. But if we’re talking about having a sustainable ecology, then you have to think like a boss. As an executive director, if you were your own company, which one of your personal artistic projects  would you prioritize so that the company, which is you, can survive? It’s not about the dream being dead. It’s about having to make some real decisions. Thinking like a boss.

Q: Last tiny little question. What’s the future of the field of Teaching Artistry?

A: (laughs) Well, that’s a big question. I think the field will continue to work as it has been. We talked about $17 per hour being, for some places, a typical rate of pay. For someone that’s new to teaching art, that’s actually pretty awesome. So, you’ll always have emerging, new Teaching Artists entering the field, and you’ll always have the ones who are a bit more senior leaving the field. That’s life. There will be no shortage of Teaching Artists, ever, because the young ones will always be there to fill the place. Organizations themselves will be able to replicate their formulas and grow, but I don’t think the field itself is going to grow until the senior Teaching Artists are in more positions of influence to be able to create a graduating point for all the Teaching Artists who are leaving the field. If we can continue to stay in the field and develop our skills then we could really see something beautiful.

Q: Does that mean we should become administrators?

A: I don’t know if we become administrators. We just need more leaders. I’m not going to encourage a Teaching Artist...look, if their master skill is being in front of a class, I wouldn’t encourage them to get behind a desk. But, if they have the vision and they have the organizational skill, I would encourage them to partner with an organization...with administrators who understand the vision and know how to get the grant...know how to get the business part of it rolling, so that there is a graduating point. Right now, there’s nothing for a Teaching Artist who is really experienced to graduate to. That’s what I would love to see. We’ll always be at the mercy of someone else if we’re always asking, but not in a position of giving or creating. People ought to be asking us to participate. That’s sort of what Art of Hustle is about. Empowering ground-level  artists to think bigger. 

Thus ended this installment of our chat. Many thanks to Anthem Salgado for his time and thoughtful responses! Teaching Artists, if you would like to offer feedback, please click the comment button below, or send us an email.

Also: The Man In Black - When the Man Comes Around

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Multiple Choice

Today on ATA Blog, we continue our ongoing dialogue with Teaching Artist Anthem Salgado

Q: Ok, so what are the questions emerging Teaching Artists should be asking?

A: Is there upward mobility? What is the pay rate? Where is the biggest and brightest place I can go with this type of work? And you’ll find, if you just ask those really basic simple questions…you’ll find that the path doesn’t really go very far. And I wish I had asked those questions when I was in art school. Just real basic questions. Where can we go with this? And most people will tell you, if they’re honest, "Not that far." I went to visual art school, and even people I knew who had shown in big museums and had toured internationally were still struggling on the dollar, and if I had asked them those real questions, I think they would’ve…well, there was no way they could have lied to me…to my face. And it would’ve maybe changed some of the way I looked at life.

A: What’s the reason people aren’t asking these questions? How did we get into a situation like this, where we are paying a hundred thousand dollars for school and then being offered jobs that pay $17 per hour for three hours a week?

Q: Well, number one, most educational institutions are run like businesses, so they’re not really interested in your success in the long term. They’re just not. They just want to recruit. You’ll notice that at a lot of schools….that there’s not a lot of support post graduation. But they’ll still have the audacity to send you ask alumni to donate money. Which is hilarious. (laughs)

Q: I’m notoriously pessimistic, and you’re notoriously optimistic. I mean, you speak a lot about “abundance”, which is one reason I like talking with you. So, I wonder…within this context…within this conversation we’re having…which has a lot of negatives…you’ve still got a smile on your face, and I’m wondering how does that concept of abundance figure into this situation you’ve just described?
A: I feel like there’s only scarcity if you think that all the options available to you are only the ones that have already been presented to you. So I feel like, if you were to practice the same kind of creativity that you practice in the classroom, or if you were to take the same creativity that you practice within your own art, and apply that creativity to new ways of thinking about your own professional development, business models...then you’ll see that you have way more options. And the idea of having more options is automatically very inspiring, and it leads to optimism, because you realize you have choices. Things only get really bleak when you think you only have the choices that have already been presented to you. You're already in a disempowered position if you’re only looking at the choices that someone has allowed you to have. So if someone says “Would you choose A, B or C?” And I decide to  say “D, E and F”...(laughs) automatically I’m changing the game for myself. And that’s inspiring…scary, but inspiring. (laughs)

Next on ATA Blog: Anthem Salgado presents his theory of change and suggests one sure-fire way for Teaching Artists to make those hard career choices.

Also: J.L. - Watching the Wheels

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Here We Go!

Here we go!

It's January 5th, 2011, and I’m continuing my irregularly scheduled interview with Teaching Artist Anthem Salgado, here in San Francisco.

Q: Anthem, the question of the day is “Can you make a living as a Teaching Artist?" Most people, according to Nick Rabkin's Teaching Artist Research Project, are making $17,000 a year on average as a TA, which, of course, is not sustainable. But we’re still doing it! So, do you think people can actually make a living doing this work?

Anthem: (laughs) I would have to say you can make a living probably as a new or emerging Teaching Artist, because it would be satisfactory for you to be earning that much early in your career, but there’s no real upward mobility in the field, so, in that respect, you cannot make a living as a Teaching Artist in the long term. A lot of Teaching Artists I know are multiple freelancers. So Teaching Artist is just one among many titles that they carry throughout the course of the week just to be able to put together some decent money.

Q: We call ourselves professionals. Is that something we should just accept? How are we professional if there’s no way to make an actual living in the field? Are we then not professionals?

A: I guess most people define professional as getting paid. So if you’re getting paid you’re a professional. If you’re going to define professional by some sort of expertise...I guess in that respect you can be a professional. You can be specialized as a Teaching Artist. But if you compare it to other career choices where other individuals call themselves professional, probably it wouldn’t carry the same kind of weight. And I would go so far as to say that artists and Teaching Artists alike have this misnomer that we call career, because there isn’t a straight ahead career path for artists and Teaching Artists the same way  there might be in other fields…in business or medicine or law. So, in that respect, there’s not really a full on career. We’re basically like eternal freelancers. I’d love to see that change, but, right now, that’s just the case.

Q: For people who are in education programs getting their MAs or MFAs , or just working as artists trying to cobble together this kind of career, what is your advice? Should they really be pursuing it?

A: I would say…if I was going to be blunt? I would say no. (laughs) But that’s not advice, that’s just an opinion. The advice I would really give is interview as many mentors and leaders in the field as possible to find out what you’re really getting  into. Because so many people have an image of themselves within the work, but they don’t have an image of themselves within the field. So a lot of us are up for rude awakenings, because we haven’t mentally prepared ourselves for the actual reality of working in the field...because we haven’t asked those kind of career questions of our mentors.

Next on ATA Blog: Anthem suggests the essential questions every emerging TA should ask.