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

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